By Neil Sands

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned against a return to Cold War-era divisions in the Asia-Pacific Thursday as tensions mounted over the security of Taiwan.

In the run-up to an anticipated virtual summit with US President Joe Biden as early as next week, Xi said countries in the region must work together on common challenges, from the Covid-19 pandemic to trade.

Xi Jinping. File photo: South African Government, via Flickr.

“Attempts to draw ideological lines or form small circles on geopolitical grounds are bound to fail,” he told a virtual business conference on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit hosted by New Zealand.

“The Asia-Pacific region cannot and should not relapse into the confrontation and division of the Cold War era.”

Xi’s call came hours after China and the United States announced a surprise pact to accelerate climate action at a summit in Glasgow where countries are trying to agree on measures to curb the warming of the Earth.

The Chinese leader did not mention the US deal directly but said “all of us can embark on a path of green, low-carbon sustainable development”.

“Together, we can usher in a future of green development,” he said.

The Chinese and US leaders will hold virtual talks “soon”, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Some reports say the meeting will take place as soon as next week.

‘Critical historical juncture’

But while the Biden administration has identified climate as a key area for potential cooperation with China, tensions have soared over their rival visions for the Asia-Pacific region, notably Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy claimed by China.

Beijing has ramped up military activities near Taiwan, with a record number of planes crossing into the island’s air defence identification zone in early October.

Antony Blinken. Photo: US State Department/Ron Przysucha, via Flickr.

Secretary of State Blinken on Wednesday underscored US military support for Taiwan. 

“We will make sure that Taiwan has the means to defend itself because the purpose here is never to get to that point where anyone is actually trying to disrupt the status quo by force,” he told an event hosted by The New York Times.

Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan said the United States and China had the choice not to return to Cold War-era divisions.

“China has a different value system. It has different interests. And that’s part of what the ongoing competition will be about,” Sullivan said in an online address to Australia’s Lowy Institute on Thursday. 

“But there’s no reason that that competition has to turn into conflict or confrontation. And that is what responsibly and collectively we need to manage as we work in the years to come.”

‘Translate consensus into actions’

Besides its position on Taiwan, China also claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade pass annually, rejecting competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Against that backdrop, the United States, Britain and Australia announced in September that they had formed a new alliance — AUKUS — under which Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines using US technology.

US military air crafts on South China Sea. File Photo: Seaman Tomas Compian via USGov.

Although delivery is years away and China was not specifically named, the announcement angered Beijing and separately sparked a furious row with France which saw its deal to sell Australia conventional submarines torn up.

Sullivan said the AUKUS alliance showed that the United States trusted Australia with its most sensitive technology.

“And we believe even more importantly, in our collective, combined capacity to produce greater stability, security and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.

‘Immunisation gap’

China’s leader also called for a joint effort across the region to close the “immunisation gap”, making Covid-19 vaccines more accessible to developing nations. 

“We should translate consensus that vaccines are a global public good into concrete actions to ensure their fair and equitable distribution,” Xi told the APEC business leaders.

Countries should in the region should step up cooperation in research, production, testing, and mutual recognition of vaccines, “to emerge from the shadow of the pandemic and achieve steady economic recovery at an early date”, he said.

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