Call mounts for ‘more mature’ Asean as weeklong talks begin

With less than half a year left of Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship, Jakarta has been under increasing pressure to make progress on some of the group’s most intransigent issues.

Yvette Tanamal

Yvette Tanamal

The Jakarta Post


Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi applauds as she delivers her opening remarks during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 11, 2023. Indonesia is hosting the 56th AMM and related meetings from July 8-14.(Courtesy of the Foreign Ministry/Pool)

July 12, 2023

JAKARTA – All eyes are on ASEAN and its chair Indonesia this week to show, rather than tell of, its central role in the region, as the bloc contends with deep internal divisions and growing external security concerns.

The 56th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) began in Jakarta on Monday with a senior officials’ meeting (SOM) to lay the groundwork for the gathering. It will be followed this week by a series of meetings of the region’s top diplomats and some of the bloc’s key dialogue partners, including the United States and China.

With less than half a year left of Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship, Jakarta has been under increasing pressure to make progress on some of the group’s most intransigent issues, from the protracted Myanmar coup crisis to increasing tensions in the Indo-Pacific and fears of further militarization.

At the 18 meetings to be held this week, Indonesia will head discussions focused on maintaining regional stability, whether by setting up rules of engagement in the contested South China Sea, swaying key countries to pledge to keep Southeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific nuclear weapons-free or advancing the human rights agenda in a region that has seen notable regressions in recent years. Perhaps above all else, the international community will be watching ASEAN’s efforts to restore peace in conflict-torn Myanmar.

At Monday’s meeting, top officials discussed the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) agreement, plans to address the bloc’s internal discord and recommendations for the implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

“The SOM also discussed ASEAN’s relationship with its dialogue partners in many respects, and there were many recommendations submitted to the foreign ministers,” said Sidharto Suryodipuro, the Foreign Ministry’s director-general for ASEAN cooperation, at a press conference in Jakarta on Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell are all expected to attend meetings this week.

The foreign representatives will begin arriving in Jakarta on Wednesday, according to Foreign Ministry sources.

Read also: Much to prove

Clock ticking

Earlier on Monday, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi told reporters that discussions on many issues were “highly dynamic” and that “substantive progress” could be announced over the next couple of days.

“What Indonesia would like to see is that ASEAN play a central role as a contributor to or locomotive of peace and stability in the region,” she said.

Amid the volume of topics to be addressed in the coming days, analysts have pointed to at least three crucial issues: the Myanmar crisis, progress on the Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea and the expansion of the ASEAN Community Building process.

More than two years since the successful military coup in Naypyidaw, ASEAN has struggled to advance its Myanmar peace initiative, the Five-Point Consensus (5PC), which calls for an immediate cessation of violence, dialogue among all parties to the conflict, the appointment and engagement of a special envoy to the country and Myanmar’s acceptance of humanitarian assistance.

The COC negotiations, meanwhile, have dragged on for decades with little progress amid heightening tensions in the South China Sea.

“There are so many interesting developments taking place in the region. They all call for a more flexible ASEAN, a more mature ASEAN that is capable of moving forward,” Dewi Fortuna Anwar, senior international relations researcher at the government’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

Debbie Stothard, cofounder of human rights advocacy group ALTsean-Burma, told the Post separately that time was running out for Indonesia to rise to the occasion.

“This is an opportunity for Indonesia as the chair to have the courage to abandon [and] move away from the holding pattern mode into problem-solving mode,” she said.

The AMM runs until Friday and will include the security-heavy ASEAN Regional Forum as well as the East Asia Summit foreign ministers’ meeting.

The talks are expected to produce a much-awaited joint communiqué, which charts ASEAN’s progress on a variety of key issues.

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