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In challenging times, SE Asia steps forward

By PRIME SARMIENTO/YANG HAN | China Daily | Updated: 2022-12-29 06:52
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Visitors take in the atmosphere at the 19th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on Sept 19. [Photo/Xinhua]

ASEAN, member states demonstrate value of cooperation in guiding key global meetings

Southeast Asia is ending the year on a high note, with the region hosting some of the world's most high-profile international meetings over the past 12 months.

The way that Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand successfully staged these gatherings is a testament to the growing importance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in helping to shape global governance and economic development, analysts said.

Indonesia held this year's presidency of the G20, a group that comprises the 20 major developed and developing economies. Thailand chaired the 29th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, Economic Leaders' Meeting, while Cambodia hosted the 40th and 41st ASEAN summit series in a busy tail-end to the year.

The ASEAN countries stepped up to host these meetings at a challenging time for the world. As economies open up their borders and move toward post-pandemic recovery, they also contend with headwinds like the Ukraine-Russia conflict, rising food and energy prices and climate change. And as they face these challenges, global leaders have vowed to strengthen cooperation in trade, multilateralism and digitalization to sustain the gains from the rebounding economies.

After meeting with their peers from partners including China, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Australia, ASEAN leaders concluded the summit in Phnom Penh on Nov 13 by vowing to "build back stronger" from the crisis and to promote "inclusive, resilient, competitive and sustainable" economic growth through the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework.

About a week later, a $1.4 billion Pandemic Fund was launched on the resort island of Bali, the venue for the G20 Summit, as a means to help developing countries cope with future pandemics and other global health threats.

ASEAN's so-called summit season in November ended with APEC economic leaders in the Thai capital endorsing the Bangkok Goals on the Bio-Circular-Green Economy that promote a "strong, balanced, secure, sustainable and inclusive growth". APEC leaders have also committed to realizing the APEC Putrajaya Vision of an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community by 2040.

For decades, ASEAN has endeavored "to promote a people-oriented ASEAN in which all sectors of society are encouraged to participate in, and benefit from, the process of ASEAN integration and community building", as stated in Article 1 of the ASEAN Charter, which also speaks of the need to foster "greater awareness of the diverse culture and heritage of the region". Rather like China's approach, the bloc's pursuit of unity in diversity well meets the needs of a world facing common challenges. The past year has provided rare opportunities for the region to showcase its people- and peace-oriented values founded on the principle of sustainable development.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that hosting these summits would enhance ASEAN's prestige and centrality in addressing common regional and global challenges, according to a report by Khmer Times, a newspaper based in Phnom Penh.

Although regional security issues have not been fully addressed, Hun Sen said he believes the positive outcomes of the ASEAN meetings have made a significant contribution to setting common positions that can help advance the region toward greater regional security, stability, and development.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha described the Bangkok meeting as a "shared success" by all APEC members that wish to see the regional framework operating well in the face of volatile global contexts to advance economic growth for the region.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in his closing speech at the G20 Summit that Indonesia's presidency of the group produced concrete deliverables that can help bring the work of the G20 closer to the people. These achievements include the Pandemic Fund and the Just Energy Transition Partnership, which will help Indonesia retire its coal plants and accelerate its shift toward renewable energy sources.

Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, chairperson of Business 20 Indonesia, the business group that leads engagement with the G20, said the changing global landscape needs to be seen as an opportunity to bring more innovative solutions that are "suited to the circumstances of our region". She said that in many global negotiations in the past, Asian economic voices and agendas have not been considered a priority.

She said Indonesia's G20 presidency has "given us the chance to reshape the world's economic order and governance".

"Good governance is not a single term that can be defined only by the Western world, and in fact here we are all G20 countries committed to bringing beyond good, but inclusive, innovative and collaborative governance," Kamdani said.

She said Indonesia's presidency of the grouping has shown that the "ASEAN way remains relevant to whatever challenges we have today and in the future".

"Regional and multilateral platforms like the G20 and ASEAN give us an understanding of equality at the negotiation table, that all countries no matter the size and political influence, have the same rights to voice out their solutions," Kamdani said, adding that the "key strength" of Indonesia's leadership is the "ability to vocally represent the interest and aspiration of those outside the forum, including the least-developed and poor nations".

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