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Centrality underscored at ASEAN meeting

By YANG HAN and LEONARDUS JEGHO in Jakarta | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-07-15 07:50
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ASEAN should not become a proxy to any power, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told regional foreign ministers who gathered in Jakarta for the 56th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting and related meetings on Friday.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is committed to strengthening its unity, solidarity and centrality in maintaining peace and stability in the region, Widodo said as regional foreign ministers were paying him a courtesy call.

"ASEAN cannot be a competition, it can't be a proxy of any country, and international law should be respected consistently," he said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi also emphasized that the Asia-Pacific region must not be allowed to become a battleground. She made the remarks while addressing the 13th East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta on Friday before the country wrapped up a series of ASEAN ministerial gatherings.

Speaking to ministers from the 18-nation EAS, Marsudi said the region "should not be another battleground". Instead, it must remain stable, though some described the tension in the region as a "Cold War in hot places".

The EAS includes the 10 ASEAN member states plus China, South Korea, Japan, the United States, Russia, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Widodo pointed out that ASEAN has the potential to become the center of growth, both in terms of its young population and abundant natural resources.

Win-win approach

"We, ASEAN countries, developing countries, need understanding, wisdom and also need support, both from developed countries and friendly countries to leave the zerosum approach and take a win-win approach," he said.

The ASEAN Regional Forum is the region's largest security meeting and was held on the same day as the EAS.

Asia-Pacific is expected to be the largest contributor to global growth over the next 30 years. And the region must not only become a net contributor to growth, but also one for peace that projects its paradigm of collaboration to other regions, Marsudi said, noting that mistrust and uncertainties remain.

ASEAN has been trying to maintain neutrality with the concept of ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN Outlook on the "Indo-Pacific", said Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesia's former deputy minister of foreign affairs, so inclusion and cooperation are key elements.

"When we talk about inclusive, we refer mostly to China," said Djalal, who is pleased to see that China has openly voiced its support for ASEAN. The region "has to engage China".

The meetings came as the region faces multiple challenges, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Myanmar crisis, and Japan's plan to discharge radioactive wastewater into the Pacific.

In response to media questions regarding Japan's discharge plan, Djalal said the issue should be addressed by ASEAN if it can be scientifically proven that it causes environmental damage.

Leonardus Jegho is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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