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Pelosi's Taiwan trip fuel tensions with China and raised security concerns regionally


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan is increasing tension in the region. Today, China launched several missiles during unprecedented military drills around the island.


Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will have to manage the diplomatic fallout. He's in Cambodia for a regional gathering of Southeast Asian nations. His Chinese counterpart is also there.

FADEL: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary and joins us now from Phnom Penh. Good morning, Michele.


FADEL: So is Blinken expected to meet with China's top diplomat?

KELEMEN: So no plans for a one-on-one meeting, but, you know, there are likely to be some awkward or possibly very testy encounters there at the meeting. Secretary Blinken spent five hours with Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month in Bali, and we're told that he even discussed the possibility of a Pelosi trip then. Blinken has been arguing that the visit was not a sign that U.S. policy on Taiwan has changed. It wasn't the first visit by a speaker of the House. Newt Gingrich went to Taiwan, though that was some 25 years ago. Blinken's also argued that China's recent activities show that it's trying to change the status quo on Taiwan, not the U.S. He's likely to hammer home that message here in Cambodia and try to put the onus on China for the escalation in tensions right now.

FADEL: How is that argument being received in the region?

KELEMEN: You know, countries in the region are nervous. They want the U.S. and China to manage their relationship, to not let this get out of hand. They're clearly alarmed by the ongoing Chinese military exercises in response to Pelosi's visit. The ASEAN foreign ministers - this is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - they put out a statement today saying they're worried about the potential for miscalculation and confrontation among major powers. They said there could be unpredictable consequences. And, you know, there's just a lot of other issues that they really want to focus on - things like trade, COVID, Myanmar, where military leaders just executed four political opponents. There's a lot going on. And you add to that the food and energy crisis...

FADEL: Right.

KELEMEN: ...That's exacerbated by Russia's war in Ukraine.

FADEL: Speaking of that, Russia's foreign minister is also there. Will Blinken meet him?

KELEMEN: Yeah, again, no plans to meet Sergey Lavrov, who, by the way, arrived in Cambodia from Myanmar. Lavrov was there, all smiles with that country's ruling junta, which wasn't invited to the ASEAN meeting - another source of tension there. But Blinken and Lavrov did speak by phone last week. Blinken's approach has been that if there's something specific to talk to the Russians about, he will. Last week, it was about the U.N.-brokered deal to get food shipments out of Ukraine and also the possibility of a prisoner swap that could see the U.S. releasing a major Russian arms dealer in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner and ex-Marine Paul Whelan. That deal is still on the table. The U.S. is waiting for a serious response from the Russians. There are closing arguments in the Griner case today, so perhaps there could be a verdict as early as this week, and perhaps that could move things along.

FADEL: That's NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen in Cambodia, traveling with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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