Mon, 11 Dec 2023

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) convened in Jakarta, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and a lasting solution to Myanmar's crisis during a regional meeting.

The meeting brought together defense ministers from the Asian bloc and key players in the Indo-Pacific.

Opening the annual get-together, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto said the world's largest Muslim-majority nation was deeply saddened by the deteriorating conditions in Gaza, particularly the "horrid" humanitarian situation.

"Indonesia's stance is clear and firm. We push and call for the immediate cessation of hostilities and the immediate setting up of corridors for humanitarian assistance," he said in his opening remarks.

Visiting Washington this week, Indonesian President Joko Widodo pressed U.S. President Joe Biden to do more to end Israel's war with Hamas.

Malaysian Defense Haji Mohamad bin Haji Hasan reiterated the calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Prabowo also urged his counterparts to work towards a peaceful resolution in Myanmar, which has been in turmoil since a 2021 coup.

This gathering occurred amid global conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine and heightened tensions in the disputed South China Sea, where China has faced accusations of aggression against the Philippines. The Philippines, backed by the U.S., also seeks to strengthen military ties with Japan.

Additionally, Myanmar's military junta faces significant challenges, with insurgent groups gaining momentum in various regions, including Rakhine and Chin states.

The ministers emphasized the importance of maintaining peace in the South China Sea and urged restraint in activities that could escalate disputes and threaten stability.

All ASEAN defense ministers, except Myanmar's, participated in the forum. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was set to meet with counterparts later during the day. The discussions were scheduled to expand to include Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, India, New Zealand, and Australia.

ASEAN, home to approximately 660 million people and a combined GDP of over US$3.2 trillion has long been courted by both Washington and Beijing. However, concerns have arisen due to the intensifying rivalry between these major powers.

During a foreign policy forum, Indonesia's Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto stressed the importance of non-alignment, saying, "Competition is good, but competition should not deteriorate into a zero-sum game."

Air Lieutenant General Jing Jianfeng, Deputy Chief of Staff of China's Central Military Commission, represented China at the meeting.

Aaron Connelly, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, anticipated that discussions at the meeting would likely address conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, as well as China's actions hindering Philippine resupply missions at a disputed reef.

"This forum is not one where major geopolitical developments are really addressed or moved forward in any significant way. But we do expect discussions from the U.S. and Philippines on topics like the Second Thomas Shoal, Israel-Hamas, Ukraine," Connelly said.

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