Asia-Pacific major powers revealed deep divisions Thursday, with their leaders exchanging harsh words over Russia's war on Ukraine and the maritime assertiveness of China.

At the 18-member East Asia Summit held in Jakarta, the United States and Japan warned that those developments are threatening the global order, while China and Russia hit back by saying such arguments only sow seeds of confrontation.

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (far L) attends the East Asia Summit in Jakarta on Sept. 7, 2023. (Kyodo) 

"The United States remains committed to what we must do to resolve these issues, and we remain concerned about China's provocative actions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea," U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said.

Harris added Russia's "brutal assault" on Ukraine must be condemned as "an attack on that nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity" and that Washington will continue to hold Moscow accountable for its "egregious crimes against humanity."

"In the Indo-Pacific and around the world, we also see growing threats to the international rules-based order," she said, adding that the concern is shared with many ASEAN members.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang said the accusations against Beijing are "attempts to create competing structures" and to force countries in the region to "pick sides or get embroiled in meaningless disputes."

"Confrontation produces no winner, rather mutually beneficial cooperation is what people want and where the future lies," Li said, adding that "general stability" has been maintained in the South China Sea.

The annual gathering, held on the final day of three-day summits by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their partners, came as the rift between major democracies led by the Group of Seven nations and the China-Russia camp has been widening.

U.S. President Joe Biden, as well as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, skipped the talks despite their countries' intense competition for influence in the fast-growing region.

At the gathering, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida voiced opposition to "continued and intensified activities" in the East China Sea and "militarization and coercive activities" in the South China Sea.

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends the annual East Asia Summit with member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other Asia Pacific partners in Jakarta on Sept. 7, 2023. (Kyodo) 

Kishida also said the Russian aggression against Ukraine "continues even now, despite many countries condemning it," adding that Moscow's nuclear threat and its potential use of nuclear weapons are "absolutely unacceptable."

"Unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force are unacceptable anywhere in the world, and Japan strongly opposes it," Kishida said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said some EAS members are trying to "Ukrainize" the agendas at the meeting and to discuss other problems that are not in their regional agenda.

He also indirectly rapped the U.S. military's engagement in the region when he said that "out-of-the-region actors" are becoming increasingly active in militarizing the Asia-Pacific space.

At the EAS talks, Kishida also reassured attendees of the safety of treated radioactive water being released into the Pacific from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant that began on Aug. 24, underscoring that the discharge has gone ahead "in accordance with international standards."


China has expressed strong opposition to the discharge and suspended all Japanese seafood imports, citing the possible impact on human health and the marine environment. On Wednesday, Kishida and Li criticized each other at the ASEAN Plus Three gathering, also involving South Korea.

But at Thursday's meeting, Li made no remarks directly referencing the water release, which caused Kishida to avoid referring to China by name as well, according to a Japanese government official, who suggested the matter has started showing signs of calming down.

The official also said no participants brought up the issue related to a map released by China late last month, over which disputes have been recently intensifying in the Indo-Pacific region.

The map depicted the majority of the South China Sea as Chinese territory, leading to protests from several ASEAN members and Japan.

The EAS comprises ASEAN -- which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

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