Southeast Asia recently played host to an unprecedented group of summits that firmly put the West and its U.S.-led foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific on the front foot.
Bradley Murg, distinguished senior research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, speaks with The Diplomat’s Luke Hunt about the key takeaways and questions that arose after world leaders converged on Phnom Penh, Bali, and Bangkok.
Murg says regional and global diplomacy has moved into a new era, one where China will be judged by its track record, Russia will be further isolated – its relevance lost – and where regionally Indonesia is expected to assert itself in 2023 as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
That should mean a much harsher stance against the junta in Myanmar, completing Timor-Leste’s admission to the group, stronger regional support for Ukraine, and improving trade amid a widely anticipated further economic downturn.
However, what to do with big-ticket ASEAN issues, which includes the completion of a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, the plight of the Mekong River, and the state of the region’s economies, will test the bloc.
These issues rarely rated a mention in the latest round of summits as divisions within ASEAN, in particular between its maritime and mainland countries, have become increasingly obvious.
The Code of Conduct, like the Five-Point Consensus for finding a resolution to the crisis in Myanmar, are now dead issues, Murg says, and it was time to move on, raising the difficult question: Is ASEAN fit for the purpose?
He also said Cambodia had a better year than expected, helped by its efforts to steer Timor-Leste into ASEAN as its 11th member, but it is up to Indonesia to clear a logjam of issues and reset the diplomatic agenda.