The 56th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held on July 11-12, in Jakarta, Indonesia, during which, leaders from the US, Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries vowed to enhance cooperation with the bloc in various sectors.
The Myanmar crisis topped the agenda of the meeting, as leaders from the bloc discussed how to approach the ongoing situation in the country ravaged by deadly violence since a military coup against leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in 2021.
Before the meeting, ASEAN members failed to agree on a unified position regarding the issue, with the Myanmar section left blank in a draft joint statement. The only other time this had happened was in 2012, due to a language dispute about the South China Sea.
“The para is still being discussed… member countries are still taking time to propose their submission,” a Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP.
However, the released joint communique by ASEAN regarding Myanmar states, “ We strongly condemned the continued acts of violence, including air strikes, artillery shelling, and destruction of public facilities, and urged all parties involved to take concrete action to immediately halt indiscriminate violence, denounce any escalation, and create a conducive environment for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogue.”
Myanmar is still a member state of the Southeast Asian bloc, but its military leaders have been barred from high level-meetings due to the junta’s failure to implement the five-point plan, that would help resolve the violence and restart negotiations to end the crisis.
The ASEAN communique states, “We reaffirm our united position that the Five-Point Consensus (5PC) remains our main reference to address the political crisis in Myanmar.”
Regarding the ASEAN Economic Community, the bloc emphasized the importance of accelerating energy transition and enhancing interconnectivity to achieve sustainable energy security, while ensuring energy resilience and accessibility, through initiatives such as the Lao-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP), and the implementation of the ASEAN Power Grid (APG) and Trans ASEAN Gas Pipeline (TAGP).
During the meeting, ASEAN Foreign Ministers said they expected increased cooperation with Australia in several areas, including trade, connectivity, health, education, transportation, climate change, and sustainable energy.
Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, affirmed support for ASEAN’s centrality in maintaining stability and achieving regional prosperity.
Mr. Thongphane Savanphet, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in Laos, also gave updates on preparations for a special summit to commemorate 50 years of ASEAN-Australia cooperation.
Regarding ASEAN cooperation with other countries, the Chair of the ASEAN Ministers’ Meeting, Indonesia pushed for enhanced cooperation in the field of food security between ASEAN and Russia. This was conveyed by Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi.
Marsudi explained that Russia has been a dialogue partner of ASEAN for over 26 years, and five years ago, their relationship was elevated to a Strategic Partnership. She emphasized that two areas of collaboration need to be advanced further.
The first is cooperation in the field of food security, as ASEAN plans to submit the Leaders’ Declaration on Strengthening Food and Nutrition Security to Respond to Crises at the 43rd ASEAN Summit in September. The second is to ensure that Southeast Asia remains a nuclear weapons-free zone.
The bloc and China also agreed to accelerate negotiations for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Economically, China is ASEAN’s largest trading partner, and vice versa with two-way trade reaching USD 975 billion in 2022. China is also the fourth-largest source of foreign direct investment in ASEAN, with a value of USD 13.8 billion in 2021.
During the meeting, Marsudi reiterated the importance of the stability of the Pacific region as well. The Indonesian FM said that ASEAN and New Zealand must strengthen cooperation to uphold strategic trust and international law in the region, including the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In addition to that, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Laos, Saleumxay Kommasith, along with his delegation, held a meeting with the Secretary-General to ASEAN as Laos prepares for chairmanship in 2024.
The two leaders also discussed the work of ASEAN and explored ways and means to advance the ASEAN region as the epicenter of growth, in line with Indonesia’s theme of ASEAN Chairmanship this year.