China’s premier warns against conflict in Asia amid US tensions

China’s premier warns against conflict in Asia amid US tensions

China’s Premier Li Qiang has warned against allowing “chaos and conflicts” to erupt in Asia and endanger the region’s prosperity amid rising tensions with Washington.

At a conference of global political and business leaders, China’s second-highest official pledged that Beijing would continue to reform and open up as it sought to revive an economy hit by strict Covid-19 controls.

“To achieve greater success in Asia, chaos and conflicts must not happen in Asia, otherwise the future will be lost,” Li told the Boao Forum for Asia, one of China’s largest annual international conferences.

Li’s comments followed a warning from Beijing on Wednesday that it would retaliate if Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during an upcoming trip to California.

While Li did not specifically refer to Taiwan, China and the US are increasingly at odds over issues ranging from Washington’s close ties with Taipei to US efforts to control Chinese access to advanced semiconductor technology.

“Peace is the prerequisite for development and the significant success that Asian countries have achieved in the past few decades,” Li told the forum, which was attended by Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

While most speakers at the forum deliberately avoided mentioning the war in Ukraine, Sánchez and Lee condemned the Russian invasion in blunt terms on Thursday. The Spanish leader described the conflict as Russia’s “brutal and illegal aggression . . . causing a major humanitarian crisis, food insecurity and inflation”.

Spain is set to take over the EU’s rotating presidency in July, and Sánchez is expected to discuss the war during his visit to China. He will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday.

European governments want Xi to use his influence with Russian President Vladimir Putin to help end the war, but there is deep suspicion in the west about Beijing’s close ties to Moscow.

Xi has not called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since Russia’s full-scale invasion, but has maintained regular contact with Putin and met his Russian counterpart for talks in Moscow last week.

Beijing, which has sought to portray itself as an unaligned actor, published a position paper on the conflict last month that did not condemn the invasion. State media regularly churns out Russian propaganda and refers to the conflict as a “crisis” rather than a war.

On Thursday, Singapore’s Lee said Moscow had violated the UN charter and international law, while calling for Asia to remain open to trade with the west.

China’s Li also said that Beijing will continue to expand market access to business, which has been largely cut off for three years by pandemic restrictions, and “effectively prevent and diffuse major risks, especially related to financial sectors”.

Since becoming China’s premier and chief of cabinet this month, Li has sought to promote a more business-friendly face to the world.

“Beijing stepped up its charm offensive when the new cabinet was installed in March,” Morgan Stanley wrote in a recent report. Beijing is said to have “dusted off its old playbook of opening up, backed up with actions that herald the return of China – to business”.

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