Plenty to talk about . . .
Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will meet in Bangkok tomorrow. The official theme is sustainability, but the real issue is whether they’ll agree on an articulation of an Indo-Pacific outlook. The U.S., Australia, India, and Japan have embraced the concept of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific (FOIP), a descriptor that excludes – and thus rankles – China and Russia. ASEAN finds itself caught in the middle. Members agree on ASEAN’s centrality to the concept of FOIP, although appear unclear as to what it means, and have been hesitant and ambivalent in discussing it at other regional fora.
Plenty to avoid talking about . . .
The Indo-Pacific outlook won’t be the only item on this week’s Summit agenda. Philippines officials have indicated that they will raise the issue of alleged Chinese aggression in the South China Sea (SCS) following claims of a recent ‘hit-and-run’ collision between Chinese and Filipino ships. The timing could be propitious, as ASEAN is in the process of negotiating a code of conduct for the SCS. It is unclear, however, whether participants will address two other big elephants in the room: the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and the growing international alarm at the drug war initiated in the Philippines by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Summit-to-summit momentum . . .
The ASEAN Summit will conclude just days before the start of another, much-anticipated summit: the G20 meeting in Japan, which Canada will attend. While U.S.-China trade issues are likely to steal the spotlight, if ASEAN does use its summit to show unity and decisiveness it could help to reassure other Pacific countries of its continued relevance as a force for regional stability.
- Australian Strategic Policy Institute: ASEAN peers, picks and pokes at the Indo-Pacific
- The Diplomat: Great expectations: ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific concept
- South China Morning Post: Indonesia reveals frustration with Singapore over delay in ASEAN adopting President Jokowo Widodo’s Indo-Pacific concept