Southeast Asian leaders kick off ASEAN Summit in Cambodia

From L-R: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. , Lao Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh and Malaysian House of Representatives speaker Azhar Azizan Harun wave on stage during the opening ceremony of the 40th and 41st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summits in Phnom Penh on November 11, 2022. (Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP) (Photo by TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP via Getty Images)

Tang Chhin Sothy Afp | Getty Images

Southeast Asian leaders begin an ASEAN summit in Cambodia on Friday, with Myanmar’s political crisis and US-China rivalry expected to dominate discussions.

Cambodia, this year’s chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), held a weekend summit in Phnom Penh – the group’s first in-person meeting since the Covid pandemic.

The 10-nation bloc consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Myanmar, however, was not invited to this year’s summit, following a military coup in 2021 that saw its elected leader, Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, ousted from power.

Leaders from the US, China, South Korea and Japan will also meet ASEAN leaders in Phnom Penh.

“Looking to the future, ASEAN needs to promote the values ​​that have made ASEAN successful for the past five decades. This is the result of hard work and perseverance that we all must cherish to continue to record success in the future,” said Hun Sen, Prime Minister Cambodian Minister at the opening ceremony.

“The US-China relationship is the most important relationship, not only for the two countries, but also for our regional development as well,” said Kung Phoak, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Cambodia, told CNBC “Squawk Box Asia“Thursday, before the summit officially begins.

We don't want to pick sides between the US and China, a Cambodian government official said

He said the bloc was “looking at ways in which we can strengthen ourselves.”

“We proposed several frameworks, strategies and policies and also expanded cooperation with not only the US and China, but with many other countries as well,” Kung said.

‘The more trading partners, the better’

It was just last month The US is limiting China’s capabilities to obtain and make some special types of advanced computing chips, thereby crimping China’s access to key technologies.

“ASEAN remains neutral in this competition and we do not want to choose sides. ASEAN wants to work closely with both countries,” Kung told CNBC.

The US and China are ASEAN’s top two trading partners.

Collectively, ASEAN is the United States’ fourth largest goods trading partner, according to it Office of the US Trade Representative. U.S. trade in goods and services with the bloc is expected to reach $362.2 billion in 2020, he said.

According to Chinese state media, with China remaining ASEAN’s largest trading partner for 13 consecutive years, according to an August report. Trade between China and ASEAN reached $544.9 billion in the first seven months of this year, Xinhua media reported.

ASEAN currently has a free trade agreement with the two powers intended for the free flow of goods, services, and investment.

“China may be ASEAN’s number one trading partner, but ASEAN looks to the US for innovation,” said Ted Osius, president and CEO of the US-ASEAN Business Council.

“It’s about diversification when it comes to ASEAN and you don’t want to have your economy completely dominated by another economy. ASEAN nations want more trading partners, the more, the better,” he told CNBC’s “Road Sign of Asia“on Thursday.

Build peace

ASEAN wants to continue picking up the pace of trade with the US, said the former US ambassador

Ukraine signed the agreement on Thursday, bringing the number of country parties to the ASEAN agreement to 50.

“We do not support the threat or use of force against other sovereign countries. And Ukraine is one of the partners we hope to deepen relations in the future,” Kung said when asked about Russia invaded Ukraine.

In Myanmar’s military crackdown to protest, Kung reiterated that “Myanmar is an integral part of ASEAN.”

“The more we deviate from the Five Point Consensus and the ASEAN charter, the more difficult it is to move forward with the regional agenda,” he said.

The Five Point Consensus referring to the ASEAN leaders’ agreement in April last year, which called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s military administration has shown no commitment to the Five-Point Consensus, despite agreeing to it at a special meeting in April, two months after the coup that overthrew the democratic government.

For this reason, Myanmar’s military administration has been excluded from the bloc’s high-level meetings.

“It is in the interest of all ASEAN member countries to find a way to ensure that the issues there can be resolved as soon as possible,” Kung added.

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