ASEAN Leaders Strive to Reinforce Bloc’s Significance at Annual Summit
JAKARTA: Leaders from Southeast Asian nations are converging on Indonesia’s capital for their yearly summit, facing internal divisions within the 10-member regional bloc amid stalled peace efforts in Myanmar and heightened U.S.-China competition in the region.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is grappling with the need to reaffirm its relevance as it deals with the challenges presented by the crisis in Myanmar, where a violent coup in 2021 led to a military takeover.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi of Indonesia, the current chair of ASEAN, expressed the importance of this moment, stating, “The eyes of our peoples are on us to prove ASEAN still matters and can contribute towards peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.”
Leaders will evaluate an ASEAN peace proposal that calls for a cessation of hostilities and an inclusive dialogue to resolve the Myanmar crisis, which, after two years, has shown no signs of abating. The lack of progress has led to frustration and has laid bare internal divisions within a bloc that emphasizes unity and non-interference in member states’ sovereign affairs.
Indonesia has been making efforts to engage all stakeholders in Myanmar, but unilateral actions by Thailand, including engagement with Myanmar’s ostracized military leaders, who are barred from attending high-level ASEAN meetings, have eroded the bloc’s credibility and caused disagreements among member nations.
Former Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa emphasized the need for the bloc to adapt to current challenges or risk becoming irrelevant. He stated, “Obituaries for ASEAN have been written many times, but somehow, ASEAN has managed to reinvent itself and reassert its relevance. I believe today we are at one of those pivotal moments.”
The final ASEAN summit of the year comes shortly after China unveiled a “10-dash line” map, asserting a larger portion of the South China Sea, which is likely to increase pressure on negotiations regarding a long-delayed code of conduct in the strategically important waterway. ASEAN member states Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, which have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, have rejected the map.
Later this week, Indonesia, as the host, will also convene the East Asia summit, a broader forum that includes China, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States. However, it will be noteworthy for the absence of U.S. President Joe Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris attending in his place, along with Chinese Premier Li Qiang.