ASEAN ‘spirit of togetherness’ seen as key in overcoming challenges

Hundreds of high-level delegates of the government, business, civil society organizations and academics from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region and beyond attend the 2022 ASEAN Leadership and Partnership Forum in Phnom Penh on Sept 11, 2022.(KENRICK LEE / CHINA DAILY)

The spirit of togetherness will prop up members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to overcome unprecedented challenges, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has said.

“It is crucial for ASEAN to consolidate its spirit of togetherness if we want to be effective in navigating through our common, pressing challenges and enhancing ASEAN contribution to regional and local peace, security and sustainable development,” said Prak while addressing the first day of The 2022 ASEAN Leadership and Partnership Forum in Phnom Penh on Sept 11. 

The event is co-organized by Malaysia-based think tank KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific, ASEAN Business Advisory Council, Phnom Penh-based Asian Vision Institute and Cambodia Chamber of Commerce. 

Cambodian Commerce Minister Pan Sorasak said the existing challenges cannot stop ASEAN from moving forward and achieving its mission

Under the theme “Partnership for a Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN”, it brought together around 300 high-level delegates from government, business, think tanks, civil society organizations and academics from the region and beyond. 

Though ASEAN has never faced so many challenges, both regionally and globally, at the same time, Prak said Cambodia, as the bloc’s current chair, has successfully held key events like the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting that ended in early August. 

Prak said ASEAN abounds with opportunities linked to the digital economy, which has been well exploited to enhance ASEAN connectivity and stimulate intra-regional trade and investment. 

The entry into force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, at the beginning of this year will undoubtedly spur economic growth, trade and foreign dynamic investment by creating advantage and opportunities for Asian countries. 

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The RCEP comprises 10 ASEAN member states, and their five trading partners, namely China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The pact will eliminate nearly 90 percent of tariffs on goods traded among its signatories over the next 20 years. Indonesia has just ratified the pact.

 “It comes at the right moment as the region and the world at large strive to recover from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Prak.

Commenting on the situation in Myanmar, of which the military took state power on Feb 1, 2021, Prak said the bloc has been working for the return to normalcy in the country. 

Last year, the leaders adopted the five-point consensus in Jakarta to end violence, provide humanitarian assistance and start dialogue between concerned parties to find a political solution. 

While visible progress has been made in terms of humanitarian assistance after the special envoy’s two visits to Myanmar, Prak said it is impossible for the special envoy to stop the violence overnight and more time should be given. 

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China also donated 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to ASEAN for Myanmar in June. Prak said the solution to the Myanmar crisis must be a Myanmar-owned and Myanmar-led one. 

“The journey to peace and national reconciliation will be long, difficult, turbulent and uncertain,” said Prak. “All ASEAN 9 are determined to help Myanmar, but for that to be successful, Myanmar has to help us to help her.”

Also addressing the forum, Cambodian Commerce Minister Pan Sorasak said the existing challenges cannot stop ASEAN from moving forward and achieving its mission. 

Cambodia will host the 54th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ meeting and related meetings from Sept 11-18 in the cultural province of Siem Reap. The meetings will bring together economic ministers from ASEAN and its dialogue partners including China. 

“The meeting will discuss many important agendas concerning ASEAN economic integration, as well as consultation with our dialogue partners on various issues,” said Pan. 

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KSI President Michael Yeoh, the forum’s founder and chairman, said he hopes the forum can not only explain key challenges ASEAN is facing, but also provide a platform for exchanging ideas.

The two-day forum will update on the major trends, key issues and business and investment opportunities in ASEAN. It will also discuss how responsive ASEAN can be to global economic challenges and geopolitical trends, ASEAN connectivity, and the way forward for sustainable and inclusive development.