Indonesia urges Southeast Asia to play central role in global peace, economic growth

Jakarta, May 10 (EFE).- Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo on Wednesday called upon the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “to play a central role in bringing peace and economic growth” on the global stage.

“At the moment, the global economy has not fully recovered. Major power rivalries. continue to sharpen. The global dynamic becomes more unpredictable,” Widodo said in his opening address at the ASEAN leaders summit that kicked off in Labuan Bajo on Flores island.

“Thus, the questions: Will ASEAN remain a spectator? Will ASEAN stay silent? Furthermore, will ASEAN be capable to be the engine for peace & economic grow,” he added.

“I am confident that we are certain ASEAN is capable. As long as we hold the key element: ASEAN UNITY,” stressed the leader of Indonesia, which holds the bloc’s chair this year.

Widodo’s remarks come as China and the US are locked in a battle to increase their influence in the area.

Some countries, such as the Philippines, are strengthening their military cooperation with Washington amid renewed territorial tensions in the South China Sea and the island of Taiwan, which Beijing has not ruled out invading.

The speech by the president of Indonesia, which has historically adhered to a neutral foreign policy, also comes against the backdrop of the crisis in Myanmar, a member of ASEAN and mired in conflict and semi-anarchy since the military coup on Feb.1, 2021.

General Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military regime that seized power after overthrowing the civilian government led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was banned from the Flores summit.

In his address, Widodo, who has said he is using “silent diplomacy” to reach out to all parties involved in the Myanmar conflict, defended the unity and capability of an organization known for divergences between its member nations and criticized for its inaction in the face of the Myanmar crisis.

The bloc is not expected to make substantial progress in its efforts on Myanmar, where the United Nations says at least 3,400 people have been killed by the military since the coup, which has exacerbated the decades-long conflict between the army and ethnic guerrillas with the emergence of pro-democracy militias.

So far, the regional group has only agreed to condemn an attack on Sunday on an aid convoy, including ASEAN diplomats and representatives, while it was heading to Hsi Hseng in western Myanmar’s Shan state.

“We deeply concerned with ongoing violence in Myanmar and urged the immediate cessation of all forms of violence and the use of force to create a conducive environment for the safe and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogues,” the bloc said in a statement on Wednesday.

Although the Myanmar conflict is expected to dominate much of the talks, Indonesia has expressed interest in the summit providing an opportunity to discuss other issues, such as strengthening the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the largest free trade agreement signed by 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including China, which took effect last year.

The ASEAN region is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, with an economic growth of 5.5 percent in 2022, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Founded in 1967, ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar. EFE


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