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WRAPUP 1-Biden vows to stand with SE Asia in defending freedom of seas, democracy

Wed, 27th Oct 2021 17:33

* Biden pledges to defend freedom of the seas

* U.S. concerned by China's "coercive and proactive actions"
across Taiwan Strait

* China's Premier Li says upholding peace in South China Sea
everyone's interest
(Adds details, quotes)

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Oct 27 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden
said on Wednesday the United States would stand with Southeast
Asian allies in defending freedom of the seas, democracy and
human rights and backed efforts to hold the Myanmar junta
accountable to its commitments to peace.

Southeast Asia has become a strategic battleground between
the United States and China, which controls most of the South
China Sea and has turned up military and political pressure on
fiercely democratic Taiwan, a self-ruled island it considers its

Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) agreed on Wednesday at a virtual regional summit to
establish a "comprehensive strategic partnership", a sign of
Canberra's ambition to play a bigger role in the region.

Biden joined Southeast Asian leaders in rebuking Myanmar's
junta as the summit opened on Tuesday without a representative
from the country following its top general's exclusion for
ignoring peace proposals.

"In Myanmar, we must address the tragedy caused by the
military coup which is increasingly undermining regional
stability," Biden said on Wednesday.

"The United States stands for the people of Myanmar and
calls for military regime to end the violence, release all
political prisoners and return to the path of democracy."

He also said the United States was deeply concerned by
"China's coercive and proactive actions" across the Taiwan
Strait, a waterway linking the island and the mainland.

Tensions between Taiwan and China have escalated in recent
weeks as Beijing raises military and political pressure.

That has included repeated missions by Chinese warplanes in
Taiwan's air defence identification zone, or ADIZ, which covers
a broader area than Taiwan's territorial air space which Taiwan
monitors and patrols to give it more time to respond to any

China has never renounced the use of force to ensure
eventual unification with Taiwan.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told the summit upholding peace,
stability, freedom of navigation and overflight in the South
China Sea was in everyone's interest.

"The South China Sea is our common home," he said.


Biden also said he would speak out for "human rights in
Xinjiang and Tibet (and) the rights of the people of Hong Kong".

China denies human rights abuses in farwestern Xinjiang and
the Himalayan region of Tibet. It also denies meddling with
freedoms in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

Biden also announced discussions with partners in the
IndoPacific region would start to develop a framework "that will
position all of our economies for the future".

"We look forward to working together with digital economy
standards on infrastructure and regional connectivity, on supply
chain resilience and anti-corruption and worker standards and so
much more," he said

Critics of U.S. strategy for the region point to its lack of
an economic component after former President Donald Trump
withdrew from the trade deal now known as the Comprehensive and
Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters he had
stressed in Wednesday's meetings his country's resolute stance
on "urgent regional situations", including the East and South
China Seas, North Korea and Myanmar.

"I also mentioned human rights situations in Hong Kong and
Xinjiang, as well as the importance of peace and stability in
the Taiwan strait," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the
Australia-ASEAN pact would strengthen diplomatic and security
ties and promised Canberra would "back it with substance".

"This milestone underscores Australia's commitment to
ASEAN's central role in the Indo-Pacific and positions our
partnership for the future," he said in a joint statement with
Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Brunei, serving as chair of ASEAN, said the agreement
"marked a new chapter in relations."

After the announcement, Australia said it would invest $154
million in projects in Southeast Asia on health and energy
security, counter-terrorism, fighting transnational crime, plus
hundreds of scholarships.

China has sought a similar agreement with ASEAN. Premier Li
met ASEAN leaders on Tuesday, and the bloc's leaders will meet
Chinese President Xi Jinping in November at a virtual summit,
two diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Morrison sought to reassure ASEAN that a trilateral security
pact agreed last month between the United States, Britain and
Australia, under which Australia will get access to
nuclear-powered submarines, would not be a threat to the region.
(Reporting by Ain Bandial in Bandar Seri Begawan and Tom Allard
in Sydney; Additional reporting by Stanley Widianto in Jakarta;
Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Colin Packham in Canberra, David
Brunnstrom in Washington and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila;
Writing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie; Editing by Simon
Cameron-Moore, Jon Boyle and Sonya Hepinstall)

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