Asean will not be a proxy for China or any other nation, with the regional grouping maintaining it would continue emphasising adherence to international law and pursuing a policy of equality and mutual respect.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose country holds the Asean chair this year, said the organisation is seeking a more personal approach in strengthening not just government-to-government relations, but also “society-to-society”.
In an exclusive interview with Media Prima at Istana Merdeka in Jakarta, Joko, fresh off Indonesia’s successful stint as G20 president until November last year, fielded questions ranging from territorial disputes in the South China Sea to human rights violations in Myanmar, regional food security concerns as well as Indonesia’s relations with Malaysia.
Responding to accusations that China was controlling Asean by proxy given that the global superpower is Asean’s largest trading partner, Joko said Asean would not be a proxy for another nation.
“For Indonesia in its leadership of Asean, we do not want Asean to be anyone’s proxy. It cannot be a proxy for another nation. Asean by nature is open and inclusive.
“What we want is to ensure economic cooperation with all quarters based on the foundations of equality, mutual respect as well as mutual benefit. This is something we will continue to stress.
“As such, what we want to strengthen isn’t just government-to-government, but also society-to-society. This is what we will continue to emphasise,” he said.
He also addressed how Asean planned to tackle the claims by China to large swathes of the South China Sea, as well as the latter’s maritime disputes with the United States.
He stressed that adherence to international law is the solution.
“Asean’s position is clear in that we want the South China Sea to become an area that is stable, peaceful and prosperous. This is what all of Asean wants.
“The key to this is adherence to international law, to the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) 1982. This is the key.
“All claims that have no basis should not take place. As such, we have the key. Obey the international law,” he said.
On the longstanding issue enveloping Myanmar, which had seen violence committed against the Rohingya population, Joko said Asean was still upholding the Five-Point Consensus peace plan as its guiding principle.
Acknowledging that it was not an easy problem to solve, he said the priority is ensuring that all violence is brought to an end swiftly.
He noted that the issue could be resolved only if there was a willingness to do so from Myanmar itself.
“We hope that representatives from Myanmar will also play an active role until the conclusion. This has to come from two fronts, not just one.”
Joko also emphasised the need for Asean to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure that it was better prepared in future for any pandemic or outbreak.
He said the establishment of the Asean Response Fund, which saw all member states contributing towards future purchases of vaccines, medicine and medical supplies, was a good start.
This, he said, would also reduce Asean’s reliance on others beyond the grouping.
“We cannot leave anything to chance and be unprepared. It cannot happen again.
“It has to be organised and prepared well, from the funds — equipment, medicine and vaccines. Global cooperation must also be strengthened to educate the people on health.
“Cooperation with the medical, pharmaceutical and healthcare industry is also a must among Asean member states so that we do not need to rely on those outside Asean and we can stand independent,” he said.
Source: New Straits Times