The country told major powers not to use South-East Asia as a “proxy” for their rivalries at the start of two-day talks between regional foreign ministers, while also calling for unity and progress on the Myanmar crisis.
South-East Asia’s biggest economy is the chair of Asean for 2023 and will later this year host the bloc’s annual leaders’ meetings, which are typically also joined by China and the United States.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo told Asean ministers in talks before yesterday’s meeting that “Asean should not be a proxy for any party”, repeating a call he made at an Asean leaders’ summit in Cambodia last year, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.
Another issue dominating talks was the crisis in military-ruled Myanmar, which has been in turmoil since the army seized power in 2021.
The junta remains an Asean member but has been barred from top-level summits over a lack of progress on a plan by the bloc to achieve peace between the military and Myanmar’s anti-coup movement.
Myanmar’s foreign minister Than Swe – appointed this week –was not present at the Asean talks yesterday, the bloc having declined to invite a junta member and only requesting a “non-political representative” – an offer rejected by Naypyidaw.
The absence was forced by the fallout over Myanmar’s lack of cooperation in implementing a five-step agreement made in 2021 between Asean leaders and Myanmar’s military leader, Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
In the agreement, Myanmar’s military leaders promised to allow a special Asean envoy to meet the ousted and jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others to foster dialogue aimed at easing the crisis.
Last year, when Asean was chaired by Cambodia, Min Aung Hlaing was not invited to the November meeting of Asean leaders in Phnom Penh after Myanmar declined to let an Asean envoy meet with her.
Analysts said the shadow of the military takeover in Myanmar looms large over the foreign ministers’ meeting, even as Indonesia seeks to dampen concerns that the issue will not hold the bloc “hostage”.
Kicking off the country’s year chairing the regional bloc, Joko said late last month that Asean would continue contributing to the Indo-Pacific as a peaceful and stable region and maintaining regional economic growth.
“Economic crisis, energy crisis, food crisis as well as warfare, we face all of them this year,” Joko said.
“Asean will remain essential and relevant for people in the region and beyond as Asean is the epicentre of growth.”
Retno said Indonesia would ensure the focus is on the development of the regional bloc as a community and to capitalise on Asean’s economic growth, which always records stronger growth than the global economy.
“The issue of Myanmar will not be allowed to hold hostage the process of strengthening the Asean community development,” Retno said last month in outlining Indonesia’s foreign policy for the year.
She said Asean is disappointed by its lack of progress in the past two years in Myanmar, despite growing countermovement and global threats of sanctions and political exclusion.
Retno said Indonesia is setting up an office of an Asean special envoy on Myanmar in Jakarta to spearhead how the bloc deals with the crisis and she will seek to engage with “all stakeholders” in Myanmar, noting that it is crucial to enable a national dialogue to address the crisis. — Agencies