Southeast Asia 'no proxy for any powers'

Indonesia's president has vowed not to let Southeast Asia become the front lines of a new Cold War amid increasing tensions between the United States and China, saying as his country takes over the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that it will not become "a proxy to any powers".

Joko Widodo said the 10-nation bloc "must be a dignified region" and "uphold the values of humanity and democracy", principles that have been challenged by last year's military takeover in Myanmar and concerns about human rights in Cambodia.

"ASEAN must become a peaceful region and anchor for global stability, consistently uphold international law and not be a proxy to any powers," he said on Sunday.

"ASEAN should not let the current geopolitical dynamic turn into a new Cold War in our region."

As China has grown more assertive in the Asia-Pacific and pressed its claim to the self-governing democracy of Taiwan, the US has pushed back, leading to increasing tensions.

Even as the ASEAN leaders met at the weekend in Phnom Penh, US naval exercises with its Quad partners of Australia, India and Japan were under way in the Philippine Sea.

And on Saturday, China's military flew 36 fighter jets and bombers near Taiwan, according to Taiwanese officials.

The flights come as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's stepped-up efforts to intimidate Taiwan by regularly flying fighter planes and bombers near the island and firing missiles into the sea around it.

In Sunday's East Asia Summit, which ran concurrently with the ASEAN meeting and included the US and China, US President Joe Biden underscored that freedom of navigation and overflight must be respected in the East China and South China seas and that all disputes must be resolved peacefully and according to international law.

Biden said the US would compete vigorously with China while keeping lines of communication open and ensuring that competition does not veer into conflict, while reaffirming the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The comments came just a day before a highly anticipated meeting between Biden and Xi at the Group of 20 summit in Bali.

At the opening of the East Asia Summit, Cambodian leader Hun Sen called for unity, telling the gathering attended by Biden, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that current global tensions had taken a toll on everyone.

Without naming any nation, Hun Sen said he hoped leaders would embrace a "spirit of togetherness in upholding open and inclusive multilateralism, pragmatism and mutual respect in addressing the existential and strategic challenges we all face".

The meetings also included the leaders of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and others.

Biden also raised human rights concerns in Cambodia. After the meeting with Hun Sen, the White House said Biden urged the prime minister - an authoritarian ruler in a nominally democratic nation - to "reopen civic and political space" before its 2023 elections.

Biden also focused on Myanmar, stressing to Hun Sen that the US was committed to the return of democracy in the country, where the military overthrew the civilian government in February 2021 and arrested its elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

China's Li, meantime, told a meeting of ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea that amid a "turbulent" global security situation, "unilateralism and protectionism are surging, economic and financial risks are rising, and global development is confronted with unprecedented challenges".

Li said the group needed to "stay committed to promoting peace, stability, development and prosperity in the region and beyond".