Beijing sends its top diplomat to Singapore and South Korea amid US tensions
- Yang Jiechi to visit Singapore on Thursday and South Korea from Friday
- His first trip to Seoul in two years will include talks on international security, Korean peninsula and coronavirus response
Yang Jiechi, a leading architect of China’s foreign policy, will visit Busan starting on Friday and will hold talks on Saturday with Suh Hoon, the South Korean national security adviser, the Yonhap news agency reported, quoting presidential office spokesman Kang Min-seok.
Yang will meet senior minister Teo Chee Hean and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Singapore, and will have a call with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
Are Xi Jinping’s China and Donald Trump’s US destined for armed conflict?
It will be Yang’s first visit to South Korea since July 2018.
Washington’s hardened position on Beijing’s claims in South China Sea heightens US-China tensions
Lee also said Singapore and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations members did not want to be forced to choose between China and the US.
As relations with Washington worsen, regional experts say Beijing is looking to its Asian neighbours for support.
“The primary focus for Yang’s Asia trip will be Sino-US relations, particularly after the Hawaii meeting with Pompeo – which Pompeo himself later described as unsuccessful,” said Pang Zhongying, an expert on international relations at Ocean University of China. “China needs to stabilise its ties with Asian countries before the US election.”
Pang said the two countries on Yang’s itinerary, particularly Singapore, occupied the middle ground between the superpowers.
“There aren’t many countries in Asia that China can consider friends or that can support China in the current circumstances,” he said, citing the increasingly “complicated dynamics” between China and countries like Japan and India.
“Singapore has long played a positive role in mediating between China and the US. Lee Hsien Loong has been speaking out a lot lately and his opinion on Sino-US relations received widespread attention in China,” Pang said. “His advice and observations on the implications of the upcoming US election will be valuable for China.”
North Korea nuclear site threatened by recent flooding, says US think tank
Collin Koh, a research fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said Beijing needed to go on a charm offensive to secure support in the region.
“The context, and a key motivating factor, would of course be the current tensions between China and the US. Very naturally, being a critical ‘southern periphery’ of China, Southeast Asia is a region where Beijing needs to ensure it [is seen as a good neighbour] under these circumstances,” Koh said.
“In other words, while the US, and to a lesser extent, Japan, are reaching out more to Southeast Asia, Beijing sees it as an essential move to engage in a countervailing charm offensive to secure its broader political, economic and security interests in the region.”
Additional reporting by Dewey Sim