Will Indonesia Chairmanship Bring Asean To A New Era

THE three successful consecutive international summits hosted by Asean countries in November focused global attention on the regional grouping. The first was the Asean Summits with dialogue partners from November 12 to 13. The second was the 17th G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on November 15 and 16. The third was the APEC Leaders’ Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 18 and 19. All three summits are the first to return to an in-person meeting format after the pandemic outbreak in 2020.

The global political and economic environment has undergone significant changes since 2020. At the geopolitical level, the world is facing the Russian-Ukraine War and the heightening tensions between China and the United States. At the economic level, high inflation, high-interest rates, supply chain adjustments and other superimposed recessionary pressures surfaced. In addition, many supranational issues, such as climate change, sustainable energy transition and food security crises, are becoming pressing policy priorities and calling for a global solution. How summit participants interact to address the myriad of problems became the world’s focus. After the close of the summits, all three summits produced results beyond expectations.

Asean Summits

The Asean Summits chaired by Cambodia succeeded in getting all Asean strategic partners, including China, Japan, the United States, India, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, to focus on strengthening cooperation in public health, food security, digital economy and finance.

A notable breakthrough is getting the United States endorsement of the 2019 “Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.” The Outlook emphasizes the need for cooperation and inclusiveness among regional countries, which is different from the US Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy; how the US will reconcile the two visions of the Indo-Pacific is being watched closely now.

The Chinese proposal to open negotiations on the upgraded version of the China-Asean Free Trade Area 3.0 right after the ratification of the RCEP means the expanded regional free trade agreement could be a potential pacesetter for any future regional trade agreement covering heretofore lightly discussed spaces in the new economy such as digital trade and fintech.

At the summit, the US and India became new Comprehensive Strategic Partners of Asean. The move enhances the aspiration of Asean as the pivot of Southeast Asia.

G20 Bali summit

The G20 countries represent more than 80 percent of the world’s GDP, 75 percent of international trade and 60 percent of the population. The pivotal role played by G20 countries in the global economy is evident. During the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the forum coordinated synchronous quantitative easing among major central banks that stopped the worsening crisis. However, its role was gradually marginalized after the GFC by the developed countries’ G7 grouping.

In the Bali summit, the hosting country, Indonesia, hopes to restore the G20’s voice on international affairs and increase the influence of developing countries in G20 on important issues. Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Russia and Ukraine in the middle of the year to mediate the war between Russia and Ukraine. Though he did not succeed in his attempt, only 17 heads of state attended the summit, with the Russian president the most prominent absentee. Nevertheless, the importance of the Bali summit remains unquestionable. President Xi and President Biden of the United States held a formal meeting more than three hours before the summit. At the same time, President Xi Jinping met with 12 national leaders in three days. The Bali summit provided this year’s most important diplomatic platform for China and the West to re-engage. All pundits agreed that the Bali meetings among G20 countries helped lower the geopolitical tensions between China and the West, particularly between the US and China.

The Bali Leaders’ Declaration released after the meeting was a diplomatic success for Indonesia. Out of 52 paragraphs in the document, only paragraph 3 refers to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and emphasizes that Russia must comply with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution ES11/1 of March 2 and withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Paragraph 4 said that States must abide by the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations and settle disputes through dialogue. The other 50 paragraphs focus on common issues of global concern, such as energy security, food security, climate change, ecological protection, cooperation in global public health systems, and promoting the development of the digital economy. One can easily note the Declaration emphasizes peace, openness and cooperation.

APEC Leaders’ Summit

The APEC summit is the last of the three, and the adopted “2022 Leader’s Declaration,” in many ways, resembled the G20 Bali Declaration. But paragraph 16 of the 23 paragraphs declaration referred to the Bangkok Goals on the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy as an important component of the Asia-Pacific Sustainable Development Goals and became the Declaration’s bright spot. It is the first discourse on bio-circular-green economy in any high-level summit document. Moreover, observers believe that countries are increasingly taking note of the sustainability challenges that the world faces today and shifting attention to working together on them rather than confrontation over geopolitical rivalries. As a result, the Bangkok BCG aspiration is likely to be adopted by more countries and set a new global goal.

Asean success and the Indonesian aspirations

Will all the summit declarations be implemented in the future is uncertain. However, the successful holding of the three summits amid the current geopolitical division is an achievement. Asean status is enhanced on the global stage even though Myanmar’s shadow is hanging in the background. Indonesia’s navigation of the G20 Summit is particularly notable.

Asean is the most diverse regional organization today. The organization is composed of wealthy members like Singapore, with an annual per capita income of more than $60,000. At the same time, members such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are classified as least developed countries with a per capita income of around $2,000. The average per capita income of Asean is around $5,000, and the growth potential is high on account of its relatively well-educated youthful population and proximity to the economically most dynamic East Asia region. Therefore, accelerating Asean economic integration among members and prosperous East Asia will help the economic development of most Asean member states.

Indonesia will be the rotating chair of Asean in 2023, and President Jokowi has spoken about his vision of the regional grouping. He wants to focus on capacity building of Asean institutions and hopes by 2045, the regional grouping will be more adaptive, responsive and competitive on the global scene. The country is the pillar of Asean and uniquely positioned to push the agenda forward as its economy and population are more than one-third of the 10 member states’ regional grouping.

It is well-known that Indonesian support was a key element in the 2019 adoption of RCEP and “Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” when Thailand was the rotating chair. Moreover, there are talks that Indonesia could like Asean to review its charter to promote more regional integration and keep economic growth as the story of Asean. Many observers will look at the question, “Will Indonesian chairmanship herald a new Asean?” closely in the next few months.

Dr. Henry Chan is an internationally recognized development economist based in Singapore. He is also a senior visiting research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace and adjunct research fellow at the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). His primary research interest includes global economic development, Asean-China relations and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

similar version was published in Manila Times on December 4 2022. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks. (idsicenter@gmail.com)

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