ASEAN and many issues
JI-Jakarta. ASEAN Ministers’ Meeting under Indonesia’s chairmanship kicks off on Wednesday, coinciding with the second anniversary of the military putsch in Myanmar.
The shadow of the Feb. 1, 2021, coup looms large over the Southeast Asian meetup, even as Indonesia seeks to dampen concerns that the bloc would be too preoccupied by the political crisis that erupted after Myanmar’s military usurped power from civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The government’s management of the crisis would inevitably become a litmus test for its overall chairmanship, analysts have repeatedly warned, even as the Foreign Ministry reaffirmed that the issue would not “take ASEAN hostage” and that economic resilience was a bigger regional priority.
A regional military gathering co-chaired by Thailand and the United States has extended an invitation to the Myanmar military, which overthrew the government two years ago.
The five-day ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus Experts’ Working Group on Maritime Security is due to start on Feb. 20 and will also include tabletop exercises. A Pentagon spokesman said that the attendance is determined by ASEAN member states.
At the meeting, there will be people from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, aside from the 10 ASEAN members.
Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and ASEAN Business Advisory Council (BAC) 2023 Chair Arsjad Rasjid on Monday said that Indonesia’s vision for ASEAN strength is to establish connectivity between Southeast Asian countries in terms of business or private groups.
The ASEAN BAC, which is regarded as a forum for businesspeople from all ASEAN member countries, is expected to help realizing ASEAN’s centrality in the region’s overall vision.
Furthermore, economic growth in ASEAN is expected to benefit all member countries as well as the global and micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) sectors.
Indonesia will kick off its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by hosting its first major meeting on Friday (Feb 3). The group’s foreign ministers will gather at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta to discuss a slew of issues affecting the region.
The last time Indonesia led ASEAN was in 2011. This time, the country will have to deal with a set of different challenges, with the political crisis in Myanmar a key concern. Jakarta wants to drum up the message that it is committed to help Myanmar through its chairmanship. “We want to implement the Five-Point Consensus.
This will be the main platform from ASEAN to contribute to help Myanmar exit from the political crisis,” said Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi. This is despite the Myanmar military regime not honouring its part of the peace agreement almost two years on.
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) Myanmar Country Director Marcus Brand recently said that a number of cases of violence and human rights violations that have occurred in Myanmar in recent years have drawn a lot of world criticism.
Indeed, the attempted genocide against the Rohingya minority group in Rakhine state prior to the establishment of the military junta government claimed many lives.
As a result, Indonesia, as the 2023 ASEAN chair, will make Myanmar one of the regional group’s top priorities at the first Ministerial Retreat in Jakarta, or the meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers.
Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said ASEAN had invited a Myanmar non-political representative to the upcoming meetup between the bloc’s foreign ministers.
But it is up to Myanmar to send a non-political figure to the meeting — although the country has always declined the offer in the past, Minister Retno said.
ASEAN’s foreign ministers are scheduled to join the bloc’s 32nd coordinating council and a ministerial retreat at the group’s secretariat in Jakarta on Feb. 3-4. But the Southeast Asian grouping is blocking the Myanmar junta from its high-profile meetings.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States would keep pushing for the Myanmar military to be held responsible for the crimes it has committed.
Secretary Blinken also said the United States is imposing sanctions on six individuals and three entities linked to the regime’s efforts to generate revenue and procure arms.
He said the United States is also sanctioning the Union Electoral Commission, which the regime has deployed to advance its plans for deeply flawed elections that would subvert the will of the people of Burma.
Singapore and other Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economies are seeing downgrades to their 2023 growth outlooks because slowing global growth will outweigh the positive impact from China’s economic reopening, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas.
The above-mentioned factor prompted the IMF to reduce Singapore’s GDP growth outlook for 2023 to 1.5% from a 2.3% projection issued last October, he told a news briefing on the IMF’s latest global growth forecasts.
The forecast for ASEAN-5, namely Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, was cut to 4.3% from 4.5%. The group’s 2024 economic growth is predicted to go down by 0.2 percentage point to 4.7%.
Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) Chair and ASEAN-BAC 2023 Chair Arsjad Rasjid said he is preparing seven priority programs that would become Indonesia’s legacy in leading the council this year.
