Bangkok mooted for Japan-China summit

Bangkok mooted for Japan-China summit

Leaders cover a lot of ground in encounters at Asean summit in Cambodia

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha greets US President Joe Biden as Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos look on at the Asean Summit in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha greets US President Joe Biden as Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos look on at the Asean Summit in Phnom Penh on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)

PHNOM PENH: Japan and China are working to arrange talks between Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Xi Jinping, with Thailand envisioned as the venue but Indonesia remaining a possibility, say sources familiar with the plan.

The news emerged at the Asean summit in Phnom Penh on Saturday, as several world leaders including Mr Kishida and US President Joe Biden engaged in talks on a wide variety of subjects with Southeast Asian heads of government and with each other.

Mr Kishida told reporters early Saturday that Japan is making arrangements with China and South Korea with a view to his holding summit meetings with their respective leaders on the fringes of international gatherings in the days ahead.

If held, a Kishida-Xi meeting would be the first leaders’ meeting in three years between the two countries.

Bilateral ties remain precarious as Tokyo and Beijing are at loggerheads over the Japan-controlled, China-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China has also raised regional tensions by threatening Taiwan militarily.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Japan and Asean agreed on Saturday to hold a summit in Tokyo in or around December next year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their relationship.

Japan has been trying to boost relations with Asean at a time when some of its members are increasingly vigilant against China’s assertive territorial claims in the East and South China seas.

Hours after Mr Kishida’s arrival in Phnom Penh, the Japanese government said talks with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol would be held on Sunday, when a meeting with Mr Biden is also expected.

The Japanese leader will move on to Indonesia later Sunday for the annual summit of the Group of 20 major economies on Bali before travelling to Thailand on Thursday for a the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum.

Mr Xi and Mr Biden are scheduled to hold talks on Monday in Bali ahead of the G-20 summit the next day, the White House said.

Japan had been closely watching whether Xi-Biden talks would materialise given the importance of Washington, Tokyo’s sole alliance partner, to its diplomatic endeavours.

If Mr Kishida meets Mr Xi, he will convey to the Chinese leader the need for both countries to work to build a “constructive and stable” relationship, sources told Kyodo News. In other developments:

Plea for jailed activist: Mr Biden on Saturday urged Cambodia to free an outspoken American-Cambodian activist jailed for six years for treason in a mass trial that saw 60 opposition figures convicted.

He took up the case of Theary Seng in talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The 51-year-old dual national began a one-week hunger strike on Monday in protest against conditions in prison.

The lawyer and campaigner, a long-time critic of Hun Sen, hopes to compel authorities to transfer her from her current jail in the west of the country to one in Phnom Penh.

The 70-year-old prime minister is Asia’s longest-serving leader, with critics alleging he has wound back democratic freedoms, used the courts to stifle opponents, and jailed scores of opposition activists and human rights defenders.

He has vowed to run for office again in elections next year and has supported his eldest son Hun Manet to succeed him in the future.

North Korea concerns: Mr Kishida sought stronger cooperation from Asean members in dealing with North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats.

During a meeting of “Asean-plus-three” — Japan, China and South Korea — Kishida told his counterparts that Pyongyang’s recent barrage of ballistic missile launches are a “clear and serious challenge to the international community and can never be overlooked” according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

China, which has considerable influence over North Korea, was represented in Phnom Penh by Premier Li Keqiang, but it was not immediately known whether he made any remarks on the issue.

Mr Kishida and Mr Li had a conversation that lasted several minutes, according to Kyodo. Mr Li also talked about the importance of bilateral ties, it said.

The leaders also agreed to promote cooperation in line with the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, an initiative to maintain peace, freedom and prosperity in the area, according to the ministry

Specifically, the areas of cooperation included measures to prevent maritime plastic pollution and promote infrastructure investment in the region.

Boost from Biden: President Biden pledged to work with Asean nations, saying the bloc is central to the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

Speaking at the start of a US-Asean meeting, he pledged cooperation on issues “from the South China Sea to Myanmar and to find innovative new solutions to shared challenges”.

In his brief speech, he at one point referred to host Cambodia as Colombia.

Ahead of a bilateral meeting with Hun Sen, Mr Biden said the US was committed to the return of democracy to Myanmar. He also thanked Hun Sen for Cambodia’s “clear” condemnation of Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Europe speaks up: European Council President Charles Michel said he plans to engage Chinese authorities over the war in Ukraine during the G-20 leaders’ summit and hopes they will exert “concrete” pressure on Russia over the war in Ukraine.

“It’s important to engage with China,” he told reporters on Saturday in Phnom Penh. China should “exercise a stronger influence on the Kremlin.” Michel said he had no plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is also in Phnom Penh.

Australia names envoy: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has appointed former Macquarie CEO Nicholas Moore as the special envoy for Southeast Asia in a bid to deepen engagement with the region. 

Mr Moore is the current chairman of the Financial Regulator Assessment Authority. He is also a member of the University of New South Wales Business School Advisory Council.

Ukraine represented: Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he wanted to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the Asean summit but plans had fallen through.

“We will be seeking for another occasion to speak,” Mr Kuleba told reporters, adding that both countries were maintaining dialogue “to make sure China uses its leverage on Russia to make them stop the war”.

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