ASEAN Leaders Unite With China And US Amid Myanmar And Israel Crises: A Regional Overview

In a significant regional development, leaders from the ASEAN joined forces with China and the United States to address pressing challenges emanating from the Myanmar crisis and the ongoing conflict in Israel.

Defence ministers and officials from the United States, China, Russia, and Southeast Asia convened in Indonesia to discuss geopolitical crises both within and outside the region. The defence ministers of the ASEAN regional bloc, which includes Southeast Asian nations, had already called for a ceasefire in Gaza and a lasting resolution to the conflict in Myanmar on the day before the meeting. The discussions are likely to cover a range of regional security issues, and the outcomes may involve diplomatic efforts and collaborative approaches to address complex challenges.

Indonesia’s Defense Minister, Prabowo Subianto, emphasised the need for broad global cooperation to address the various security challenges in the region. In his opening speech on Thursday during the meeting, he focused on that both traditional and non-traditional threats require extensive collaboration. While he did not specify particular issues in the speech, on the previous day, Prabowo identified the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, and Myanmar as potential “hot spots” capable of destabilizing the region.

Key attendees at the meeting include U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin, and Jing Jianfeng, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission. The presence of high-ranking officials from these nations underscores the significance of the discussions and the importance of addressing potential sources of instability in the mentioned regions.

In addition to the previously mentioned countries, Australia, New Zealand, and several others are participating in Thursday’s meeting. Notably, Myanmar is absent from the discussions. Myanmar’s military leaders have been excluded from high-level meetings within the 10-member ASEAN since they seized power in a coup in 2021, during which they carried out violence against those opposing their takeover.

The meeting coincides with a recent meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the outskirts of San Francisco. During their meeting, Biden and Xi agreed to resume military-to-military communications and collaborate on efforts to curb fentanyl production. This highlights ongoing diplomatic engagements between the United States and China, even as discussions on regional security and geopolitical challenges continue in Indonesia.

Indonesia and Malaysia have jointly called for a ceasefire in the ongoing conflict in Gaza. During his visit to Washington this week, Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged President Biden to take more decisive actions to bring an end to the hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The request for a ceasefire aligns with international efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and seek a peaceful resolution to the long-standing conflict in the region.


Myanmar Situation

The US and European allies have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military junta, while India maintains a delicate balance between supporting democracy and engaging with the junta. China, heavily invested in Myanmar through the Belt and Road Initiative and other projects, initially backed the junta but now faces challenges as conflict escalates. Amid intensifying fighting, China has called for a ceasefire, and the outcome may depend on the actions of key players like India and the US, offering China an opportunity to strengthen its position in the region.

Southeast Asian leaders are urging Myanmar’s military rulers to implement a peace plan designed to address the ongoing violence in the country since the military seized power in a coup last year. Thousands of lives have been lost in Myanmar due to the political turmoil.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders have taken a strong stance by preventing Myanmar’s military ruler, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, from attending their gathering. This move comes in response to the escalating violence in Myanmar, coupled with the frustration that the military leaders in Myanmar seem uninterested in adopting the previously agreed-upon peace plan.

Last year, ASEAN and Myanmar leaders reached a “five-point consensus” peace plan in April. However, the military in Myanmar has yet to implement it, despite the regional bloc’s efforts.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed deep disappointment over the worsening situation in Myanmar. On the sidelines of the summit, President Widodo shared that he proposed an expansion of the ban on Myanmar political representatives from participating in ASEAN events—a suggestion endorsed by human rights groups. The move reflects the region’s growing concern over Myanmar’s internal crisis and the need for collective action to address the situation.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) emphasized the necessity for an “implementation plan that outlines concrete, practical, and measurable indicators” with a clear timeline for the execution of a peace plan in Myanmar. However, a consensus on such a plan was not reached. The leaders also expressed their intention to call upon the United Nations and external partners to support ASEAN’s peace efforts.


Israel-Hamas Conflict

Chinese President Xi Jinping is now overshadowed by the conflict in the Gaza Strip. The talks between Biden, a staunch supporter of Israel, and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo will likely be influenced by the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.

A senior U.S. administration official emphasized the importance of hearing Indonesia’s perspective on the conflict, given its status as the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. The official suggested that Biden will encourage Indonesia to play a larger role in addressing the immediate ceasefire issue and contribute to long-term goals, such as working towards a two-state solution and rebuilding Gaza after the conflict.

Biden is expected to pay close attention to what President Widodo learned during a joint summit of Arab and Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia. During this summit, leaders strongly condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza, characterizing them as “barbaric.” The discussion on the Gaza conflict is likely to play a significant role in shaping the diplomatic discourse during the meeting between Biden and Widodo.