LABUAN BAJO, Indonesia—The Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) must take decisive and responsive action and be “the master of its future” on geopolitical issues concerning the region, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Wednesday as he urged the bloc to “double its efforts” when it comes to upholding international law.
Mr. Marcos made the call during the opening of the plenary session, a day after saying he would continue to push for the completion of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea during the 42nd edition of the ASEAN Summit.
“In order to harness the potential of our region, I believe that ASEAN must double its efforts especially in these following priority areas: first, ASEAN should uphold international law and the international rules based system which has underpinned the peace, security, stability, and prosperity of our region,” said Mr. Marcos who is scheduled to return to Manila tonight (Thursday evening).
Meanwhile, the bloc’s nations said Wednesday they are “deeply concerned” about the violence ravaging Myanmar, and condemned a recent attack on a convoy of diplomats delivering humanitarian aid in the country.
Turmoil in junta-ruled Myanmar has dominated talks at this week’s summit in Indonesia, as the regional bloc faces criticism for its perceived inaction.
Mr. Marcos also introduced several recommendations to help the ASEAN achieve its shared regional aspirations and recognize the importance of inter-parliamentary cooperation in synergizing regional efforts towards tackling shared challenges.
“Inter-parliamentary cooperation will synergize regional efforts towards tackling shared challenges such as climate change, transnational threats, and upholding a rules-based international order anchored in international law,” the President said during his intervention with representatives from the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA).
“We thank the AIPA for continuing to support our vision for a rules-based, people-oriented, and people-centered ASEAN,” he said.
During a bilateral meeting, the President and newly-appointed Laos People’s Democratic Republic Prime Minister Sonexay Siphadone both agreed to work also with ASEAN leaders toward the collective benefit of the regional bloc.
“We have 2,000 more or less Filipino nationals who are living in Lao and working in Lao PDR and we are very proud of the contributions that they have made, especially in the educational sector,” Mr. Marcos said with the Lao PDR official.
During his intervention at the ASEAN Leaders’ Interface with the High-Level Task Force on the ASEAN Community’s post-2025 vision (HLTF-ACV), President Marcos pointed out the regional bloc must continue improving its efforts to advance its welfare.
“The ASEAN of today must be better than the ASEAN of yesterday. For ASEAN to succeed, ASEAN must be the master of its future,” the Philippine leader told the regional forum held at the Meruorah Convention Center in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia.
“The work of the High-Level Task Force requires sober deliberation of the potentials and the possibilities of the evolving regional and global architecture. It is imperative that we be decisive, it is imperative that we be responsive,” Mr. Marcos stressed.
The President added ASEAN must show the world that “we are able to respond effectively to geopolitical and geo economic challenges as a cohesive (force).”
This can be done as “an ASEAN Community by strengthening our Centrality, and actively reinforcing a global order anchored in international law,” Mr. Marcos said, echoing a statement by Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo on Tuesday during the ASEAN ministers’ meeting.
“Today, ASEAN faces a complex geopolitical environment which includes rivalries amongst great powers, climate change, and technological disruptions, amongst others. ASEAN itself is not immune to its own challenges, as we continue to navigate our differences in the region towards a general consensus of action,” the President said.
“Regionalism should mirror our collective interests, for our strength relies on our united voice,” President Marcos remarked on the need to balance agility with stability and inclusivity.
As for the Philippines, the President said the country continues to underscore the need “to strengthen our institutions, enhance existing ASEAN mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit, and streamline processes for ASEAN to better translate our Community-building efforts towards achieving concrete results.”
As for Myanmar, ASEAN has led diplomatic attempts to resolve the festering crisis, but its efforts so far have failed to stem the bloodshed unleashed by a military coup in 2021.
“We were 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,” ASEAN leaders said in a statement.
The junta has ignored international criticism and refused to engage with its opponents, which include ousted lawmakers, anti-coup “People’s Defence Forces” and armed ethnic minority groups.
An air strike on a village in a rebel stronghold last month that reportedly killed about 170 people sparked global condemnation and worsened the junta’s isolation.
Pressure on the regional bloc increased Sunday after a convoy of vehicles carrying diplomats and officials coordinating ASEAN humanitarian relief in Myanmar came under fire.
Singapore and Indonesia said earlier that staff from their embassies in Myanmar were in the vehicles that came under fire in eastern Shan State but were unharmed.
“We condemned the attack and underlined that the perpetrators must be held accountable,” ASEAN leaders said in their statement.
Addressing the summit Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he was “confident” the 10-member bloc could deal with growing global challenges if its members were united.
“With unity, ASEAN will be able to play a central role in bringing peace and growth,” Widodo said through a translator as he opened the leaders’ session of the summit.
Foreign ministers and national leaders meeting on the Indonesian island of Flores are trying to kickstart a five-point plan agreed upon with Myanmar two years ago after mediation attempts to end the violence failed.
Myanmar remains an ASEAN member but has been barred from top-level summits due to the junta’s failure to implement the peace plan.
Jakarta’s chairmanship of the bloc this year had raised hopes ASEAN could push for a peaceful solution, using its economic weight as well as its diplomatic experience.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Friday that her country was using “quiet diplomacy” to speak with all sides of the Myanmar conflict and spur renewed peace efforts.
But a senior Indonesian minister said Tuesday that ASEAN was at a “crossroad” and risked becoming irrelevant if it failed to deal with Myanmar and other regional emergencies.
Indonesia was running out of time to achieve a breakthrough, said Lina Alexandra, an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.
After the next leaders’ summit in September, Alexandra added, Indonesia will hand the bloc’s influential chairmanship to communist-ruled Laos, which could bring Myanmar back “into the fold” and allow the junta to attend ASEAN summits.
“It is time for Indonesia to show that it can do what it should do,” she said.
ASEAN’s charter principles of consensus and non-interference have hamstrung its ability to stop the violence in Myanmar, which critics say poses an existential threat to the bloc. With AFP