Strained US-China military relations will be the elephant in the room as Asia’s largest security forum meets in Vietnam on Friday amid tensions over North Korea, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
A US-South Korea naval drill in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) next week is exacerbating tensions ahead of the Hanoi meet, to be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
Analysts said the 27-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum was unlikely to bring about a thaw in bilateral military ties, which Beijing froze in January over US weapons sales to Taiwan.
“It’s the worst it’s been in a long time. US-Sino relations are not in a good place right now,” said Ian Storey, a fellow of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
“Particularly significant is that the two militaries aren’t talking and there are a lot of issues that they have to discuss.”
China suspended military relations in January after Washington unveiled a 6.4-billion-dollar arms package for Taiwan.
In May, China rebuffed a planned visit to Beijing by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
The drills off the Korean peninsula — relocated from the Yellow Sea due to Chinese objections — are designed as a warning to nuclear-armed North Korea over the sinking of the warship with the loss of 46 lives, Gates said.