China eyes better ties with ASEAN

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China is stepping up diplomacy with Southeast Asian nations with a face-to-face meeting of foreign ministers to mark “special ties,” according to Beijing.

“The fact that the two sides agreed to hold a face-to-face special foreign ministers’ meeting despite the ongoing grim coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) situation reflects how countries attach great importance to and hold high expectations of China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) relations under the new circumstances,” Chinese spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will mark the 30th anniversary of “dialogue relations” with ASEAN and “focus on combating Covid-19 and promoting economic recovery” during the meeting in Chongqing, according to Beijing.

The first overseas case of the novel coronavirus was reported in January 2020 in Thailand. China’s response to the pandemic in Southeast Asia has included offers of Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines.

Vietnam most recently approved the Sinopharm vaccine. Indonesia and China have agreed to joint Covid-19 vaccine production, according to the South China Morning Post Monday.

Chinese state tabloid Global Times reported China and ASEAN is expected to discussing Covid-19 vaccine sharing and consider developing vaccine passports to facilitate travel.

Vaccine diplomacy has become a flashpoint in the region. On Sunday, three U.S. senators flew to Taiwan to disclose a donation of 750,000 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine. China condemned the visit Monday.

Beijing will also simultaneously hold the sixth Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Wang Wenbin said. The coopeative is an economic initiative between China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

“Since last year, amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, the six countries have vigorously carried out cooperation to fight the epidemic,” Wang said. “We will work together to develop the Mekong-Lancang Economic Development Belt.”

In a separate briefing Monday, the Chinese spokesman said China “supports ASEAN’s principle of non-interference in internal affairs,” according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

“China will maintain close communication with ASEAN, support ASEAN’s mediation efforts and push for a soft landing in Myanmar,” Wang said.

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