05/12/2023, 18.34
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ASEAN summit: fighting human trafficking and ending violence in Myanmar

by Mathias Hariyadi

The Indonesian president closed the meeting of Southeast Asian nations at the seaside resort of Labuan Bajo. He stressed that dialogue with Myanmar’s military rulers does not imply recognising the regime. He highlighted economic challenges the regional bloc faces and stressed the need to prevent external interference.


Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo officially closed yesterday evening the 42nd summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Human trafficking and violence in Myanmar topped the agenda of the two-day meeting held in Labuan Bajo, a seaside resort town on Flores Island, in the eastern province of Nusa Tenggara.

With Indonesian Defence Minister Retno Marsudi and Secretary of State Minister Pratikno at his side, President Widodo proclaimed the regional summit a success.

“I strongly hope that ASEAN will be tough enough to face various challenges ahead and still keep maintaining its (economic) strength in the region,” he said.

With all the leaders of ASEAN member countries present, except for Myanmar’s military ruler and Thailand’s prime minister, who is running for re-election, the Indonesian president described the regional body as a big family:

For Widodo, “Unity among ASEAN countries is very important as we are called to achieve regional objectives in common – implementing our efforts together to achieve our common goal to become an epicentre of growth (in the world) and make our people in the region live in harmony, peace and prosperity.”

Speaking about human trafficking, especially involving criminal networks using online platforms, the Indonesian leaders urged fellow “ASEAN leaders to pay serious attention to these humanitarian issues and bring all offenders to justice.”

The issue took centre stage in the Philippines recently when it came to light that bogus job offers duped hundreds of jobseekers into travelling to the country where they were held against their will and forced to take part in scams at the expense of people in Europe and North America.

In its final declaration, the regional organisation also condemned the recent attack on an ASEAN convoy that was delivering humanitarian aid in Myanmar.

“Based on the so-called five-point consensus' among ASEAN nations, violence in Myanmar can no longer be tolerated,” Widodo said. “We are called to engage with all stakeholders in the region, as ASEAN's inclusiveness should be maintained even when it is at risk.”

Yet, despite all their diplomatic activity, ASEAN members have failed to change the course of Myanmar’s civil war after the military ousted the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February  2021, sparking a brutal conflict has raged ever since.

Indonesia, Jokowi explained, is ready to discuss with Myanmar’s ruling generals ways to resolve the humanitarian issue. But "Engagement does not mean recognising the military junta,” he said. “Communicating with them does not necessarily mean recognising their power," he added.

The Indonesian leader also highlighted regional unity as a source of strength against the interference of external powers. "It is pretty clear,” he said, “that our unity is undeniably important, as without it our regional group would be easily disrupted (by others). I am quite sure none of the ASEAN leaders want that to happen.”

Finally, regional partnership and cooperation should be implemented taking into account various challenges and actions that need to be coordinated. This includes a regional currency for enhanced financial transactions and digitally performed financial payments, Widodo explained.

“This point is in accordance with ASEAN’s objective of becoming an epicentre of growth and make the regional grouping more and more independent,” he added.

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