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Xi Jinping warns of ‘cold war’ divisions as US rebuilds alliances

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Xi Jinping has warned Asia-Pacific leaders against joining Joe Biden’s plan to strengthen alliances to counter China’s economic and military rise.

The Chinese president said on Thursday that attempts to “draw ideological lines” or to “form small circles on geopolitical grounds” were bound to fail.

“The Asia-Pacific region cannot and should not relapse into the confrontation and division of the cold war era,” Xi told a virtual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Xi issued the warning amid tentative signs of a mild thaw in relations between Beijing and Washington.

Since taking office, Biden has taken a tough approach on China, criticising Beijing for its military activity around Taiwan, its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Beijing has responded by accusing the Biden administration of interfering in China’s strategic interests.

However, the leaders of the world’s two most important countries are expected to hold a virtual summit as soon as next week. On Wednesday, Biden and Xi’s climate envoys made a rare joint declaration to co-operate on climate change at the UN COP26 summit in Glasgow.

But on Thursday Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, signalled the US was working on a new “framework” for American economic engagement with other countries in the region, as part of the effort to compete with China’s economic might.

“Whether it’s in the realm of supply chains, or the intersection of climate and trade, or digital, or investment screening and export controls. Across a number of areas that have not traditionally been part of trade agreements, we believe that there is the possibility of putting together a comprehensive vision and getting a whole bunch of countries aligned around that,” Sullivan said to the Lowy Institute, the Australian think-tank.

The White House’s lack of concrete detail on the planned “framework” has rankled US allies and partners that have pushed for economic engagement.

Sullivan’s remarks highlighted the challenge facing Washington as it tries to improve US-China ties while formalising alliances that exclude and challenge Beijing.

When asked why the US signed up to the so-called Aukus alliance with Australia and the UK, Sullivan emphasised the administration’s intention to win even greater co-operation from US allies.

“The president wanted to say not just to Australia, but to the world, that if you are a strong friend and ally and partner, and you bet with us, we will bet with you . . . It’s about a statement of putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to the rhetoric around alliances,” he said.

The Aukus strategic pact, announced in September, drew a sharp response from France, which lost a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Australia when Canberra announced it would buy the vessels from the US instead.

Sullivan conceded that the US experienced “some challenges” in the diplomatic fallout with France. But he did not comment on whether the Biden administration was comfortable with the way that Canberra handled the Aukus announcement.

Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

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