The announcement was made at a press conference in Jakarta on Monday following the handover of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (BAC) chairmanship from Cambodia to Indonesia.
Three of the seven programs are in the digitalization sector, two are sustainable priority programs, and one program each on health and food security.
Jakarta wants to drum up the message that it is committed to help Myanmar through its chairmanship. “We want to implement the Five-Point Consensus. This will be the main platform from ASEAN to contribute to help Myanmar exit from the political crisis,” said Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi.
Indonesia said it has formed the office of special envoy to Myanmar led by the Foreign Affairs Minister as mandated by the Five-Point Consensus. However, head of the Department of International Relations at Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies Lina Alexandra said such a strategy may be too short-sighted to work.
Indonesia will also try to engage with all stakeholders in Myanmar, something which the previous two ASEAN chairs — Cambodia and Brunei — had failed to do.
The conflict in Myanmar dominated the year’s first meeting of Asean foreign ministers on Friday, with Indonesia’s top diplomat saying that member states had “frank” discussions on the issue.
The foreign minister of Indonesia, which chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, said the bloc was pushing for inclusive dialogue between all stakeholders in Myanmar.
Retno Marsudi spoke after opening a retreat with her regional counterparts, which Myanmar’s junta leaders have been barred from attending. “The meeting is dedicated to discuss the Myanmar issue in an open, in-depth, and frank manner as one family,” she said in a news conference.
The United States supports Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN to be more assertive toward the Myanmar junta. The U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet in a press teleconference from Washington said the United States strongly supports ASEAN’s five-point consensus on Myanmar.
“We strongly support the Five-Point Consensus, and we are very much looking forward to working with Indonesia as this year’s chair in ASEAN just as we worked very closely with Cambodia last year and Brunei the year before in terms of the ASEAN approach to this crisis,” Chollet said.
He praised ASEAN for maintaining a very principled and very tough stance to ensure that Myanmar is not represented at a political level at any senior-level meetings.
U.S. Department of State Counselor Derek Chollet in a telephonic press briefing on regarding the second year of Myanmar’s military coup said that the United States will seek ways to stop the supply of weapons from Russia to Myanmar, while increasing ties with ASEAN to resolve the crisis in Myanmar.
Chollet said that the maneuvers of the Myanmar junta which continues to move closer to Russia must be strongly criticized. According to him, what Russia gave to Myanmar was used against the people.
Indonesia plans to intensify talks with China and other Southeast Asian countries to finalize a code of conduct (CoC) for the disputed South China Sea, Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said at the close of a meeting between foreign ministers from the ASEAN.
“ASEAN’s outlook on the Indo-Pacific was central to the discussion,” she said. “We also discussed the CoC, the commitment of members to conclude the negotiation of the CoC as soon as possible.”
Indonesia is preparing to host a round of negotiations on the CoC this year, the first taking place in March, the foreign minister said. “New approaches” would be explored by all ASEAN member states and Chinese counterparts to make progress on the CoC, Sidharto R. Suryodipuro, director of ASEAN cooperation at Indonesia’s foreign ministry, said.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat wrapped up in Jakarta with a proposal from Indonesia to implement a five-point peace plan for Myanmar and to resume negotiations for the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea.
Minister Retno said that Jakarta proposed an “implementation plan” to ASEAN members for the “Five-Point Consensus” agreed with the junta in April 2021 that called for an end to violence and dialogue between all parties in Myanmar.
The minister’s expert staff member for regional diplomacy Ngurah Swajaya, meanwhile, said that the Five-Point Consensus would remain the main guide for ASEAN to address the issue of Myanmar, including the implementation plan discussed during the retreat.
During President Jokowi’s meeting with ASEAN foreign minister at the Merdeka Palace, Minister Retno said Jokowi emphasized two key points.
First, ASEAN should not be used as a proxy; second, ASEAN must be the center of economic growth in the face of the current global economic downturn.
Jokowi also emphasized the importance of respecting the democratic principles of international human rights law in accordance with the ASEAN Charter.
The main requirement for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to play a central role in the global arena is stable regional security, Governor of the National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas) Andi Widjajanto has said.
