U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the significance of upholding the freedom of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to make independent choices and form alliances without coercion. The statement came after the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Indonesia, where Blinken highlighted a new era in U.S.-ASEAN relations characterized by increased collaboration.
Blinken reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, emphasizing the importance of countries being able to choose their own path and partners without facing force or aggression. He emphasized the values of transparency, fair application of rules, and the lawful and free flow of goods, ideas, and people within the region.
The Secretary of State also expressed support for ASEAN’s efforts to negotiate a code of conduct for territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea. This area is vital for global commerce and connectivity. Additionally, Blinken urged the maintenance of peace in the Taiwan Strait, where tensions between China and Taiwan have escalated in recent times.
Blinken acknowledged concerns about China’s increasing assertiveness in the South and East China Seas and the Taiwan Strait. He called for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and emphasized the U.S.’s opposition to any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side. The Secretary of State vowed to strengthen communication channels with Beijing to clarify the U.S.’s positions on regional issues and explore potential areas of cooperation between the two major powers.
In addition to addressing the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, Blinken urged North Korea to abandon its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. He also called on Burma’s military to end violence and implement ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus.
During the ASEAN meeting, Blinken had a meeting with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi. The State Department described their talks as “candid and constructive” and part of the Biden administration’s efforts to maintain open channels of communication to clarify U.S. interests and manage competition responsibly. This meeting followed Blinken’s previous meeting with Wang Yi in Beijing aimed at stabilizing U.S.-China relations.
Both sides agreed to maintain open channels of communication in the future, although further details were not provided. The negotiations on the code of conduct for the South China Sea within ASEAN have been stagnant for years due to some member states prioritizing bilateral ties with China over a regional consensus.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea based on its “nine-dash line” boundary, which was ruled to have no legal basis by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei all have competing claims with China in the South China Sea. Tensions have escalated with China’s coast guard being accused of aggressive acts by the Philippines, and Vietnam raising concerns about Chinese activities near its offshore energy projects.
In summary, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized the importance of ASEAN’s freedom to choose and form alliances without coercion. He reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and backed ASEAN’s negotiations for a code of conduct in the South China Sea. Blinken also urged peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and called for North Korea’s abandonment of its weapons programs. Communication channels with China were strengthened, and concerns about China’s actions in disputed waters were directly raised. The negotiations within ASEAN on the code of conduct have faced challenges due to some member states prioritizing bilateral ties with China.