Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to Asia and Africa, the State Department said Friday, as the U.S. and rivals China and Russia intensify their battle for global influence amid deepening divisions over Taiwan and Russia's war in Ukraine.
Blinken will begin a five-nation tour of the two continents next week, starting in Cambodia where he will attend a Southeast Asian regional security forum at which both the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers are also expected to attend. Blinken will then visit the Philippines, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
There was no immediate indication that Blinken would meet separately in Phnom Penh with either Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. However, B linken on Wednesday said he had requested a phone call with Lavrov to discuss the release of American detainees in Russia and Ukraine-related issues.
Such a conversation would end months of diplomatic estrangement between the men who last spoke in February before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Lavrov said Friday he was open to talking with Blinken but that it had not yet been arranged.
Blinken last met with Wang earlier this month at a meeting of foreign ministers from the the G-20 group of wealthy and large developing nations in Bali, Indonesia. But their presence together at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Cambodia will be their first opportunity to see each other since President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping had a more than two-hour phone call on Thursday.
The regional forum will be the last major gathering of international foreign ministers before a slew of leaders' meetings that are scheduled for this fall, beginning with the annual UN General Assembly in late September and then three summits in Asia in early November: the G-20 in Indonesia, the East Asia Summit in Cambodia and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Thailand.
Russia's war in Ukraine, along with rising Western tensions with China, particularly between Washington and Beijing over Taiwan are expected to dominate all of these meetings. China has been angered by a possible visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.