Biden warns Xi Jinping he wants ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific in virtual meeting with Putin

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Joe Biden issued warnings at the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum after the meeting was called by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The main focus of the discussion, which saw Biden meet virtually with both Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, was to discuss plans for a post-pandemic recovery.

This included a statement pledging to accelerate access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Jen Psaki, the White House’s Press Secretary, said in a statement issued before Biden’s appearance that the 46th President would update leaders “on what the US is doing to serve as an arsenal of vaccines for the region and support all those suffering from COVID-19.”

His Chinese counterpart suggested he could support waiving intellectual property rights on doses of the COVID vaccine to help ensure the continuation of the jabs supply chain.

Despite Biden’s recent order for US spy agencies to conduct a three-month investigation into the causes of the pandemic, there was no reference to the origins of the coronavirus in joint statements issued by APEC.

The American President made the pivot to initiate the 90-day investigation following suggestions the coronavirus could have escaped from a lab in Wuhan.

Biden also used the meeting to issue China stern words of warning about their conduct in Asia.

Psaki explained that Biden would use this opportunity to “emphasise the importance of multilateral cooperation and reiterated his commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The readout from Washington added: “He put forward a vision for the region that is affirmative, values-based, and transparent.”

Sino-American relations have recently come under strain following China’s attempts to undermine democracy in Hong Kong, threatening behaviour towards coastal states in the South China Sea and the mass internment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.

Just last week, Beijing even claimed it had forced an American warship out of its territorial waters.

The US has challenged this claim and instead argued that the USS was conducting a “freedom of navigation” operation through the international waters surrounding the disputed Paracel Islands.

When marking the fifth anniversary of the international ruling that found in favour of the Philippines against Chinese claims to maritime access, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the freedom of the seas was an “enduring” interest to all nations.

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He then said: “Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea.”

“The People’s Republic of China”, Blinken claimed, “continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states”.

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