ASEAN summit: Myanmar crisis and South China Sea disputes top agenda in Jakarta
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations remains split. The membership of repressive regimes is a source of growing embarrassment, while pressure is mounting for the block to take a clear position on the war in Ukraine. Cambodia is represented internationally for the first time by Hun Manet, son of strongman Hun Sen, a staunch ally of China.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) opened its annual summit (5-7 September) today in Jakarta, chaired by Indonesia.
The 10-member bloc continues to be divided over human rights and has failed to find common ground with respect to Myanmar, one of its members, torn by civil war in the past two years.
ASEAN covers a geographical area that is home to 670 million people. Its combined gross domestic product (GDP) reached US$ 4 trillion last year.
It is one of the most dynamic areas of the world, but it is burdened by a plurality of political regimes and economic systems, broadly divided into two camps.
One group includes countries with a developed economy, or on the way to that status, albeit with substantial differences (Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei); the other is made up of countries that still lag in terms of development, as well as democracy (Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos).
So far, the organisation has achieved a certain level of cohesion in terms of trade and business relations, as well as economic and financial cooperation, and cultural relations; however, when it comes to human rights and freedoms, labour mobility, refugees and cross-border trafficking, it has made little progress.
The membership of repressive regimes is a growing embarrassment. This is especially true with respect to Myanmar, where a civil war rages.
ASEAN members are split between those of advocate talks between the parties to reach a negotiated solution, and those who, with increasing difficulty, stick to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other members.
The lack of a common strategic vision and diverging alliances have politically weakened the organisation; and this no clearer than in the unresolved dispute with China over the South China Sea.
China’s latest maps recently aggravated the tensions, by showing as Chinese areas that are not internationally recognised, most notably large swathes of the South China Sea claimed by several ASEAN countries (Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei) as their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. To a lesser extent, the dispute also involves Taiwan.
For Cambodia’s new prime minister, Hun Manet, the Jakarta meeting was his first international foray, after he took over from his father, strongman Hun Sen who led the country for more than 30 years by crushing all opposition.
According to some observers, the son could pave the way for a "new course" not only domestically but also in international relations. Under his father, Cambodia became a Chinese client state.
Lastly, in addition to regional issues, the distant Ukrainian conflict could not be avoided in Jakarta.
ASEAN's different relations with the two warring countries and their respective allies have so far inspired caution and calls for talks, but internal and external pressures are increasingly pushing members to take a clearer position.