Not on the same page . . .
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) wrapped up its latest summit in Cambodia on Sunday. Predictably, members stressed the need for unity, and there was one issue on which there was agreement: welcoming Timor-Leste as the group’s 11th member. If anything, however, the meeting underscored internal divisions over vital issues such as how to deal with China over claims in the South China Sea and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In fact, on Monday, a UN General Assembly vote on a resolution requiring Russia to make reparations for damage and loss of life it has caused Ukraine exposed these divisions even further; seven ASEAN members abstained, and only two – the Philippines and Singapore – joined the UN majority in favour of the resolution. Myanmar, Russia’s staunchest defender within ASEAN, did not vote; its representation at the UN remains contestedbetween the military junta and the elected government it ousted nearly two years ago.
There goes the neighbourhood . . .
Even on the issue of immediate regional concern – the security and humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar – ASEAN eschewed the chance to play a proactive and possibly more constructive role. Indonesian President Joko Widodo proposed that Myanmar be excluded from all ASEAN meetings until it demonstrated progress on the grouping’s “five-point consensus,” which aims to get Myanmar’s military regime to halt the violence and schedule a new round of elections. But ASEAN’s response was merely a statement committing to review Myanmar’s status at future meetings “if the situation so requires.” There are reports, however, that the military junta is concerned about ASEAN taking a tougher line in the future.
High hopes – including in Canada – for ASEAN . . .
ASEAN’s strength and cohesiveness around high-stakes international issues is gaining greater importance as more countries formulate and roll out their Indo-Pacific strategies. That includes Canada; on November 12, in advance of Ottawa’s own forthcoming Indo-Pacific Strategy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced several initiatives that signal the country’s interest in strengthening ties with Southeast Asia. These initiatives include expanding Canada’s trade activity in the region; C$100 million over five years to support development funding as part of its Feminist International Assistance Policy; regional maritime co-operation; dialogue around women, peace, and security; and others.
- Council on Foreign Relations: Reflections on the ASEAN Summit and ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Cambodia
- Nikkei Asia: ASEAN talks lay bare deep divisions on South China Sea, Ukraine
- Reuters: ASEAN agrees in principle to admit East Timor as 11th member