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Philippines helps solve seating issue between US, Russia at ASEAN meeting

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers who are meeting major powers in Cambodia stumbled on a seating problem Friday when the top diplomats of the US and Russia who have been locked in a word war over the invasion of Ukraine would have found themselves seating next to each other.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov should be seated beside each other as major dialogue partners of the ASEAN ministers in the East Asia Summit, or EAS, two Southeast Asian diplomats said.

Amid the escalating tensions between the rival world powers, one of the ministers apparently discreetly requested that he be not seated next to the other, the diplomats said.

Host Cambodia, came up with a solution: Let the Philippine head of delegation, DFA Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro, sit in between the feuding two.

Lazaro, diplomats said, readily agreed and was seen in photographs flanked by the top diplomats of the world’s major rival powers.

Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo skipped the ASEAN meetings after testing positive for the coronavirus last Aug. 1.

The ASEAN meetings in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh this week have been ridden with geopolitical tensions.

In one close-door meeting, Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, stepped out of the meeting hall when Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi started delivering a speech at the EAS ministerial meetings, ASEAN diplomats also told GMA News Online.

Japan has raised alarm over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing military exercises by China around Taiwan following the visit in the latter of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In a separate meeting on Wednesday, Wang responded when Hayashi raised concern over the military exercises off Taiwan, one of the ASEAN diplomats said.

There were also concerns that Blinken and the representatives of US allies Japan, Australia and others may walk out when Lavrov speaks at the EAS and ASEAN Regional Forum meetings in Phnom Penh on Friday. —NB, GMA News