Asian and European leaders meet virtually as China looms large

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Leaders from about 50 Asian and European countries started a two-day virtual summit meeting on Thursday with Cambodia playing host, as China looms large over issues ranging from trade to human rights and to Taiwan.

Speaking at the opening session, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called the gathering a “timely opportunity” for the leaders of the two continents “to reaffirm the importance of the Asia-Europe partnership and cooperation in addressing regional and global issues of common concerns.”

Among those concerns, he said, are sustainable and inclusive development, digital connectivity, climate change, poverty, women’s empowerment and ensuring a rules-based international order he said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is attending the summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, while from Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to deliver a video message on Thursday.

Among the issues expected to be discussed are the pandemic response and Myanmar, where the military has seized power after toppling a civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi in February.

But China may also come up as a topic as the meeting is being held at a time when European countries are quickly hardening their stance on Beijing over issues including human rights.

European Council President Charles Michel is also among those delivering speeches at the outset of the meeting.

The leaders are expected to adopt documents, including a chairman’s statement, on Friday.

ASEM involves about 50 countries from across Europe and Asia as well as the European Union and the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

An ASEM summit was supposed to be held in Cambodia in November last year, but was postponed to this year and held in videoconference format due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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