A summit under tension. US Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attended the East Asia Summit on Thursday (September 7th), where the Indonesian leader, their host, warned of growing rivalries between powers.

The 18-nation meeting in the Indonesian capital Jakarta brought senior officials from Washington and Beijing to the same table, a day after the Chinese premier warned that major powers must contain their differences to avoid a "new Cold War."

Exchanges between the leaders of the world's two largest economies were scrutinized amid tensions over issues ranging from Taiwan to relations with Moscow to rivalry in the Pacific, days before the G20 summit in New Delhi.

Possible "clashes"

"I ask ... the leaders of the East Asia summit to make (the meeting) a forum to strengthen cooperation and not to sharpen rivalries," Indonesian President Joko Widodo said.

Kamala Harris and Li Qiang held separate talks with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with the US official stressing "the importance of upholding international law in the South China Sea," according to a statement.

Thursday's summit is also the first opportunity for senior U.S. and Russian officials to meet, nearly two months after a previous tense ASEAN meeting in July in Jakarta at which Westerners held Lavrov accountable for the invasion of Ukraine.

Sergey Lavrov denounced on Thursday the risk of militarization of East Asia, accusing NATO of having the will to enter the region. He also warned against the Aukus military alliance between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, described as "potentially causing clashes," according to a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The China Sea in question

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attended the summit alongside ASEAN officials.

The South Korean leader said any unilateral attempt to change the status quo in the South China Sea was "unacceptable" and called for "a maritime order based on law" to regulate the strategic area for global trade.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos has called on his partners to oppose the "dangerous use of coast guard" and any vessels used by Chinese authorities, after several incidents with Chinese boats in recent months, according to a speech released by the palace.

But the East Asia summit joint statement, seen by AFP, omitted any mention of the South China Sea, largely claimed by China, much to the chagrin of its neighbors, or the war in Ukraine.

On the sidelines of the summit, the Australian prime minister met with his Chinese counterpart and confirmed that he would pay an official visit to China "later this year", as Canberra works to warm relations with Beijing.

Li said Beijing was ready to restart bilateral trade after several years of freezing, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed his summit partners, saying it was essential to "build a post-Covid world order based on law" and called for collective efforts towards a "free and open Indo-Pacific" space.

"Systematic repression" denounced

While Thursday's meeting has a more geopolitical scope, the major powers also used previous summits in Jakarta to consolidate alliances and put pressure on the Southeast Asian bloc.

Kamala Harris held successive talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, both ASEAN members, on the sidelines of the summit.

"The vice president reaffirmed the United States' unwavering commitment to the Philippines and emphasized the role the U.S.-Philippines alliance plays in ensuring a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific," according to a statement.

During the ASEAN summit, held earlier this week and dominated by the crisis in Burma, the leaders denounced the junta's attacks on civilians.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday denounced "systematic repression" that undermines hopes for a return to democracy in Burma, represented by an empty chair at the top.

"Brutal violence, growing poverty and systematic repression are shattering hopes for a return to democracy," Guterres said.

With AFP

The summary of the weekFrance 24 invites you to look back on the news that marked the week

I subscribe

Take international news with you everywhere! Download the France 24 app