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ASEAN foreign ministers descend on Bangkok for annual five-day summit


ASEAN foreign ministers descend on Bangkok for annual five-day summit

asean foreign ministers bangkok
Photo: BP

ASEAN foreign ministers will meet in Bangkok today for a five-day summit.

The meeting comes one month after an Indonesian-led initiative, the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, was approved by the ten ASEAN member-states. The Outlook emphasises the centrality of the ASEAN region to the Indo-Pacific. The strategy document was unanimously agreed to—unusual for ASEAN—for fear of the bloc being sidelined by competing visions for the Indo-Pacific, including the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Initiative of the US and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Despite the concurrences, ASEAN nations likely have a much different conception of the Outlook. It promotes a region of ‘shared interests’, while shunning the ‘shared values’ vision of countries like the US, Japan and Australia.

However, the Outlook shares some similarities with both the Chinese and the American conceptions of the region. This is deliberate given ASEAN’s varied interests and complex relationships with both superpowers. In practice, the Outlook maintains the ability of members—like Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos—to benefit from Belt and Road infrastructural development that China offers. On the other hand, it ensures that the interests of others—especially countries currently in territorial disputes with China, like Vietnam and the Philippines—by supporting the rules-based order underpinned by the US.

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Overall, the strategy aims to keep both superpowers engaged in the region and serving ASEAN’s interests.

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