As Moscow and Washington prepare to clash over ASEAN, the stakes are high for both.
By Chris Devonshire-Ellis
Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will take part in several meetings with ASEAN which will be held in Cambodia from Thursday August 4th. The annual ASEAN summit is held a week later.
Despite US pressure on ASEAN to isolate Russia, the Southeast Asian bloc generally felt that excluding Moscow from ASEAN participation would be a missed opportunity for peaceful dialogue. Despite concerns, ASEAN still considers it important to cooperate with Moscow on global food and fuel shortage issues. There is also some consensus that Russia represents some stability – as does ASEAN’s partnership with China.
Russia became a full dialogue partner with ASEAN in 1996. Since then, Moscow’s relations with the bloc have often coincided on major global and regional issues, and ties have grown. However, the conflict in Ukraine has raised problems. Initially, ASEAN member countries expressed divergent views on Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but managed to develop a common position on the conflict. In three bloc statements on the subject, they called for an immediate ceasefire, peace talks, humanitarian aid and an investigation into reported crimes. Furthermore, ASEAN has declared its readiness to contribute to any peace effort.
Cambodia, host of Lavrov’s meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, has proven to be one of the most critical Asian leaders of Moscow, with the exception of Singapore, the only ASEAN member to back Russian sanctions. Although he noted in March that “Russia is a friend of Cambodia who has helped our country more than once.” Hun Sen condemned Moscow for the special operation in Ukraine and ordered its diplomats to choose Kyiv when voting in international organizations. However, having joined the West in condemning Russia’s actions, Phnom Penh did not support Moscow’s policy of isolating Moscow on the international stage.
Although attempts to pressure ASEAN leaders have been made, Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Espiritu acknowledged that rather than excluding Russia, ASEAN had decided to become a dialogue platform. That is why Phnom Penh invited Lavrov to participate in the regular meetings of heads of foreign affairs agencies in the formats of the Russian Federation-ASEAN, the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum on security.
This is a position also expressed by Kin Phea, the director general of the Institute of International Relations of the Royal Academy of Phnom Penh, who declared in the Russian newspaper Izvestia that “the exclusion of Russia from the forum or Other ASEAN mechanisms would be a missed opportunity for peaceful dialogue. Cambodia’s position is that it supports the peaceful use of diplomacy to resolve conflicts. ASEAN can convey clear messages from Russia to Ukraine and vice versa and should also ask its external partners to heed Russia’s concerns. Only if Moscow’s fears are heard, peace talks are held, and seaports are opened, can we solve problems like the global shortage of food and fuel.
Dmitry Mosyakov, director of the Center for Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted that despite the small trade with the countries of ASEAN, Russia’s role has always been extensive in areas such as security and military-technical cooperation. According to him, energy cooperation has been going well for years. However, the main advantage of relations with Russia in the eyes of ASEAN is its role in balancing the US-China contradictions and their attempts to divide the bloc.
Mosyakov also mentioned that Russia has always supported ASEAN unity and its unification efforts, especially now, as the United States strives to reformat the Indo-Pacific region, seeks new allies and tries to push certain ASEAN countries into their political sphere, which could introduce a breakdown of ASEAN into pro-US and pro-China factions.
This program will resonate with China. Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly expressed their apprehensions over Washington’s attempts to contain objectionable countries (mainly China) via the new US-Indo-Pacific strategy by strengthening ties between the military-industrial complexes of the states and countries of the region and reorienting the supply chains of critical products. At the same time, drawing ASEAN members into the US orbit, like Singapore, with which US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just held meetings, is becoming a new norm. The United States is now injecting itself into Southeast Asian affairs and has negotiated the participation of seven ASEAN states in the American Indo-Pacific economic structure.
This is seen in some quarters as a mobilization of collective efforts to contain, blockade and encircle China. The downside is that this is not meant to unite ASEAN members, but will effectively divide them. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as the current chair of ASEAN, has already made it clear that participation in any framework or initiative aimed at containing another country or region would not be welcome.
Cambodia is unlikely to follow the US lead at the upcoming ASEAN summit, which will be attended by foreign ministers and officials from 39 countries, including US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Cambodia does not wish to see ASEAN become hostage to two opposing factions in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and has expressed strong views on attempts to do so.
In May, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, which currently chairs APEC, issued a joint statement on the importance of international meetings and called on countries on either side of the barricades not to waves and letting others promote dialogue, cooperation, and peace. There was limited success. Jakarta and Bangkok have already witnessed diplomatic arguments and a lack of cooperation during their hosting of the recent G20 foreign and economic ministers’ meetings, as well as the trade ministers’ meeting. of APEC, which ended without the traditional joint declarations due to the West boycotting Russia by the countries.
It remains to be seen how the Asian adage of “losing face” if one gets mad – and especially in someone else’s country – will play with the West on Russia’s involvement in South Asia. South East. It is also true that when Western cultures deal with the East, what they may think in their eyes is agreement – it is anything but. With Sergei Lavrov having started his political career in Southeast Asia, this will be a fascinating insight into which faction understands Asia best – Russia, itself part-Asian – or the United States. With Washington ready to fight with promises and threats to force its way into Southeast Asia by gutting Moscow, and Russia pleading for understanding and patience, Sergei Lavrov’s diplomatic skills will be at the fore. forefront when discussing Russia’s relations with ASEAN. Whatever happens will be a game changer.
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