The Asean summit is over - Now it's time for Asean to overcome issues on South China Sea and Myanmar; look forward to a better tomorrow

Indonesian President Joko Widodo speaks during a news conference along with Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, after the closing of the 43rd Asan Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 7, 2023. - Reuters Photo

THE 43rd Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) Summit concluded in Jakarta on Thursday and the association proudly said there were many fruitful outcomes from the meeting and many agreements were also signed during the summit.

Despite rising uncertainties globally the event was attended by top officials from US and China besides South Korea, Japan and India - many top officials announced the Asean Summit was a big success.

However, one must still remind the issue of Myanmar and South China Sea is far from over. And to achieve full stability and prosperity in the region as Indonesian President Joko Widodo had said, the two lingering problems will definitely play a part in the future of the Asean bloc.

"The Indonesian chairmanship has achieved a lot in terms of efforts in maintaining stability and prosperity in the region," Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, told a press conference after the summit, as reported by Xinhua.

But Asean must show the world that they are here to stay and are strong enough to propel through all the issues and do achieve that stability and prosperity that Widodo and his counterparts in the region want.

Jakarta Post reported that Indonesia and its Asean members appeared to avoid fresh confrontation with China on Wednesday over its sweeping claims to the disputed South China Sea, choosing to omit a recent point of contention from a regional summit with Beijing.

The second day of the summit then saw leaders of some of the association’s biggest dialogue partners, including China and the United States, attend regional forums to discuss cooperation and existing challenges, spotlighting ongoing political and security concerns.

One long-standing issue for Asean is also the rivalry between Washington and Beijing, continued to create tensions at the Jakarta summit, where US Vice President Kamala Harris acclaimed the US’ security presence in the Indo-Pacific following China’s release of a new map that has ruffled the feathers of its neighbours.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, in his first engagement with the group, warned Asean leaders against “taking sides” lest they start “a new Cold War”.

China’s official map, which reiterates its claims to areas internationally recognized as belonging to other countries, including some Asean member states, India and Russia, has sparked protests and put pressure on the bloc to make its position on the matter clear.

But no explicit mention of the China issue came out of the summit, not even in an Asean chairman’s statement touching on the South China Sea and Indo-Pacific tensions.

“We reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence and exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes,” Asean leaders said in a statement issued by Indonesia.

Meanwhile, reports have emerged that the Philippines and Malaysia, two South China Sea claimants affected by China’s new map, have commenced a series of joint maritime exercises that Manila’s top navy official has said seek to demonstrate “preparedness” amid challenges in “dynamic maritime domains”.

Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. previously told the media that he would “promote” the map issue during the Asean Summit, but one Asean diplomat who attended the meetings told The Jakarta Post that no country had actually raised the specific issue.

Indonesia’s chair statement did, nonetheless, reaffirm the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the “legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out” and asserted that “its integrity needs to be maintained”.

As a signatory of UNCLOS, Beijing is legally bound to follow it, even as it continues to violate the agreement with its sweeping claims over the South China Sea. Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam have claims overlapping with China’s Aspirational deadline.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, left, hands the gavel to Laos' Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone to symbolize the handover of the chairmanship of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) from Indonesia to Laos during the closing ceremony of the Asean Summit, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. - APIndonesian President Joko Widodo, left, hands the gavel to Laos' Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone to symbolize the handover of the chairmanship of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) from Indonesia to Laos during the closing ceremony of the Asean Summit, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. - AP

And then there is the Myanmar issue, Asean leaders have “strongly condemned” the continuing violence in Myanmar, directly blaming the bloodshed on the generals who seized power in a coup in February 2021.

Asean have never been happy with junta the generals who failed to implement the so-called five-point consensus to end the crisis, which they agreed to with Asean a couple of months after their power grab.

Violence has only worsened in the months since, with the military accused of war crimes for its attacks on civilians.

The leaders “urge the Myanmar Armed Forces in particular, and all related parties concerned in Myanmar to de-escalate violence and stop targeted attacks on civilians, houses and public facilities, such as schools, hospitals, markets,” the leaders said in a statement seen by news agencies.

“We strongly condemned the continued acts of violence in Myanmar.”

But Myanmar is also a member of Asean although it has been barred from high-profile events because of its failure to implement the five-point consensus.

As reported by Al-Jazeera - In a statement published on Wednesday in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar, the foreign ministry rejected the Asean statement saying: “The views are not objective and decisions are bias and one-sided.”

Noting its leaders were not in Jakarta, the statement said that while Myanmar had been consulted on the draft, its “view and voices” had not been taken into account.

Myanmar was slated to chair the 10-member grouping in 2026. But regional leaders earlier agreed that the Philippines would assume the role in 2026 instead.

The chair is usually rotated each year based on the alphabetical order of the English names of the member states. Myanmar, which joined Asean under a previous military government in 1997, chaired the organisation in 2014 under the country’s first civilian head of state.

Asean has to find a way for a solution of Myanmar. What is happening in Myanmar is atrocious (UN keep repeating this fact) and people are suffering the country. The country does not even know how to settle the Rohingya issue too. And the current government has once again pushed aside the election, an event it promised to hold immediately after the coup.

With these issues on hand, new Asean chairperson Laos will have it hands full when it takes over next year. And many will look towards Vientiane if it can sort these issues and propel Asean into the limelight the kind of way all members are hoping for now .... everlasting prosperity and peace in the region.

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