Indonesian President Warns ASEAN 'Can't be Proxy' of Any Country

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo delivers his speech during the courtesy calls of ministers at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta on July 14, 2023. Photo by Achmad Ibrahim / POOL / AFP

Jakarta, Indonesia -- Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Friday said ASEAN cannot become a proxy for other countries, as US-China tensions rise over issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

Foreign ministers from the Southeast Asian bloc have gathered in Jakarta for talks about regional issues, from the disputed South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety, to the crisis in Myanmar, where China is the ruling junta's main ally.

Disagreements over the waterway have pitted some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) against Beijing and boosted sympathy for US opposition to China's growing assertiveness. Others have backed Beijing.

"ASEAN cannot be a competition, it can't be a proxy of any country, and international law should be respected consistently," Widodo told the ministers.

"We in ASEAN are committed to strengthening the unity and solidity as well as centrality in ASEAN to guard the peace and stability in the region."

Tensions between the world's two largest economies have soared in recent years over a host of issues, including China's drills around self-ruled Taiwan and sweeping US export restrictions on advanced semiconductors.

The Jakarta meetings have been joined by both China and the United States, whose top diplomats met Thursday in the Indonesian capital.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China's Wang Yi of consequences after a cybersecurity breach blamed on China again threatened to undermine a nascent stabilisation of ties, a US official told AFP.

Wang told Blinken that the United States should not interfere in China's affairs and should "work with" Beijing to improve their relationship, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

ASEAN has been divided on the Myanmar crisis and how to engage with its pro-China junta since the 2021 coup plunged the country into violent turmoil.

The bloc issued a much-debated communique on Thursday that repeated its condemnation of violence. It reiterated that a five-point peace plan agreed with the junta, but largely ignored since, must remain the basis for resolving the conflict.

Myanmar remains an ASEAN member but its rulers have been barred from top-level summits over a lack of progress on the plan, which aims to end violence and resume talks between the military and the anti-coup movement.

Thailand has taken a separate track to ASEAN efforts, hosting "informal talks" with the junta's foreign minister and Bangkok's top diplomat met with deposed democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week and said she was in good health.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), the party overthrown in the coup, appeared to question the Thai minister's version of events, in which he said she had "encouraged dialogue" to end the crisis.

"Aung San Suu Kyi could not have a chance to talk in front of the public, so it is hard to believe every word from what the Thai foreign minister said," the party said in a Facebook statement.

© Agence France-Presse

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