US to keep lines of communication with China open, Biden says as Asean leaders call for unity

United States would keep the lines of communication with China open to ensure the two countries do not veer into conflict, said president Joe Biden during the East Asia summit being held in Cambodia.

Mr Biden is in Cambodia alongside other world leaders at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit where the country’s prime minister called for a peaceful resolution of differences.

Prime minister Hun Sen, whose country holds the rotating chair of the Asean, told the gathering, including Russia, China and the US, that the current global tensions have been taking a toll on everyone.

The comments come as regional tension remains high between US and China over Taiwan, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupting global supply chains, causing a rise in energy and food prices across the world.

Without singling out any nation by name, Mr Hun Sen said he hoped leaders would embrace a "spirit of togetherness in upholding open and inclusive multilateralism, pragmatism and mutual respect in addressing the existential and strategic challenges we all face".

"Many current challenges and tensions have been hindering our past hard-earned efforts to promote sustainable development and causing greater hardship to people’s lives," he said as he opened the meeting, which is running in parallel to the Asean group’s main summit.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, however, maintained the offensive, accusing the west of “militarising” southeast Asia in a bid to contain Russian and Chinese interests.

Setting the stage for a confrontation between Russia and western leaders at the G20 summit where the Ukraine war is likely to dominate the agenda, Mr Lavrov accused the US of “trying to master” the southeast Asian space.

He said Mr Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy was an attempt to bypass "inclusive structures" for regional cooperation and would involve "the militarisation of this region with an obvious focus on containing China, and containing Russian interests in the Asia-Pacific."

The US president told southeast Asian leaders that Washington was committed to building an "Indo Pacific that’s free and open, stable and prosperous, and resilient and secure" as he outlined a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the United States and the region.

Neither the US nor Russia is a member of Asean, a 10-member group of southeast Asian countries, but several world leaders attended the talks ahead of next week’s G20 summit in Indonesia’s Bali.

Russia has sought to foster much closer economic, political and security ties with Asia since the West hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier, Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese said that his conversation with China’s premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the summit was “constuctive” and “positive”.

"I think it’s a good thing it happened. I have said repeatedly about the relationship with China that we should cooperate where we can,” he added. "And that dialogue is always a good thing."

The ties between the two countries deteriorated in recent years with China sanctioning some of the Australian imports and reacting angrily to Canberra’s call for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 pandemic.

The short discussion came amid speculation about a possible meeting between Mr Albanese and China’s president Xi Jinping at a summit of the G20 summit on Monday.

On Wednesday, the Australian leader said a meeting with President Xi would be a positive development after years of tense relations.

The last summit meeting in 2019 saw Mr Albanese’s predecessor, Scott Morrison, meet Mr Xi at a G20 meeting, Australia’s foreign ministry said.

Meanwhile, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida told Asean leaders that China is continuously, and increasingly, taking actions that infringe on Japan’s sovereignty and escalate tensions in the region.

Mr Kishida also said ensuring peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait was important for regional security, and voiced “serious concern” over the human rights situation in Uyghur, according to a statement issued by Japan’s foreign ministry.

“There has been continued, increasing actions by China in the East China Sea that violate Japan’s sovereignty. China also continues to take actions that heighten regional tension in the South China Sea,” he told the meeting, according to the statement.

Additional reporting from the wires