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ASEAN INDONESIA FORUM

Geopolitical tension dominates East Asia Summit

Geopolitical tension dominates East Asia Summit
US Vice-President Kamala Harris (centre) talks to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and Malaysia's Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim as they enter the room to attend the 18th East Asia Summit as part of the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 7 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yasuyoshi Chiba / Pool)

As the leaders’ summit in Indonesia ended on Thursday, the war in Europe became the focus of the closing statements — one that condemned it and another that didn’t mention it at all.

The leaders of the 18-nation East Asia Summit, which includes the US, China and Russia, issued a statement that omitted any mention of the war in Ukraine, although the chair’s statement noted with “deep concern” the negative effects of the war and said most members of the summit “strongly condemn the aggression against Ukraine and underscore the need to reach a just, and lasting peace”. It also said threatening the use of nuclear weapons was “inadmissible”.

east asia summit lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (left) attends the 18th East Asia Summit as part of the 43rd Asean Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 7 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yasuyoshi Chiba / Pool)

The difference between the two declarations is that the chair’s note doesn’t need unanimous agreement — no need for Russia to approve it.

The three-day summit in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, was dominated by the US and China’s growing rivalry and rising geopolitical tensions. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, the chair of this year’s summit, urged leaders to strengthen cooperation and not to create “new wars”.

“All of us sitting in this room have an equal responsibility to create peace, stability, and prosperity in the region. We have the same responsibility not to create new conflicts, not to create new tensions, new wars,” he said.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris, meanwhile, sought to demonstrate the US’s enduring commitment to the region after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) expressed disappointment over the absence of President Joe Biden, who will attend the Group of 20 gathering in India.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang urged Asean to oppose moves that could lead to a “new Cold War,” foreshadowing Jokowi’s remarks against stoking divisions.

While the region practises a collective non-alignment in the broader geopolitical competition between the US and China, Asean leaders remain anxious about the prospect of a regional conflict over Taiwan or in the South China Sea, while also being under pressure to address the rising violence in Myanmar.

Key Developments:

China ready to work with Australia to resume exchanges – Xinhua

China is ready to work with Australia to restart and resume bilateral exchanges, Xinhua reports, citing Li commenting on his meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Albanese, for his part, said in a briefing in Jakarta on Thursday that he discussed the Chinese economy with Li who was “positive” about it. Li spoke about the rise of the middle class in China, who Beijing is hoping to double from 400 million to 800 million by 2035, according to Albanese.

Australian PM confirms visit to China this year

The Australian leader confirmed he will visit China this year after a meeting with Li on the sidelines of Asean. Albanese said his trip would commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first visit by an Australian prime minister in November 1973, hinting at a similar date for this year’s trip.

Albanese said he raised issues of importance to Australia, including remaining trade impediments, consular cases and human rights. “We discussed and shared perspectives on regional and international security issues,” he added.

Prabowo says Indonesia doesn’t want to be part of any conflict 

Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who’s a likely contender at next year’s presidential election, said the country doesn’t want to be involved in any conflict including between US and China. 

“Our stance, our position has always been free and active, non-aligned. We don’t want to be involved in anything. We are friends of all those countries,” he said. Indonesia also has a good relations with Russia and wants to maintain those ties.

Jokowi tells Modi Indian Ocean shouldn’t be a sea of confrontation

Indonesia’s Jokowi sought to “optimise” collaboration during the Asean-India Summit, urging India’s Modi to support a vision for a blue economy. 

“We must be able to make the ocean a sea of cooperation, not a sea of confrontation that must continue to maintain stability,” the leader known as Jokowi said, underscoring the potential of the Indian Ocean that connects 33 countries, 2.9 billion people, and come 2025, one-fifth of the world’s GDP.

In turn, Modi said India fully supports Asean’s centrality as the region plays an important role in global development. “Progress in ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific and amplifying the voice of the global south is in our common interest,” Modi said, noting the importance of a rules based post-Covid world order.

Harris meets Marcos, touts ‘ironclad’ ties

Harris highlighted America’s “ironclad” alliance with the Philippines during a meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on the margins of the summit. The two leaders discussed maritime security in the South China Sea, and opportunities to enhance bilateral maritime cooperation, “including alongside like-minded partners”, according to a White House statement.

The Philippines has not only grown close with the US under Marcos’s leadership, but has also been seen firming up relationships with Washington’s other allies, namely Japan and Australia, in a bid to strengthen its defence posture in the region. DM

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