Despite US President Joe Biden’s urge to Southeast Asian countries to take a tougher stance on the war in Ukraine, the special US-ASEAN summit ended on Friday without condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a sign of the region’s geopolitical complexities as the administration seeks to expand the coalition against Moscow beyond Europe.
“With regard to Ukraine, as with all nations, we continue to reaffirm our respect for sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity,” the summit statement read, followed by calls for immediate cessation of hostilities and respect for the UN Charter and international law. .
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has avoided publicly criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion. ASEAN operates by consensus and views on Ukraine vary within the bloc, which includes countries with deep economic and military ties to Moscow – such as Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos – and Singapore, the only one in the group to sanction Russia for the invasion. Others, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, seek neutrality.
In his summit remarks, Biden did not mention the invasion of Ukraine at all. “A free and open, stable and prosperous, resilient and secure Indo-Pacific is what we all seek,” he said, referring to the strategy of his administration aimed at responding to the challenges posed by China’s growing economic weight and its military ambitions in the region.
The administration understands that ASEAN countries are essential partners in its regional rivalry against China, said Stacie Goddard, Mildred Lane Kemper professor of political science at Wellesley College. “He is not willing to sour relations over a statement about Russian aggression,” she told VOA.
Even states with weaker ties to Moscow see Russia’s role as a regional balance. And as with US-China competition, they would rather not see their interests harmed by great power competition.
“Fundamentally, for most ASEAN countries, invasion is considered remote and not worth taking a stand,” Brian Harding, Southeast Asia expert at VOA, told VOA. American Institute for Peace.
US officials stressed that Ukraine was high on the summit’s agenda. But these conversations have not been made public.
“You don’t invite eight guests to fly halfway around the world to make them uncomfortable in front of a bunch of cameras,” said Gregory Poling, senior Southeast Asia researcher at the Center for Research. strategic and international studies.
Poling told VOA that the statement was stronger than previous statements by ASEAN foreign ministers on Ukraine, none of which included language on “respect for sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity”, which he says are implicit condemnations of the Russian invasion.
However, Sarang Shidore, director of studies at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, argued that Biden’s concession on Russia with ASEAN demonstrates that his conception of a global battle between “democracies versus autocracies” has few takers. In the region. The United States should expand its influence “through a confident geo-economic strategy rather than trying to geopolitically exclude other players,” Shidore told VOA. The United States does not offer market access through a free trade agreement, which many in the region want.
An Indonesia kept before the G-20
“Our hope is to see the war in Ukraine stop as soon as possible and (that) we give a chance for the peaceful resolution of a conflict,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Friday, without mentioning Russia. .
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, rotating chairman of the Group of 20 (G-20) – the grouping of the world’s largest economies – has resisted pressure to exclude Putin from the November summit he is to host in Bali, despite the threat of a boycott by Biden and other Western leaders.
Outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to answer VOA’s question about whether Biden had pressed Widodo to disinvite Putin, reiterating only that Biden maintains his position that the G-20 “doesn’t should not work as usual”.