ASEAN ministers warn Taiwan tensions could spark ‘open conflicts

PHNOM PENH    –    Southeast Asian foreign min­isters urged restraint Thurs­day as China launched mas­sive military drills off Taiwan, warning the situation risked spiralling into “open conflicts”.

A furious Beijing kicked off its biggest-ever exercises around Taiwan in response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit this week to the self-ruled island.

Ministers from the 10-mem­ber Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meet­ing in Phnom Penh warned against “provocative action”.

The situation “could lead to miscalculation, serious con­frontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers”, the ministers said in a joint state­ment published Thursday.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is attending the talks along with his US counterpart Antony Blinken, though they are not expected to hold a one-on-one meeting. At a meeting with ASEAN ministers, Blinken said the United States had con­tacted China “at every level of government” in recent days to call for calm and stability.

“I hope very much that Bei­jing will not manufacture a crisis or seek a pretext to in­crease its aggressive military activity,” Blinken said.

“We and countries around the world believe that escala­tion serves no one and could have unintended consequenc­es that serve no one’s inter­ests including ASEAN mem­bers and including China.”

Beijing, which considers Tai­wan a part of its territory to one day be reclaimed, by force if necessary, was enraged by the trip by Pelosi the highest-pro­file elected US official to visit the island in 25 years. It vowed “punishment” and state TV said it began military drills, includ­ing live-fire exercises, at 0400 GMT in several areas encircling Taiwan. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, also in Phnom Penh, condemned the Chinese response.

“There is no justification to use a visit as pretext for ag­gressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait. It is normal and routine for legislators from our countries to travel internationally,” he tweeted.

Kung Phoak, Cambodia’s deputy foreign minister and ASEAN spokesman, urged both sides to stabilise the situation. “We hope de-es­calation happens… and nor­malcy returns to the Taiwan Strait,” he told reporters.

MISCALCULATION FEAR

ASEAN is split between countries with close ties to China, such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, and oth­ers that are warier of Beijing and its growing international assertiveness. But no ASEAN country formally recognises Taiwan and none has shown an appetite for backing Taipei against the communist giant.

The ministers’ statement which avoided referring to Taiwan by name said ASEAN “stands ready to play a con­structive role in facilitating peaceful dialogue”, though it is not clear either side is inter­ested in outside mediation

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