After Indonesia’s year-long ASEAN chairmanship, Laos will take over as ASEAN chair in 2024. At the start of its year as ASEAN chair, Indonesia had high hopes, but at the conclusion of the year, it had achieved less. 

Compared to Laos, Indonesia is a large and strong nation in the ASEAN association, so can we expect too much from Laos’ ASEAN chairmanship? There are numerous issues facing the ASEAN member nations, as well as numerous regional issues that call for ASEAN participation and action. 

Can Laos achieve anything in relation to the Korean Peninsula issue?

International relations have long faced a difficult and complicated challenge in the form of the Korean Peninsula issue. The international community has prioritised finding a peaceful and diplomatic settlement due to the tensions between North and South Korea and the involvement of key global powers.

ASEAN has been instrumental in preserving stability and fostering communication throughout the region in this regard. It has continuously adhered to its core values of peaceful conflict resolution, consensus-building and non-interference.

Laos will soon take on a crucial role as the new ASEAN chair, handling the Korean Peninsula issue and preserving ASEAN’s firm position. This means promoting communication, supporting diplomatic initiatives and cultivating collaboration among all stakeholders.

ASEAN’s dedication to regional peace and stability is the foundation of its approach to the Korean Peninsula issue. In order to address the pressing issues at hand, the bloc has continuously advocated for moderation, a de-escalation of tensions and the restart of communication. By means of its several institutions, including the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN has furnished forums for candid conversations and interaction with principal players.

As the chair of ASEAN in 2024, Laos will have the chance to expand on the bloc’s previous initiatives and fortify its position on the Korean Peninsula dispute. Laos can play the role of a facilitator, creating an atmosphere that is favourable to discussion and negotiation thanks to its background in diplomacy and dedication to neutrality, and also its diplomatic relations with North Korea. 

There are many difficulties because of how complicated the Korean Peninsula problem is. Finding a solution is a difficult undertaking because of the involvement of significant powers, divergent geopolitical interests and historical divisions. However, the consensus-building and inclusion tenets of ASEAN can offer a foundation for productive interaction and collaboration.

The Korean Peninsula is currently distinguished by a precarious power balance. Under Kim Jong-un’s direction, North Korea has demonstrated its military might and ambitious nuclear weapon programmes, testing numerous missiles and spy satellites that have sparked widespread debate in the region. 

In 2024, Laos will take on the job of ASEAN chair, and navigating this complex geopolitical terrain will be a challenging undertaking. It will have to maintain diplomatic contacts with all sides while upholding ASEAN’s firm position on the Korean Peninsula problem. Interacting with North and South Korea as well as other important nations including the US, China, Japan and Russia falls under this category.

ASEAN’s stance on the Korean Peninsula issue has been informed by its adherence to the principles of non-interference and consensus-building since its founding in 1967. The group has continuously urged the promotion of communication between all parties and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Due to its participation in the Six-Party Talks, a diplomatic effort to end the North Korean nuclear dilemma, ASEAN has had a historical position on the Korean Peninsula issue. The bloc, which is actively involved in these discussions, has stressed the value of diplomatic engagements and asked all sides to have meaningful conversations in order to find peaceful solutions.

Major powers with vested interests in the Korean Peninsula, like the US, China, Russia, and Japan, present a complex web of international connections that Laos, as the ASEAN chair, must negotiate. Laos has to make sure that ASEAN’s voice is not dominated or ignored because every big state has its own agenda and sphere of influence.

In ASEAN, consensus-building is essential for resolving complicated regional issues like the Korean Peninsula issue. Laos has the duty of maintaining the bloc’s firm position on this issue as its new rotating chair. The cornerstone of ASEAN’s cohesion and prosperity throughout the years has been its tenet of non-interference in the domestic affairs of its member states. It presents a problem, though, when handling delicate and divisive topics like the Korean Peninsula.

Putting up a united front and interacting with ASEAN members are two ways Laos can take advantage of regional alliances. When it comes to tackling regional issues, ASEAN has always highlighted the value of regional unity and the necessity of working together. In order to fortify this unity and inspire ASEAN members to unite in resolving the Korean Peninsula issue, Laos can play a critical role.

Laos can mobilise support from ASEAN members and other regional entities by leveraging its diplomatic networks and connections. It can strengthen the voice of the region as a whole on the Korean Peninsula problem by promoting agreement and solidarity among ASEAN members. 

In conclusion, as the chair of ASEAN, Laos has the ability to have a big influence on the Korean Peninsula issue. It is able to support ASEAN’s firm position and make a valuable contribution to the continuous efforts for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula because of its neutral attitude, diplomatic experience and dedication to multilateralism. However, there are many problems in ASEAN and in the region such as the Myanmar crisis, the South China Sea dispute, which is directly related to some ASEAN member states, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, so the Korean Peninsula issue may not be the top priority for ASEAN as the bloc may believe that it is beyond their capacity to solve. 

Seun Sam is a policy analyst at the Royal Academy of Cambodia. 

All views expressed are his own.