The annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) begins in Jakarta with Myanmar and China as hot topics. The meeting opened this Tuesday, September 5, and will continue until Thursday with invited countries such as Russia, the United States and China. One of the key points was the Philippines’ acceptance of chairing ASEAN in 2026 instead of Myanmar.
Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, received this Tuesday, September 5, the first day of the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This is the annual meeting held by the leaders of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei and Myanmar. One that occurs in the midst of a context of crisis and differences between the participants, especially regarding the latter nation.
At the inauguration, Indonesian President Joko Widodo assured that the alliance must remain united.
“Lately, I have heard people asking questions about ASEAN, about whether it cannot remain united. About whether it will be able to move forward,” Widodo, host of the group this year, stressed today in his opening speech at the Convention Center from Jakarta.
I would like to emphasize that ASEAN unity remains intact (…) Unity is harmony in diversity, including diversity of opinions, he added.
The meeting will continue until September 7. On its opening day, only representatives of the member countries spoke, while on Wednesday and Thursday guest nations such as the United States, Russia and China are expected to take part.
Representing Washington this Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Indonesian territory and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be Moscow’s delegate. Additionally, the Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, will attend; South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeo; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among other world leaders.
Myanmar, at the center of the debate
At the center of the talks is the situation in Myanmar. The Southeast Asian country is going through a political crisis and an increase in violence since a military coup deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in 2021. Since then, repression of dissent has been a daily occurrence.
The way the bloc handles the situation and the relations with the country have generated divisions among its members from the moment the attack occurred. putsch. Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia condemned it through a UN resolution in 2021, and have closed avenues for dialogue with the military in power. Jakarta, which chairs the bloc, has blocked the junta’s participation in high-level ASEAN meetings.
However, the position of countries like Cambodia, Brunei, Laos and Thailand is different. They abstained from the UN condemnation and, for example, Bangkok has held dialogues with both the junta and Aung San Suu Kyi.
On Tuesday, according to a document seen by Reuters, the bloc urged Myanmar’s armed forces “in particular” and other stakeholders to reduce violence and stop targeted attacks against civilians.
In addition, ASEAN assured that its approach towards Myanmar will go hand in hand with a five-point peace consensus agreed with the junta in 2021 and which remains unfulfilled.
According to diplomats interviewed by AFP on condition of anonymity, some ASEAN members were pushing for the junta to be invited back to meetings.
Myanmar withdrew from the ASEAN presidency in 2006 and that year, the presidency fell to the Philippines. While in 2014 the first civil head of state presided over the bloc. In 2026, he would have to take over the leadership of the group again, however, it seems that the position will fall to the Philippines.
Will the presidency of the bloc be Filipino for 2026?
Also at the summit opening, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declared that Manila was willing to take over the bloc’s presidency in 2026 instead of Myanmar.
“It is my pleasure to announce that the Philippines is ready to take the helm and chair ASEAN in 2026,” he told the leaders, according to a statement from the presidential palace.
According to two diplomats interviewed for AFP, the measure was agreed so that the crisis did not cover the entire agenda of the bloc “and prevented ‘external partners’ from attending its meetings.”
“It’s decided. It was announced at the leaders’ meeting and there was no objection,” a diplomat added on condition of anonymity to AFP.
With this decision, the Philippines would advance its turn as president of the group by one year.
China, another flash point
However, not all the attention is on Myanmar; China is another issue that plays a leading role on the ASEAN agenda. This is because Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea.
In fact, last week, China released a new official map in which it claims sovereignty over most of the body of water. A panorama that has aroused the rejection of countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines that border the said sea and that, according to a draft statement, warn about “land claims, activities and serious incidents” in the navigable waterway.
Last week, Manila said it “rejected” the map for including a line around disputed areas that the Philippines claimed and which were granted by an international court in 2016. And it said it was an “attempt to legitimize the supposed sovereignty and jurisdiction of China over Philippine maritime features and zones, and has no basis in international law.”
The South China Sea is disputed due to territorial claims by countries in the region – including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. The main source of conflict is China’s claim to almost complete sovereignty over the sea, demarcated by what is known as the “nine-dash line” or “nine-dash line”, which encompasses most of the area and encompasses islands and reefs that are also claimed by other nations.
The sea is also a crucial shipping route for international trade and is home to natural resources such as oil and gas.
On the other hand, Widodo made reference to the disputes between China and the United States that seek to increase their influence in the area and said: “Do not use ASEAN as an arena for destructive rivalries, but as a territory from which to grow cooperation, prosperity, stability and peace.
With Reuters, AFP and EFE
Source: France 24