11 July 2024

The visit of US State Secretary Antony Blinken to Beijing has yielded indirect results, especially for anxious regional countries. Both the US and China have yet to reveal what they achieved during the much-awaited trip but, for the region, the fact that the most senior US official had the chance to land in China for the first time in five years was welcome news.

Obviously, the Beijing meeting created a general atmosphere that has left Southeast Asia hoping that, for now, the two superpowers will continue their dialogue. Most importantly, they are not going to war, as many conspirators would have had us believe. The thaw in US-China ties will take time, as they need to patch up all the acrimonious exchanges over the past years. They also agreed that cooperation is better than conflict.

Over the years, regional countries watched the worsening ties between the world’s two most powerful countries with considerable concern, as they continued squabbling. For them, healthy US-China competition is preferable, as each country can pursue its own foreign policies.

When their relations reached the edge of a precipice, as demonstrated during the spy-balloon saga, they had to step back. Friends and allies on both sides were caught up in the mix and their traditional diplomatic manoeuvrability suddenly became restricted.

The second half of this year will prove whether the big two have the sincerity to improve their relations. At least both US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have two opportunities, at the G20 summit in New Delhi and the APEC leaders’ meeting in San Francisco, to hold talks, to build on what they agreed upon last year and to catch up on the outcomes of Blinken’s visit.

Obviously, Xi’s presence at both summits will be important in ascertaining whether China is indeed fully engaged with the international community on all fronts. Both India and the US are key players in the Indo-Pacific region. In particular, as the current APEC chair, Biden would want to welcome Xi to the grand event. At the moment, the APEC chair is facing challenges in forging agreements under American stewardship. In several preparatory meetings, there were only chairman’s statements, due to the lack of consensus.

The ongoing Ukraine-Russia war has already divided the 22 economies of APEC. In Bali and Bangkok last year, the G20 and APEC leader’s statements still demonstrated that, through dialogue and diplomacy, conciliation and peace are possible.

On the controversial Taiwan issue, all ASEAN members have a clear mind and stance in respecting the one-China policy. ASEAN wishes to see China and Taiwan settle their differences through dialogue, which they have been doing for decades. The visit of former House speaker Nancy Pelosi last year upended the goodwill across the Straits and tension has risen since.

Finally, it is incumbent on both Washington and Beijing to move forward after a period of stabilisation, the word used by both sides in summing up the visit.

Kavi Chongkittavorn