November 16, 2023
SINGAPORE – Peace was on the minds of Asean defence ministers at the latest edition of an annual defence powwow.
Several made an appeal for an end to the violence in the Middle East, and all signed a joint declaration calling for peace plans to be fully implemented in troubled Myanmar, among other things.
The 17th Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) held in Jakarta on Wednesday was attended by representatives from all Asean nations except Myanmar. The grouping has barred Myanmar’s ruling junta from key meetings due to its failure to implement the plans and end violence that has erupted there since a coup in 2021.
In his opening remarks, Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto said his country is deeply saddened by the deteriorating conditions in Gaza.
“Indonesia’s stance is clear and firm. We push and call for immediate cessation of hostilities and the immediate setting up of corridors for humanitarian assistance,” he added.
“The violence against the civilian population must stop. Conversely, efforts to achieve a ceasefire must continue.”
His comments come after Indonesian President Joko Widodo met US President Joe Biden earlier this week and urged him to do more to end Israel’s war with militant group Hamas. Israel has sworn to destroy Hamas in retaliation for the group’s attack on southern Israel on Oct 7.
Malaysia’s Minister of Defence Mohamad Hasan also called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, saying Malaysia condemns the bombing of civilians, houses and hospitals, as well as the killing of innocent citizens, including women and children.
Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen stressed how peace can be stolen or lost very quickly.
“None of us here predicted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the situation in Gaza. The lesson for us in this region is that while we are now in a relative area of peace and security, we can lose it if we as leaders of our nations do not pay attention. I dread to think what would happen if there is conflict in Asia,” he said.
Medical officials in Gaza say more than 11,000 people are confirmed dead from Israeli strikes, and around 40 per cent of them are children. Israel says Hamas killed 1,200 people and took more than 240 hostages.
At the meeting, the Asean defence ministers adopted the Jakarta Joint Declaration of the ADMM for Peace, Prosperity and Security, which urged “all parties concerned” to cease all violence in Myanmar. The ministers also called for the “full implementation” of the Asean peace plans that it drew up with the junta in 2021.
They also underscored the need to maintain peace in the South China Sea. China and four Asean states – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – have overlapping claims over the strategic waterway.
The ministers called for “self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability” and reiterated a commitment to implement the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which Asean and China had, in 2002, agreed to create.
Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said the joint declaration reaffirms the grouping’s commitment to strengthening defence cooperation among its members and partners.
This is so that the grouping can address regional security challenges while upholding the region’s unity and Asean centrality, which refers to the grouping shaping key decisions affecting South-east Asia, instead of having the region’s fortunes determined by external parties.
On the sidelines of the talks, the Asean ministers also had informal meetings with the United States and Japan.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the US’ strong support and commitment to the region, as well as its role in bolstering Asean’s ability to address evolving threats within the region, said Mindef.
At the meeting, representatives also discussed how the US and Asean could help each other build their defence capacities through training and education, as well as by expanding areas of practical cooperation.
At the meeting with Japan’s Minister of Defence Minoru Kihara, the ministers discussed the regional and international security architecture, as well as new and expanded areas of defence cooperation, said Mindef.
Separately, Singapore’s Dr Ng held meetings with three of his Asean counterparts.
He met the Philippines’ Secretary of National Defence Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr, as both reaffirmed warm and friendly bilateral defence ties. They exchanged views on deepening defence cooperation in areas of mutual interest, said Mindef.
Dr Ng also met Laos’ Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Chansamone Chanyalath.
The two leaders reaffirmed the warm and friendly defence ties between their countries, and exchanged views on regional security developments ahead of Laos’ Asean chairmanship for 2024.
In a meeting between Dr Ng and Malaysia’s Mr Mohamad, both reaffirmed warm and longstanding bilateral defence ties and continued cooperation on multilateral platforms such as ADMM, ADMM-Plus and the Five Power Defence Arrangements, said Mindef.
Talks will continue on Thursday, when the Asean ministers meet counterparts from eight partner nations at the ADMM-Plus meeting, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the US.