China's foreign minister walks out of Asean meetings twice to show displeasure to US & Japan

In a bid to give his counterparts the cold shoulder.

Tan Min-Wei | August 07, 2022, 12:21 PM

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China’s foreign minister had apparently walked out of an Asean Regional Forum Gala on Aug. 5 to express his unhappiness at U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, which took place on the night of Aug. 2.

China's protest over Pelosi's visit continues

This came as China held live-fire exercises which state-backed media CGTN and Global Times characterised as a "blockade” of Taiwan. The unprecedented drills are held in six zones surrounding Taiwan, and are scheduled to end on Aug. 7.

A blockade is legally an act of war. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and an "inseparable part" of its territory.

Pelosi is the leader of the U.S. legislative branch, which is a co-equal branch of the U.S. government, and is not required to coordinate her international visits with the U.S. President Joe Biden.

The live-fire exercises, with scores of planes deployed and live missiles fired, have affected access to the island by both sea and air. Some airlines, including Singapore Airlines, have canceled flights temporarily.

Tensions spill over

The U.S. and China have blamed each other for ratcheting up tensions regarding the visit. This has now split over from bilateral ties to the G7 group of nations and Asean.

On Aug. 3, the G7 nations issued a collective statement saying that there was “no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait”, and that their support of a One China policy had not changed.

For them, “it is normal and routine for legislators from our countries to travel internationally”, likely a reference to Pelosi’s visit, as well as prospective future visits mooted by the United Kingdom.

They called on "all parties to remain calm, exercise restraint, act with transparency, and maintain open lines of communication to prevent misunderstanding”.

China responded angrily to the statement, with its Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying the G7’s critiques were “groundless”, and that China’s measures were “reasonable and legitimate”, having been taken to “safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity”, Reuters reported.

The silent treatment

Wang showed his displeasure at his U.S. and Japanese counterparts at the 55th Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting held in Phnom Penh by 2022 Asean Chair Cambodia.

According to Reuters, Wang walked out before the start of a gala dinner on Aug. 4 -- the same day that China launched its live-fire drills. He had earlier waved to the media as he entered a holding room for the dinner.

At the foreign ministerial session of the East Asia Summit, he walked out once more with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov just before Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi was due to give a speech, Kyodo reported, citing diplomatic sources.

There was no reason given for Wang leaving, although the walkouts are likely retaliation for U.S. and Japan's statements on both Taiwan and Ukraine.

The U.S. had urged China not to overreact to Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, together with their Australian counterpart Penny Wong had also called on China to immediately cease the military exercises.

Perhaps most concerning is that China has extended its pique to bilateral communications between itself and the U.S. According to Reuters, China said that it would halt dialogue between its military and that of the U.S., as well as discussion on climate change, and cross border crime.

A U.S. official speculated that the break in communication was China signalling its displeasure with the U.S. but did not think they were cutting off communications permanently.

However a Chinese embassy official said that the crisis would only end when the U.S. rectified “its mistakes and eliminate(d) the grave impact of Pelosi’s visit”. Wang had also told media at the Asean meetings that the U.S. should not "act rashly" or "create a greater crisis”.

Asean has its own frustrations

The Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting had its own fair share of frustrations, much of it stemming from the recent execution of four opposition activists in Myanmar.

The executions took place despite the Asean Chair Cambodia asking the military junta to call them off. As a result, Myanmar was not invited to attend the meeting. The Diplomat, citing AP, said that Malaysia was pushing for the country to be totally excluded from Asean events.

Myanmar’s actions have cast further doubts on Asean’s ability to impact events in the region, as well as the viability of its Five Point Consensus, which was meant to provide guidelines towards ending the violence in the country.

Despite its troubles, the Asean forum appears to have been successfully completed, with over 30 countries in attendance.

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan congratulated Cambodia on successfully hosting the event, although he unfortunately found out that he had contracted Covid when he returned to Singapore.

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Top images via China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs & @secblinken/Twitter