Southeast Asia’s top diplomats are holding their annual summit with the coronavirus pandemic and rising tensions in the South China Sea amid escalating rivalry between the United States and China topping the agenda.
The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit began via video link on Wednesday after being delayed by a month due to the pandemic.
The foreign ministers of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are also set to meet Asian and Western counterparts during the summit.
Russia, Japan, Australia, South Korea and India are among those remotely joining the event hosted by Vietnam that will also include a 27-nation security forum.
“While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold in a complex manner, and our people and businesses continue to be outstretched by its repercussions, the regional geopolitical and geo-economic landscape, including the South China Sea, are witnessing growing volatilities that endanger peace and stability,” Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in his opening address.
His speech came at a time when China, the US, and several Southeast Asian nations remain embroiled in a tense standoff over actions in the South China Sea.