Asean, China foreign ministers discuss Covid-19, South China Sea and Myanmar

BEIJING – The foreign ministers of Asean and China on Monday (June 7) met in the south-western Chinese city of Chongqing, where they discussed tackling Covid-19, issues relating to the South China Sea, and the thorny issue of Myanmar.

The meeting is the first in-person talks of the grouping since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, putting a stop to international travel.

It is part of the 30th anniversary of Asean-China Dialogue Relations, and comes as South-east Asian nations are dealing with a surge in Covid-19 infections, the crisis in Myanmar, and rising tensions in the South China Sea.

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the meeting.

In the 30 years since China was invited to be an Asean dialogue partner, Singapore has played an important role in deepening Beijing’s relations with the grouping, said Mr Wang, according to a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Dr Balakrishnan said economic and trade development in South-east Asia was high on the topics for discussion.

“Particularly for Singapore, our China-Singapore Chongqing Connectivity Initiative and the International Land-Sea Trade Corridor. And how this concept links both the Belt and the Road to South-east Asia and beyond,” he said, calling it an area for “fertile discussion with much to look forward to”.

The meeting comes as Beijing has been stepping up engagement with South-east Asia, partly in response to American efforts to form coalitions against China.

There will also be a meeting of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation on the sidelines of the meeting on Tuesday.

Lancang is a grouping of countries along the Mekong River.

The gathering includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand, alongside China.

While the foreign delegations did not have to quarantine, they were made to arrive a day earlier for Covid-19 tests and kept to a designated bubble in Chongqing.

Foreign media were not allowed to attend the meeting in the south-western city to prevent potential exposure.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had to skip the meeting after he was identified as a close contact of Covid-19 cases and placed under mandatory quarantine.

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