ASEAN Unity and Challenges in Focus at 2023 Summit

ASEAN Unity and Challenges in Focus at 2023 Summit.lelemuku.com.jpg

JAKARTA, LELEMUKU.COM – Amid growing concerns about the effectiveness and unity of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, the current chair of the regional bloc, affirmed its continued unity during the three-day ASEAN summit held in Jakarta on September 7, 2023.

President Jokowi addressed questions and criticisms surrounding ASEAN's ability to address regional challenges, particularly the Myanmar crisis and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. He emphasized that while there may be differences of opinion among member states, ASEAN's unity remains intact.

"Lately, I’ve been hearing questions related to ASEAN: will ASEAN break up and not be able to unite? Can the ASEAN ship keep sailing?" President Jokowi stated at the summit's opening. "As a family member and as the chair of ASEAN, I want to affirm that ASEAN’s unity is still well maintained. Unity does not mean there is no difference of opinion."

One of the major concerns has been the handling of the Myanmar crisis. ASEAN previously agreed on a five-point plan to address the situation, including ending violence, starting dialogue, providing humanitarian aid, appointing a special envoy, and having the envoy visit Myanmar. However, the Burmese junta has not cooperated, leading to frustration among member states.

President Jokowi urged continued efforts to implement the five-point consensus, emphasizing the need for "tactical and extraordinary efforts." Despite Indonesia's engagement with stakeholders in Myanmar, there has been limited progress in resolving the crisis.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi acknowledged the complexity of the Myanmar crisis, stating that it was "very difficult, very complicated, and not easy to solve." To address the situation, ASEAN leaders have agreed to form a troika consisting of the current, previous, and incoming chairs of the regional bloc. This troika will include Cambodia, Indonesia, and Laos.

The Philippines also expressed its willingness to replace Myanmar as the rotating chair of ASEAN in 2026. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. affirmed the country's commitment to strengthening ASEAN's foundations and community-building.

Malaysia, a vocal critic of the Burmese junta, is set to assume the ASEAN chair in 2025. Malaysian Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir expressed frustration at the junta's failure to adhere to the five-point consensus. He suggested that ASEAN leaders may need to review the plan.

However, not all experts are convinced of the effectiveness of the five-point initiative. Dinna Prapto Raharja, an international relations lecturer at Paramadina University in Jakarta, criticized Indonesia's lack of a clear strategy and the initiative's lack of direction. She also questioned President Jokowi's assertion of ASEAN's unity, pointing out that the region appears divided on key issues.

Another analyst, Muhammad Waffaa Kharisma from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, expressed uncertainty about what President Jokowi meant by "extraordinary efforts" to implement the consensus, suggesting that it may be more of a hopeful term than a concrete strategy.

Meanwhile, the issue of the disputed South China Sea was raised by Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim during the summit. He emphasized the importance of managing the dispute peacefully and in accordance with international law, particularly in light of a recent controversial map released by China. The map, which claims most of the South China Sea, has drawn objections from ASEAN members and Taiwan.

The three-day ASEAN meetings also include talks between the bloc and dialogue partners at the East Asia Summit, with prominent leaders from the United States, Canada, Japan, China, and Russia scheduled to attend.

As the summit progresses, regional observers and stakeholders will closely watch for concrete actions to address the Myanmar crisis and navigate other pressing regional challenges. The unity and effectiveness of ASEAN remain essential for stability and cooperation in Southeast Asia. (Benar News)

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