As major powers meet in Asia, the rest of the world is pressed to pick a side

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World leaders are gathering in Phnom Penh this weekend for the first time in a series of international summits in Southeast Asia next week, with differences between superpowers and conflict threatening to derail talks.

The first stop is the Cambodian capital, where leaders from the Indo-Pacific will meet with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders, and next week the Group of 20 (G20) leaders will meet in Bali and in 2018. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Bangkok.

The stacked diplomatic row will test the international will to coordinate on issues such as climate change, global inflation and rising food prices, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. — and the first time since the pandemic began in 2020 that all three events will be held in person.

As the war in Ukraine dramatically changes Russia’s relationship with the West, the world’s two largest economies, the US and China, remain in intense competition, and the rest of the world is facing sharp geopolitical divisions of a kind not seen in decades in this political calendar. Pressed to select a side.

It is uncertain whether Russian leader Vladimir Putin will make any appearance during the diplomatic session. Both US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are expected to attend the two summits in Southeast Asia – a region that has been ground zero for influence jockeying between Beijing and Washington.

Xi is re-emerging on the world stage after years without travel amid the pandemic, winning a formal third term in office, while Biden is headed east by his party’s better-than-expected performance in the US midterm elections. Both are expected to position their country as a stronger partner and a more responsible global actor.

The two will meet face-to-face Monday on the sidelines of the G20 for the first time since Biden’s election, the White House said Thursday. Beijing on Friday confirmed Xi’s travel plans to the G20 and APEC summits and said he would hold bilateral meetings with Biden and other leaders.

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A dialogue between the two will help to remove the misunderstanding between the powers that be. But for the leaders who will meet in a series of summits in the coming days, forging firm agreements on resolving global issues – already a difficult negotiation at a very good time – will be a challenge.

Even the most provincial of the gatherings, the ASEAN summit of Southeast Asian leaders – which began on Friday in Phnom Penh and is intended to strengthen regional stability and global challenges – reflects fragmented world politics, experts said.

But unlike other summits in weeks that may have focused on the fallout from the war in Ukraine, ASEAN leaders are heading into the summit and related meetings this weekend with a push to resolve the ongoing conflict within their own bloc. Myanmar remains in turmoil and under military rule nearly two years after a brutal coup ousted the democratically elected government.

Differences among Southeast Asian countries in how to deal with conflict, their fraught alliances with superpowers — and their resistance to sidelining the alliance between the U.S. and China — will affect how well the group can agree. And experts say what it can do in large gatherings.

Police officers in Phnom Penh will close roads to traffic around the site of the ASEAN Summit, which will be held from November 10.

“Typically, this season is very exciting – you have three major world summits in Southeast Asia – Phnom Penh, Bali and Bangkok,” said Thitinan Pongsudirak, director of the Institute for Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science in Bangkok.

But (ASEAN) is very divided over Russia’s invasion, Myanmar coup crisis, China’s South China Sea and so on, which means ASEAN is in bad shape.

In a United Nations vote last month, seven out of 10 ASEAN countries, including the representative of Myanmar, voted to condemn Russia’s occupation of four regions of Ukraine, which are not supported by the ruling army, while Thailand, Laos and Vietnam abstained.

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But ASEAN as a group took a step towards strengthening its ties with Kiev during this week’s events. Signing of Amity and Cooperation Agreement with Ukraine on Thursday at a ceremony in Phnom Penh with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba

The alliance aims to use consensus among its countries as a strength as it brings big global players to the table, such as at the nearby East Asia Summit, which will bring together 18 Indo-Pacific nations including Russia, China and the US, also this weekend.

“If ASEAN cannot put its house in order, if ASEAN cannot control a rogue member like Myanmar’s military regime, ASEAN will lose its relevance,” Pongsudirak said. “On the other hand, if ASEAN is united, committed and resolved… it can have a lot of pulling power.

Nearly two years after a military coup crushed most of Myanmar’s democracy, rights groups and observers say freedoms and rights in the country are in sharp decline. Government killings have returned and the number of violent attacks by the ruling military junta on civilian infrastructure, including schools, has increased.

Several armed rebel groups have risen up against the ruling military junta, while millions of people have opposed the regime through civil disobedience.

A weekend summit in Phnom Penh will draw the conflict into the international spotlight as Southeast Asian leaders try to find a way forward after failing to implement a peace plan negotiated in April last year. Despite calls by rights groups to leave, the country remains part of ASEAN, but is barred from sending political-level representatives to key issues.

Protesters set up transit barricades to block a road in March 2021 against a military coup in Yangon, Myanmar.

Asean foreign ministers made a last-ditch effort to scrap the strategy late last month, with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon, who chaired the meeting, saying in a statement that the challenges “are rooted in the complexity and complexity of Myanmar’s decades-long conflict, exacerbated by the current political crisis.”

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But observers are not expecting a strong line-up, at least until next year, when Cambodia leads the pack, and Indonesia takes the lead in 2023.

Addressing the “continuing crisis” will be a focus for Biden during his talks with Southeast Asian leaders at the ASEAN summit this weekend, the White House said on Tuesday. Since the coup, the Biden administration has launched sanctions targeting the military regime and held meetings with the opposition National Unity Government.

China, on the other hand, has shown support for the ruling military junta and observers say it will take tougher action. An international law-making group launched a months-long investigation into Myanmar’s situation last month, accusing Russia and China of “providing both weapons and legitimacy to another independent regime”.

That could also have an impact on results this weekend, said Chong Jae Ian, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore.

“Because of Russia and[China’s]support for the junta, any effort to find a solution in ASEAN will require some kind of engagement with them, whether they are buying or not opposing it,” Chong said.

The Myanmar crisis is not the only area where the US-China divide will loom over the ASEAN summit, even as Beijing makes territorial claims that conflict with several Southeast Asian countries, such as China’s aggression in the South China Sea. Less important this year.

ASEAN will hold the usual side meetings with the US and China, respectively, as well as other countries. China’s number two leader, the economy-focused Premier Li Keqiang, arrived earlier this week as Xi’s representative.

As Southeast Asian leaders seek to expand economic stability, they may raise concerns about the impact of U.S.-China rivalry on the region, trade and supply chains, such as the U.S. trade embargo on semi- According to Chong, leaders who go to China.

“ASEAN states are trying some way to navigate all this, and they want both Beijing and Washington to see what kind of breaks they can give,” he said.


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