By The Jakarta Post
Asia news network
The attendance of the regional leaders at the Asean biannual meeting in Bangkok over the weekend demonstrated the respect and appreciation of the neighbours of Thailand, which took over from Singapore last year in the annual rotating chairmanship of the regional body.
The weekend summit on June 22 and 23 reiterated past themes on “building a people-centred Asean Community that leaves no one behind and looks to the future”. The summit itself was the first part of the biannual event, attended only by the members’ leaders; Prayut is to host much larger Asean meetings in November.
Five years after the junta toppled a civilian government, Thailand finally held a general election on March 24 this year. Regardless of the controversies, the election itself was a significant step for the nation to restore its democratic values. The Kingdom is one of Asean’s five founding members and its economic development remains a globally recognised role model despite the so-called Tom Yam Kung financial crisis that spread through Asia in 1997. However, the Thai military’s five-year rule remains a deep setback in the region’s democratisation.
In Bangkok, the leaders focused on worsening trade and economic relations between the United States and China, for which a short-term solution to minimise the impacts of the trade war has been difficult to find.
The summit facilitated ongoing efforts to help conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership among the 10 Asean members, along with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
This is not easy to achieve, not just because of the absence of the US, but also because of worsening relations between China and Japan.
The leaders also adopted “an Asean outlook on the Indo-Pacific” concept as a guideline for members to engage with other countries; however, major powers such as India have their own versions of the multilateral cooperation platform.
Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo openly raised the prolonged suffering of the Muslim Rohingya with Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Jokowi should continue to raise the issue, not just because Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, but also because the alleged crimes against humanity are feared to provoke serious security threats to Myanmar itself and its neighbours. In a bilateral meeting with the Myanmar leader on Saturday, Jokowi bluntly addressed the necessity to ensure the safety of the Rohingya whenever they wish to return to their home province.
Prayut is to chair Asean until the end of this year. After winning the election, he now has time to prove his statesmanship to his people and the region. Ending the suffering of the Rohingya should be high on his agenda, as one of the issues that he can help to resolve with other Asean leaders.