Next week will bring the start of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Post-Ministerial Conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which may bring a diplomatic turning point for USA-China relationships. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be present at the ASEAN conference, where forum members have expressed fears that the region may become an area of “dangerous strategic competition” between the two super powers.
“As Washington gears up diplomatic efforts in Southeast Asia, it is equally important for the United States to maintain a sound relationship with China for the prosperity and peace of the Asia-Pacific region,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific Kurt Cambell said on Wednesday. “One of the most important things for us at the forum is to make it clear, particularly to colleagues in ASEAN, that we are committed to a strong, stable and durable relationship with China.”
Chinese Secretary of State Yang Jiechi will also be in attendance at the meeting, and will partner with Clinton to present new plans for humanitarian disaster relief and wildlife protection in the area. On Thursday, Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that Beijing and Washington are looking to cooperate with each other as well as the ASEAN nations to reach mutual goals.
“Beijing hopes to steadily boost both countries’ cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region on the principle of mutual respect, win-win and step-by-step, and jointly promote prosperity and stability with countries in the region,” Hong told reporters.
There are growing concerns that conflicts of interest between expanding Chinese ministries and the newly re-engaged U.S. diplomats could create a situation similar to that of the Cold War, with weaker countries caught in between looking to the U.S. or China for aid against the other.
With current issues, such as a territorial dispute between China, the Philippines and Vietnam, Campbell says the U.S. is determined not to take a stand in favor of any of the parties, and instead supports the path of diplomacy between the three involved nations. The main goal for the U.S. is to balance relations between China and the Asian-Pacific nations without forcing the countries to choose between either of the world’s biggest economies.
Bonnie Glaser, an Asian Pacific security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, spoke on the on-going tensions. “Although the U.S. and other media often pin blame on China, I think other claimants of South China Sea also sometimes behave in provocative or confrontational ways that has generated concern from the U.S. government,” she said.