“There are two important issues of regional stability, namely the problem of the political crisis in Myanmar and the South China Sea. Indonesia, as the chair of ASEAN, has a central role,” he observed.
Although ASEAN chair Indonesia appears to be pushing the bloc to accelerate talks with China for a code of conduct to avoid conflicts in the South China Sea, Beijing’s increasing activities in waters of Southeast Asian claimant states would stall an agreement, analysts warned.
At the end of a two-day meeting of the region’s top diplomats in Jakarta, Retno Marsudi, the foreign minister of Indonesia, said they discussed code of conduct (COC) negotiations and were committed to concluding them “as soon as possible.”
However, the regional atmosphere isn’t conducive for such talks, and so it doesn’t seem likely that such negotiations will end swiftly and successfully, analysts said.
ASEAN provides an inclusive and central platform that can support regional stability, Foreign Affairs Ministry Director Sidharto R. Suryodipuro said during a dialogue on “The Latest ASEAN on the Global Stage”.
According to National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas) Andi Widjajanto, one of the unique qualities of ASEAN is that it has succeeded in creating a multi-layered diplomacy channel, which, theoretically, could further promote cooperation and peace.
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Economics Department Head Fajar Hirawan said that one of ASEAN’s challenges is maintaining economic stability, which is definitely influenced by security and political stability.
National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) political research professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar during a national seminar on ASEAN leadership said that Indonesia, which holds the ASEAN chairmanship in 2023, faces difficult challenges.
Minilateralism in the region, the struggle for global dominance, and crimes against humanity are all obstacles that must be overcome in order to pursue regional growth.
Dewi said Indonesia will struggle to lead ASEAN this year, with several internal and external issues that Indonesia and ASEAN member countries will face for some time, starting with China’s aggressive behavior, not only in Taiwan, but also in the South China Sea, the Indo-Pacific, and the wider South Pacific region.
Recognizing the learning gaps brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, newly installed Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Council President Vice President Sara Duterte promised to fight the education challenges and work on programs to address the learning losses.
The official, who serves as Education secretary in a concurrent capacity, accepted the challenge of leading Southeast Asian education ministers in the post-pandemic recovery of the education sector.
“For decades, SEAMEO has been a proactive partner of the Department of Education (DepEd) by offering multiple forms of support to our teachers, educators, researchers, students, and schools through its three regional centers; Regional Center of Educational Innovation and Technology (SEAMEO INNOTECH); Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA); and Regional Center for Public Health, Hospital Administration, Environmental and Occupational Health (SEAMEO TROPMED),” she said.
If ASEAN chair Indonesia sends a general as special envoy to Myanmar, that facilitator must be allowed to meet all parties there, said an ex-Indonesian general who aided the Burmese transition to democracy from junta rule over a decade ago.
That person must also be someone who supports civilian control over the military and understands democratic transition, Agus Widjojo said in an interview with BenarNews.
He said the envoy would need to meet ethnic armed groups’ representatives, and democratically elected lawmakers who were ousted in the Myanmar military coup in February 2021.
ASEAN should pursue working-level talks with Myanmar’s military government to resolve the political crisis, argued Yohei Sasakawa, Japan’s special envoy for national reconciliation in the troubled Southeast Asian country.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations “needs to establish more frequent working-level contacts” with the military, said Sasakawa, who spoke with Nikkei here Monday. He suggested that ASEAN set up an office in Myanmar toward this end. Sasakawa is chairman of the philanthropic Nippon Foundation.
Following a meeting of its foreign ministers, ASEAN on Saturday released a statement stressing that “inclusive national dialogue is key to finding a peaceful resolution to the situation in Myanmar.” Sasakawa agreed that a national dialogue is imperative.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim asked Thailand to play a bigger role in bringing stability to coup-hit Myanmar, as diplomatic efforts to bring peace there flounder.
Anwar held his first bilateral meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha since the former won office late last year.
The Thai government has faced international criticism for maintaining normalised ties with Myanmar’s junta and for downplaying alleged atrocities in its neighbour since the country was plunged into chaos following a putsch two years ago (Red/many sources).