The Asean leaders will gather in Bangkok this weekend for the 34th Asean Summit. Under the theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainable Development”, the Thai chair aims to achieve sustainability in multiple dimensions, be it sustainable security, sustainable development, inclusive and green growth, and sustainable human security.
Building synergy between Asean Vision 2025 with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), especially with the “leave no one behind” theme, is one of the key agenda. Thailand has proposed establishing the Asean Centre for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue.
The Asean leaders will adopt the vision statement on “Partnership for Sustainability” to highlight common vision and concerted efforts to realize a sustainable, inclusive and resilient Asean.
The main issues would likely focus on cybersecurity, extremism and terrorism, human trafficking, and maritime security in the South China Sea.
To address cyber security issue, the Asean Digital Master plan 2025 is being developed and a capacity building program has been initiated to support Asean Member States. That includes, the cybersecurity activities and training programmes of the Asean -Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence (ASCCE) and the Asean-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity Building Centre (AJCCBC) in Bangkok.
The negotiation on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea is going quite well. They need to maintain the momentum and conductive environment for negotiation. It is expected that the first draft of the Regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) will get ready by this year. Some regional observers have argued that the COC would be concluded within two to three years but the question what will be the value adds of the COC to the peaceful settlement of disputes. The effectiveness, substance and enforcement of the COC matter more.
Cambodia’s position on the South China Sea issue is in line with that of Asean, which is to call for the full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the swift conclusion of a meaningful COC in order to contribute to trust building, peace and stability in the region.
The humanitarian crisis in the Rakhine State perhaps is the most complex regional issue, because it is deeply rooted, politically driven, with multitudinal and multidimensional regional impacts. Humanitarian assistance and smooth repatriation of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar is in need of urgent attention and effort.
There is no quick fix to such complex issue. We need to have a long-term perspective with concerted efforts to address the root causes of the crisis. Asean has a role to play to mitigate the crisis, particularly in providing humanitarian assistance, particularly the role of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre).
Cambodia is willing to share its experiences on repatriation given that it went through a period of mass repatriation in early 1990s with the support from the United Nations and other regional and international organizations and donor countries.
On the economic agenda, there is high expectation that the long-awaited Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) could be concluded this year. RCEP will be one of the most important regional free trade arrangements in the world.
RCEP is an ASEAN-centred proposal for a regional free trade area, which would initially include the ten ASEAN member states and those countries which have existing FTAs with ASEAN – Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and New Zealand.
Concerning the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Asean has taken some measures to grasp the opportunities as well as mitigate risks arising from the 4IR such as the development of the Asean Digital Integration Framework Action Plan (DIFAP), Asean Innovation Roadmap 2019-2025, Asean Declaration on Industrial Transformation to Industry 4.0, Guideline on Skilled Labour/Professional Services Development in Response to the 4IR, and initiatives related to the digitalisation of ASEAN micro enterprises.
The Asean leaders will also adopt the statement on the Asean Cultural Year 2019 with the theme of “Diversity, Creativity, Sustainability”. More cultural, educational and people-to-people exchanges are going to take place in the region in order to promote the sense of togetherness and collective identity.
To “leave no one behind” and realize a people-oriented and people-centered Asean, the civil society groups and the grassroots must be more empowered and enabled to take part in the decision making as well as policy formulation. A multi-stakeholder dialogue and partnership among the public sector, private sector and civil society should be encouraged and facilitated.