ASEAN leaders kick off summit, seek unity and peace

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders kicked off an annual summit on Tuesday in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, amid rifts within the 10-member regional bloc over stalled peace efforts in Myanmar and a sharpening U.S.-China rivalry in the region.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the summit, ASEAN host and Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged his counterparts not to “turn our ship (ASEAN) into an arena for rivalries” but to instead use the group to create peace and stability in the region and for the world.

“We realize the world is not alright. Future challenges are becoming heavier, creating a race for power. Nevertheless, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has agreed to not be a proxy to any powers, to work together with anybody for peace and prosperity,” Widodo said.

“Don’t turn our ship, ASEAN, as an arena for rivalries that cause mutual destruction. Instead, use this ASEAN ship as an arena for cooperation, to create prosperity, to create stability, to create peace, not only for the region but for the world,” he added.

The bloc is seeking to clarify its relevance as cracks emerge in its response to the conflict in Myanmar, where the military seized power in a bloody coup in 2021.

Indonesia has attempted to engage all stakeholders in Myanmar, but unilateral moves by Thailand to include the country’s shunned military leaders, who are banned from attending high-level ASEAN meetings, have dented the bloc’s credibility and led to division among member states.