Asean poised for progress in a challenging landscape
14 Sep 2023
FOLLOWING the recently-concluded 43rd Asean Summit in Indonesia, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir looks ahead to the grouping’s continued key role in a complex geopolitical landscape.
Below is his statement in full:
Asean and Malaysia
The recent Asean Summit in Jakarta marked a pivotal moment in the region’s quest for peace, stability and prosperity.
The summit culminated in the determination of Asean leaders to make this region exemplary vis-a-vis other regional groupings around the world.
Indonesia deserves accolades for its remarkable preparations and seamless execution of the summit.
The presence of many world leaders as dialogue partners underscored the importance of Asean in today’s complex geopolitical and geoeconomic landscape.
Indeed, this year’s theme, “Epicentrum of growth”, aptly encapsulates Asean’s impressive economic outlook.
The Asean digital economy for one holds a huge potential and is expected to reach US$1 trillion to US$2 trillion by 2030. This projection is bolstered by the rapid growth of ecommerce and the availability of digital platforms.
The Asean Connectivity Plan, designed to foster integration across multiple sectors further solidifies Asean’s status as an economic powerhouse. From air and land connectivity to the energy sector, and even in the digital sector, this region is poised for remarkable progress.
Amidst the swift-changing geopolitical landscape, Asean remains the primary driving force in regional architecture.
Its cooperation network has transcended to involve all key global players through various Asean-led mechanisms.
Such is the convening power of Asean, where its leading role in regional diplomacy is clearly manifested in bringing together the key countries across the globe.
At the same time, Asean also managed to showcase its diplomatic clout in mediating the great power competition and asserted that the region is not set for a theatre of confrontation.
Malaysia’s role in Asean
Malaysia’s historical role in Asean is undeniably significant. The leadership of then foreign minister Tun Abdul Razak alongside other regional leaders – the founding fathers – played an instrumental role in Asean’s establishment. This explains why Asean is regarded as the cornerstone of Malaysia’s foreign policy.
For what it is worth, Malaysia’s positions within Asean platforms are increasingly important.
This is especially true in the era of geopolitical flux with the emphasis on the South China Sea, Myanmar, and the divergence of Indo-Pacific strategies within the region. These issues demand thoughtful and proactive engagement.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia consistently highlights the paramount importance of dialogue and cooperation on issues affecting regional peace and stability.
One of the critical issues is regarding the South China Sea. While it is recognised as a strategic global trade route, the issue remains contentious. Malaysia maintains a commitment that it should be dealt with peacefully and rationally through dialogue and negotiation based on universally-recognised principles of international law, including UNCLOS 1982.
Through Asean platforms, Malaysia is also dedicated to the implementation of the Declaration of Conduct and negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. These mechanisms are crucial to ensure the waterway remains a sea of peace and stability.
Indeed, another issue that topped the agenda is Myanmar. The continued escalation of violence and prolonged suffering of the people, including the humanitarian crisis, cast adverse impacts on regional stability.
Asean has designed its peace plan known as the Five Point Consensus which calls for an immediate cessation of violence, inclusive peace dialogue, and an unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid, among others. And within this framework, Malaysia remains committed to resolving the Myanmar issue.
Of late, the Indo-Pacific strategy has gained momentum in the region. Several key countries have crafted their own Indo-Pacific strategies to shape the regional architecture in South-East Asia. It is a recognition on the part of South-East Asia that it is a high-value region poised to be among the key engines of economic growth in the world.
With the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) taking the central role, it is important that other Indo-Pacific strategies align with the aspirations outlined by the AOIP. This coordination is key to placing Asean in the driver’s seat in navigating this region.
Moreover, Malaysia took the opportunity to voice out the Muslim ummah-related issues, notably on Palestine and Islamophobia, at the recent summit.
On Palestine, Malaysia is the sole country that espoused the Palestinian plight on Asean platforms.
There is a need for a comprehensive, just and sustainable solution to the conflict to ensure peace and stability in the Middle East.
Regarding Islamophobia, Malaysia asserted that it is an infringement of human rights and a derogation of the right to religion and belief. And that all prominent leaders are urged to resolve these challenges together.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership
Beyond the intricacies of Asean’s inner workings, it is also imperative to highlight the leadership that played a crucial role in steering the country on the international stage.
Anwar’s leadership has undeniably elevated Malaysia’s international profile.
First and foremost, his adeptness in leader-to-leader diplomacy has played a critical role in bolstering Malaysia’s image in the region and beyond.
Secondly, Anwar and other Malaysian officials deserve recognition for their relentless diplomacy efforts. After all, the summitry is often known for its tireless schedule of “back-to-back meetings” which may reach up to a hundred meetings within a week.
Looking ahead to 2025, Malaysia will assume the leadership mantle as Asean chair, and expectations will be high from the member states. Indeed, this is a critical juncture as Asean will embark on a new trajectory of a long-term vision for 2045.
Asean Community Vision 2045 is an imperative long-term strategic direction in the next two decades to address current and emerging challenges and opportunities.
Against the backdrop of swift-changing geopolitical shifts in the region, strengthening Asean and solidifying partnerships is vital to promote further peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
As Malaysia takes on this monumental role and with Anwar at the helm, with pride and confidence, this country is well-positioned to play the central role.
Source: The Star