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Discussing ASEAN, global affairs with analyst Thong Mengdavid

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Thong Mengdavid, a researcher with the Asian Vision Institute’s Mekong Centre for Strategic Studies. SUPPLIED

Discussing ASEAN, global affairs with analyst Thong Mengdavid

The 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings, hosted by Cambodia, closed in early August in Phnom Penh with the direct participation of top diplomats from ASEAN and the other major powers who are the bloc’s partners.

As Cambodia hosted the 55th AMM, regional and global issues of common concern came to the fore including the crisis in Myanmar, dispute over the South China Sea, tensions on the Korean peninsula, Russia-Ukraine conflict and escalating tensions between China and the US over Taiwan following a visit to the island by US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

Thong Mengdavid, a researcher with the Mekong at the Asian Vision Institute’s (AVI) Centre for Strategic Studies, shared his views on these issues in an interview with The Post’s Ry Sochan.

Now that we’re finished with the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and related meetings hosted by Cambodia, what problems do you think the meetings addressed?

The 55th AMM and relevant meetings reviewed and discussed the progress of the ASEAN community building process and ASEAN’s ongoing challenges and future direction, as well as cooperation with ASEAN partners outside the region.

Cambodia has very proudly and successfully hosted the meeting, while accepting the additions of the Kingdoms of Denmark and the Netherlands, the Sultanates of Oman and Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and the Hellenistic Republic of Greece as members of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.

The 55th AMM and relevant meetings took place amid military tensions in the Taiwan Straits, which were caused by Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taipei, along with the crisis in Myanmar after the recent execution of four political activists, as well as the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Nine ASEAN foreign ministers have vowed to harden their stances towards the ruling regime in Myanmar if more opposition activists are executed. What do you think ASEAN should do about the Myanmar crisis?

The recent executions are the first of their kind in the country in decades, despite strenuous efforts made during the ASEAN special envoys’ two visits to Myanmar in order to help bring the country back to normal.

The executions have fuelled the growing trend of recognition and affiliation with the “National Unity Government (NUG)”, made up of members of the deposed civilian government along with opposition groups and ethnic minorities, which has been gaining much support recently.

ASEAN remains committed to supporting Myanmar in resolving its political crisis peacefully and with the participation of all parties to the conflict, but if Myanmar’s military government continues to execute opposition activists, then ASEAN has no choice but to call on the military government to soften its stance and return to the table for an inclusive and trustworthy dialogue with other stakeholders to ensure the smooth implementation of the five point consensus agreement.

Cambodia, as chair of ASEAN, will use the positive bilateral relations between the two countries’ leaders to discuss the situation and urge Myanmar to embrace Cambodia’s win-win policy in resolving its stalemate political crisis and move towards building peace for the people of Myanmar as a whole.

What do you think of the ASEAN-Russia meeting in the presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov? How could this meeting affect the resolution of the Russia-Ukraine war?

Although Russia’s relations with the west have deteriorated sharply over the Ukraine conflict, Russia’s participation in the AMM and related meetings in Cambodia have further showed that Moscow is not isolated.

What is even more remarkable is that as Sino-US tensions have reached higher levels, the “unlimited” Sino-Russian partnership will move even further forward.

Singapore has also claimed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses a serious threat to international order and the survival of small states such as Singapore, in a bid to help force Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

In response, Lavrov said Singapore’s accusations against Russia showed a double standard because Russia is also a key player in the region as well as a key development partner and a strategic country for ASEAN, besides China and the US, in building and safeguarding regional security.

As Cambodia prepares for the 55th AMM, tensions in Taiwan escalated after US House Speaker Pelosi paid a visit to the island. How did the ASEAN forum at that time contribute to the Taiwan issue and how will it continue to in the future?

Pelosi’s visit has escalated military tensions between the US and China and reaffirmed the already-present signs of a US political shift on Taiwan – that is, from “strategic ambiguity” perhaps to “ strategic clarity” – which has changed since the administration of former US president Trump and intensified with the current administration of President Joe Biden.

The Taiwan issue has become a tool for American politicians, such as Pelosi, who aspire to gain local support by acting as a friend of Taiwan as a fellow democratic country. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan casted doubt on the “One China Policy” and the three joint statements made in 1972, 1979 and 1982 [wherein the US affirmed its support of that policy] all of which form the basis and shield of current US-China relations.

Regional security concerns over the geopolitical rivalry between China and the US were a subject of discussion throughout the AMM, which was also attended by the Chinese foreign minister and US secretary of state. What do you think could be done to solve security problems in this area?

Pelosi’s visit has hardened Beijing’s stance, especially Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is not at all able to show a weak stance on Taiwan as the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party will soon take place.

Thus, live-fire military exercises were held at six key locations around Taiwan from August 4 to 6, prompting countries to avoid flying over Taiwanese airspace.

ASEAN continues to call on China and the US to remain committed to finding peaceful solutions and to respect the ASEAN Peace and Cooperation Agreement. If war breaks out in the Indo-Pacific, it will disrupt the world’s supply and production chains, as well as wreak havoc across the region.

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