Leaders from Southeast Asian nations, under the leadership of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, have come together for their last summit of the year, tackling a range of complex and unresolved issues. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings. Commenced on Tuesday in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Taking place amidst growing concerns over Myanmar’s ongoing civil strife. Renewed tensions in the disputed South China Sea, and the persistent rivalry between the United States and China.
The summit unfolds with heightened security measures in place, reflecting the gravity of the discussions at hand. Notably absent from this gathering is U.S. President Joe Biden, a usual attendee. Further underscoring the challenges faced by the 10-state bloc in presenting a united front and fostering cooperation.
Prior to the leaders’ meeting, ASEAN foreign ministers convened on Monday to finalize the summit’s agenda. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi acknowledged the “many difficult circumstances in the region” that ASEAN must grapple with and surmount, including the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. Marsudi noted that the five-point plan devised by Southeast Asian leaders in 2021 to facilitate Myanmar’s return to stability would be reviewed.
Marsudi urged her fellow ministers, stating, “The eyes of our peoples are on us to prove ASEAN still matters.”
Following discussions on Tuesday, ASEAN of state will engage with their Asian and Western counterparts from Wednesday to Thursday. This expanded forum has been utilized by the U.S., China, and their respective allies. For extensive dialogues encompassing topics such as free trade, climate change, and global security. It has also become a battleground for their ongoing rivalries.
Notable Absence: U.S. President Joe Biden
Chinese Premier Li Qiang is slated to participate in these meetings. Including the 18-member East Asia Summit, where he will engage with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. She is representing President Biden, as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
While President Biden is not attending the ASEAN summit, he is travelling to Asia for the G20 summit in India, followed by a visit to Vietnam to strengthen ties. The U.S. government has emphasized that this absence does not diminish the importance of the Indo-Pacific region in its geopolitical priorities. Officials have highlighted Biden’s ongoing commitment to deepening engagement with Southeast Asian nations.
John Kirby, a national security spokesperson, remarked during a Washington news briefing, “It’s hard to look at what we’ve done as an administration. Since the very beginning, and come away with a conclusion that we are somehow not interested in the Indo-Pacific or that we are deprioritising the Southeast Asia nations and those relationships.”
In November, President Biden attended ASEAN summit meetings in Cambodia, and in May 2022, he hosted eight ASEAN leaders at the White House. Underscoring his administration’s dedication to the region even as it addressed the Russia-Ukraine conflict.