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world leaders converge in Phnom Penh This weekend, for the first time in a series of international summits in Southeast Asia over the next week, divisions between major powers and conflict threaten to overshadow talks.
The first stop is the Cambodian capital where leaders from across the Indo-Pacific will meet alongside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders Summit, followed by a meeting of G20 leaders in Bali next week. Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Bangkok.
The diplomatic stack will be a test of the international willingness to coordinate on issues such as Climate changeAnd the global inflation The rise in food prices against the background Russian invasion of UkraineEconomic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic – and the first time the three events have taken place in person since the outbreak began in 2020.
Sharp geopolitical divisions of the kind we haven’t seen in decades loom on this political calendar, as the war in Ukraine radically transformed Russia’s relationship with the West, the two largest global economies, the United States and China, still locked in stiff competition, and the rest of the world. It is pressed to choose a side.
Whether Russian leader Vladimir Putin will do it make any appearance During the period of diplomatic dates remain uncertain. US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are both expected to attend two summits in Southeast Asia – a region that has long been ground zero for influence maneuvers between Beijing and Washington.
Xi is re-emerging on the world stage after years of not traveling during the pandemic, having obtained Third period of non-standard in power, as Biden heads east from a better-than-expected performance for his party in the US midterm elections. Both are expected to present their country as a stronger partner and a more responsible global actor than the other.
Will face to face meeting The White House said Thursday on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty, in their first in-person meeting since Biden’s election. Beijing on Friday confirmed Xi’s travel plans to the G20 and APEC summits, and said he would hold bilateral meetings with Biden and several other leaders.
Talks between the two parties can help avoid an escalation of tensions between the two powers. But for the leaders who will gather during the series of summits in the coming days, striking strong agreements on tackling global issues – already a tough bargain at the best of times – will be a challenge.
Experts say that even the most regional meeting, the ASEAN Summit of Southeast Asian Leaders – which began in Phnom Penh on Friday and is set to tackle the promotion of regional stability as well as global challenges – will reflect fractured global politics.
But unlike other major meetings, which may be more directly focused on the fallout from the war in Ukraine, ASEAN leaders are entering the summit and related meetings this weekend under pressure to address the escalating conflict within their bloc: Myanmar remains in turmoil and under military rule nearly two years after brutal coup overthrew the democratically elected government.
Differences among Southeast Asian nations over how to handle this conflict, exacerbated by their intersecting allegiances with great powers — and the bloc’s reserving appearance of a two-sided bias between the United States and China — will affect the extent to which the group agrees. And what you can achieve across the series of summits, say experts.
“This season is usually very exciting – you have three major world summits in Southeast Asia – Phnom Penh, Bali and Bangkok,” said Thetinan Pongsudirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University’s School of Political Science in Bangkok.
“But (ASEAN) is very divided on Russian aggression, the coup crisis in Myanmar, Chinese hostility in the South China Sea and so on, which means ASEAN is in a bad shape,” he said.
at the United Nations last month’s voteSeven of the 10 ASEAN countries, including a representative of Myanmar not supported by the ruling military, voted to condemn Russia’s annexation of four regions of Ukraine, while Thailand, Laos and Vietnam abstained.
But ASEAN as a bloc has also taken the step of closer ties with Kyiv in this week’s events, Signing a treaty of friendship and cooperation With Ukraine at a party with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Phnom Penh on Thursday.
The bloc aims to use consensus among its countries as its strength when it brings larger global players to the negotiating table, for example at its neighboring East Asia Summit which includes 18 countries from the Indo-Pacific, including Russia, China and the United States, as well as meet this weekend.
“If ASEAN cannot organize its home, if ASEAN cannot rein in a rogue member like Myanmar’s military regime, then ASEAN loses its relevance,” said Pongsudhirak. “On the other hand, if ASEAN is united, if it can muster commitment and determination… then it can have a lot of attractive power.”
Nearly two years since the military coup that crushed Myanmar’s nascent democracy, rights groups and observers say the country’s liberties and rights have swept away. deteriorated sharply; Government executions They returned, and the number of documented violent attacks by the ruling military council on civilian infrastructure, including schools, rose.
Several armed rebel groups emerged against the ruling military junta, while millions of people resisted its rule through forms of civil disobedience.
This weekend’s summits in Phnom Penh will bring the conflict back into international focus, as Southeast Asian leaders try to find a way forward, after Myanmar’s ruling military junta failed to implement a peace plan negotiated in April last year. The country remains part of ASEAN, despite calls by rights groups to expel it, but it has been prevented from sending political-level representatives to major events.
ASEAN foreign ministers made a last-ditch attempt to articulate a strategy late last month, with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon, who chaired the meeting, asserting, in a statement afterward, that the challenges were due to “the complexity and difficulty of Myanmar’s decades-long conflicts, exacerbated by the current political crisis.” “.
But observers have low expectations for a tougher line, at least during Cambodia’s presidency of the bloc, and are already looking ahead to next year when Indonesia takes the helm in 2023.
The White House said on Tuesday that addressing the “current crisis” will be Biden’s focus in his talks with Southeast Asian leaders as he attends ASEAN summits over the weekend. Since the coup, the Biden administration has launched targeted sanctions against the military regime and held meetings with the opposition National Unity Government.
On the other hand, China has shown its support for the ruling military junta and is unlikely to support tough measures, observers say. a Inquiries for months On the situation in Myanmar released by an international team of lawmakers last month accused Russia and China of “providing both weapons and legitimacy to an isolated regime.”
This may also have an impact on results this weekend, according to political scientist Chung Ja Ian, associate professor at the National University of Singapore.
“Because of the Russian and Chinese support for the junta, any efforts toward a solution by ASEAN will require some form of engagement with them, whether it is to gain acceptance or even just no opposition,” Zhong said.
The crisis in Myanmar isn’t the only region where division between the United States and China may loom over ASEAN summits, even with issues such as China’s aggression in the South China Sea — as Beijing asserts territorial claims that run counter to those of many Southeast Asian nations. Less important this year.
ASEAN will hold its usual side summits with the United States and China respectively, as well as other countries, and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang arrived earlier this week as Xi’s representative.
As Southeast Asian leaders seek to enhance their economic stability, they are likely to raise concerns about the impact of competition between the United States and China on the region, and trade and supply chains, for example in the wake of US export ban on semiconductors to China, according to Zhong.
“ASEAN countries will try to find some way to navigate all of this, and they will look to both Beijing and Washington to see what kind of leeway they can provide,” he said.
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