ASEAN Indonesia 2023 affirms bloc unity

Voices affirming unity and the need to reject bloc confrontation have come under the spotlight in the just-concluded three-day summit here by ASEAN leaders with Asian and Western counterparts.

ASEAN must not be an arena of destructive rivalries, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said during the opening of the 43rd ASEAN Summit on Tuesday. He urged the regional grouping to stay united and not be a proxy to any power.

“Don’t make our ship, ASEAN, become an arena of rivalry that causes damages to each other,” he said. “Make our ship the foundation to build cooperation and create prosperity, stability and peace, not only for the region but also for the world.”

Widodo called on the United States to become a positive force in ensuring that the Indo-Pacific remains a stable, peaceful, and prosperous region through concrete and inclusive cooperation. “ASEAN has agreed to continue to serve as the locomotive of peace and stability in the region, where the Indo-Pacific must become a platform for collaboration.”

The biggest challenge facing the Asia-Pacific region, especially East Asia, is that the United States is attempting to provoke geopolitical confrontation in the region, said Zhai Kun, deputy dean of the Institute of Area Studies of Peking University.

“Apparently, ASEAN countries do not want to follow suit,” Zhai said.

Other ASEAN leaders share similar views. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong once said, “We do not want to end up with rival blocs forming or countries having to take one side or the other.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commended such a spirit and said “ASEAN has been an important factor for unity in the divided world.”

The world has been stretched to the breaking point by a cascade of crises, from the worsening climate emergency and escalating wars and conflicts, to growing poverty, widening inequalities, and rising geopolitical tensions, said the UN chief.

Amid rising geopolitical tensions, Southeast Asia is fulfilling a “vital role in building bridges of understanding” worldwide, he said.

The truth is Asia-Pacific countries are seeing vibrant development and mushrooming opportunities ahead. The path they choose to embark on determines the future of the region.

In his first participation in the ASEAN summits, Chinese Premier Li Qiang highlighted commonalities among Asian countries and called on them to properly handle disagreements and disputes.

Li travelled Wednesday aboard a train on a test run along the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway connecting Indonesia’s capital Jakarta and the country’s cultural hub Bandung, the site of the legendary Bandung Conference of the Third World.

When Bandung Conference was held in 1955, similar choices were put on the table for Asian countries: united for development or entangled in confrontation. To cope with the complex international situation at that time, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai proposed “seeking common ground while reserving differences.”

This week during the ASEAN summits, Li also said, “to keep differences under control, what is essential now is to oppose picking sides, oppose bloc confrontation, and oppose a new Cold War and to ensure that disagreements and disputes among countries are properly handled.”

The more difficult it is, the more regional countries need to stay together, show solidarity and coordinate with one another, Li said.

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