Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

China is hosting foreign ministers from 10 Southeast Asian nations this week, with Chinese state media saying the meeting on Tuesday in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing will cover issues from restoring tourism and other economic exchanges battered by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), to more coordinated efforts in fighting the pandemic and the feasibility of creating a “vaccine passport” to allow freer travel among them.

(Photo Courtesy; ABC News)

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is also expected to meet separately with each of his counterparts on the sidelines of the conference.

Beijing has been building influence with the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), despite frictions with some of them over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines has complained repeatedly over the presence of Chinese boats moored at a reef that it claims and Malaysia last week protested over an alleged intrusion by 16 Chinese military aircraft into its airspace, calling the incident a “serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety.”

China’s economic and diplomatic heft has helped override such concerns, however, while the bloc has been unable to form a unified stand in the face of opposition from Chinese allies within it, primarily Cambodia.

“Over the past three decades, China-ASEAN cooperation has grown in leaps and bounds, becoming the most successful and dynamic example of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Sunday in announcing the meeting.

“The fact that the two sides agreed to hold a face-to-face special foreign ministers’ meeting despite the ongoing grim Covid-19 situation reflects how countries attach great importance to and hold high expectations of China-ASEAN relations under the new circumstances,” Wang said.

It wasn’t clear whether the issue of Myanmar, an ASEAN member where the military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, would come up at the meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers. SOVEREIGNPH

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