ASEAN Out­look on Indo-pa­cific un­der­scores role of or­ga­ni­za­tion in re­gional dy­nam­ics

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIE­W - By Cheng Han­ping Page Ed­i­tor: wang­wen­[email protected] glob­al­

The 34th ASEAN sum­mit hosted by Thai­land from June 20 to 23 came at a time when the geopo­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment in the re­gion was on a sim­mer with the US throw­ing its weight be­hind the Indo-pa­cific Strat­egy. ASEAN coun­tries reached an agree­ment on the ASEAN Out­look on the In­dopa­cific, im­ply­ing the bloc has en­tered a very im­por­tant stage. The sum­mit was held when trade ten­sions be­tween China and the US were still brewing. There­fore, devel­op­ments dur­ing the sum­mit merit in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Prior to the open­ing of the sum­mit, ro­tat­ing chair­man and Thai Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-ocha who re­cently re­newed his term of of­fice, made a pub­lic ap­peal to mem­ber coun­tries, urg­ing them to con­clude the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP) ne­go­ti­a­tions pro­posed by China by the end of this year. He said, “This will help ASEAN han­dle the changes and un­cer­tainty that will hap­pen in the re­gion go­ing for­ward, par­tic­u­larly the im­pact of trade ten­sion be­tween ASEAN’S im­por­tant trade part­ners.” Ob­vi­ously, the China-us trade fric­tion not only flum­moxed ASEAN but also in­creased its sense of cri­sis and ur­gency.

The RCEP re­ferred to by Prayut is be­lieved to be re­plac­ing the Trans-pa­cific Part­ner­ship that the US has with­drawn from. The agree­ment in­volves all mem­ber coun­tries of ASEAN, as well as na­tions out­side the re­gion – In­dia, Ja­pan, South Korea, Aus­tralia and New Zealand, to­tal­ing 16. If adopted, the RCEP will re­sult in the largest trade bloc in the world.

Be­fore the sum­mit, the ASEAN Out­look on the In­dopa­cific drafted by Indonesia aroused heated dis­cus­sions

among ASEAN stake­hold­ers. The ini­tial in­ten­tion of the In­done­sian govern­ment was to un­der­score the “free and open Indo-pa­cific” con­cept ad­vo­cated by Ja­pan and the US as well as China’s pro­mo­tion of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. ASEAN, caught in the mid­dle, should play a lead­ing role in the re­gion.

One goal of ASEAN is to be­come an im­por­tant strate­gic part­ner in co­op­er­a­tion with all par­ties in the fu­ture, whether it be the US or China, in or­der to en­hance the geopo­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Sec­ond, di­a­logue and co­op­er­a­tion are im­por­tant in the com­plex geopo­lit­i­cal con­text to avoid any form of fu­ture con­flict and con­fronta­tion, es­pe­cially against the back­drop of maritime ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the re­gion.

The third goal is to strive to make South­east Asia a peace­ful, safe and pros­per­ous re­gion, bring ben­e­fits to peo­ple, and en­sure ASEAN’S sus­tain­able and rapid de­vel­op­ment is not af­fected by Chin­aus trade rows.

Fourth, ASEAN showed a united stand by reach­ing an agree­ment on the ASEAN Out­look on the Indo-pa­cific, for which Prayut praised mem­bers states and called it a “sig­nif­i­cant step” for the re­gion.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions on the Code of Con­duct (COC) in the South China Sea are an­other highlight of the sum­mit. Lead­ers of ASEAN mem­bers re­leased a state­ment on June 23, declar­ing that the bloc was ne­go­ti­at­ing with China in a prag­matic man­ner and mak­ing se­ri­ous ef­forts to com­plete the con­sul­ta­tion on the COC, which “could re­duce ten­sions and the risk of ac­ci­dents, mis­un­der­stand­ings and mis­cal­cu­la­tion.”

The state­ment added, “We warmly welcomed the con­tin­ued im­prov­ing co­op­er­a­tion be­tween ASEAN and China and were en­cour­aged by the progress of the sub­stan­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions to­ward the early con­clu­sion of an ef­fec­tive and sub­stan­tive Code of Con­duct.”

Ac­cord­ing to a Thai for­eign min­istry spokesman, the first read­ing of the COC, sched­uled to be com­pleted by 2021, is likely to be fin­ished by the end of this year. This progress just re­flects in­creased mu­tual trust be­tween China and ASEAN on the South China Sea is­sue. As long as in­ter­fer­ence by ex­ter­nal forces is ruled out, China and ASEAN will surely take the path of win-win co­op­er­a­tion, be­cause both sides have unan­i­mous as­pi­ra­tions of build­ing a com­mu­nity with a shared fu­ture.

It is worth not­ing that the ASEAN Out­look on the Indo-pa­cific also em­pha­sizes that mem­ber coun­tries should con­duct maritime co­op­er­a­tion for the peace­ful set­tle­ment of dis­putes and im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion and co­op­er­a­tion in the Indo-pa­cific re­gion, which is in line with China’s views on the South China Sea is­sue. The author is a se­nior re­search fel­low and pro­fes­sor of the Col­lab­o­ra­tive In­no­va­tion Cen­ter of South China Sea Stud­ies at Nan­jing Univer­sity, and pres­i­dent of South­east Asia Re­search As­so­ci­a­tion of Jiangsu Prov­ince. opin­[email protected]­al­

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu RUI/GT

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