Where ASEAN does stand amid the complex geopolitical climate in Asia-Pacific?

Where ASEAN does stand amid the complex geopolitical climate in Asia-Pacific?

 By Ambassador(p) Gheorghe SAVUICA*

The following analysis is proposing itself to provide a reasonable answer to the question where ASEAN does stand in a really visible ascending, complex and quite dangerous line of evolutions in Asia-Pacific, where the economic dimension of cooperation seems to be surpassed by security, military, militarization agenda and the bilateral relationship tends to get more a form of a race among the great and regional powers to attract followers in the region. ASEAN, as an entity and, separately, its members are diplomatically approached. There are signals of relative success in this direction from bilateral angle.

On the other hand, the Myanmar question, developments in the South China Sea and the volcanic Korean Peninsula are, as well, contributing to the process that might affect the stability in this recently calm and in full progress part of the world.

As a discouraging measure within the regional tensions, ASEAN promotes a non-partisan position on rivalry between foreign powers, but a proactive one to defend its rights for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, based on the principles of not interfering in its internal affairs, securing its targets for peace, prosperity and stability in Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific as a whole.

At the recent 43rd ASEAN Summit, diplomatically hosted with success by Indonesia, the driving force in the Association as well as the Chair of ASEAN for 2023, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), emphasized that “competition between two world powers, the US and China, for influence in the Indo-Pacific is feared it will threaten stability and peace in the region”. Elaborating further the Chairman of ASEAN underlined that “any disturbances that occurred in Southeast Asia could disrupt the global economy and security, which both are of common interest” and, firmly and unequivocally reiterated that “no parties should make the Association of Southeast Asian Nations an arena of destructive rivalries”.

 In political statements it was underlined the ASEAN point of view on the “concern over the intensifying geopolitical tensions in the region”, stressing that"we have a shared responsibility to not create new conflicts, to not create new tensions, to not create new wars and to not let any parties take advantage of the Southeast Asian region as their proxy field for their struggles for power and influence.”At the same time, East Asia Summit (EAS) leaders have “the responsibility to ease high tensions as well as to create rooms for dialogues and bridge differences”.


The ASEAN way for a secure region with positive effects on maintaining regional and world peace, according to the position of the Southeast Asia leaders, requires,as a must, the  compliance  to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), which is the foundation of the Association, ASEAN Charter, ASEAN Centrality, the endorsement of ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and observance of  the Southeast Asia Nuclear Free Zone (SEANWFZ).

The  alternative to all challenges in the region  is contained in the Chairman’s Statement which shows an open ASEAN ready for “engagement with external partners, including through ASEAN-led mechanisms such as the ASEAN Plus One, APT, EAS, ARF, ADMM-Plus, and EAMF, in order to build mutual trust and confidence as well as reinforce an open, transparent, resilient, inclusive, and international law-based regional architecture by  underscoring the need to promote an enabling environment for peace, stability and prosperous development for all through ensuring a culture of dialogue and cooperation, instead of rivalry, enhancing mutual trust and confidence and respect for international law”.

The guaranty of aiming towards such targets as far as ASEAN is concerned stands in its determination “to act in accordance with ASEAN Centrality in external political, economic, social and cultural relations while remaining actively engaged, outward-looking, inclusive and non-discriminatory, in line with the ASEAN Charter”, as well as the present and future progress being achieved in the three ASEAN Communities: Political - Security, Economic and Socio- Cultural, each and all having a paramount importance. In addition,

ASEAN gained, as well, the status of an Association as world actorIt continues to remain an attraction for embracing new partners. At the Summit it was announced that Serbia, Panama and Kuwait acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (54 countries signed so far TAC).This is the first required step to enter into a bilateral partnership with ASEAN. In July, 2023, the Saudi Arabia signed a non-aggression treaty with ASEAN. During the Summit, the ASEAN Secretariat signed MoUs with the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and with the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meant to bring closer to ASEAN’s aims for peace and stability in Indo-Pacific.

The statements delivered by all Foreign Leaders present at the Summit as well as  the documents issued at the bilateral meetings between ASEAN and several foreign partners contain an unanimous consent on the ASEAN way mentioned above for a secure region with positive effects on maintaining peace in Indo-Pacific.


The ASEAN partners reaffirmed their recognition of the ASEAN Charter, TAC, ASEAN Centrality and AOIP and expressed the desire to further strengthen their partnerships with ASEAN.  China and the US went further ahead and issued, separately, joint statements after the meetings with ASEAN in favour of cooperation on ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

ASEAN Centrality has been presented in various meanings, being, indeed, a complex concept. In the AOIP one could find the essence: “Southeast Asia lies in the centre of these dynamic regions and is a very important conduit and portal to the same. Therefore, it is in the interest of ASEAN to lead the shaping of their economic and security architecture and ensure that such dynamics will continue to bring about peace, security, stability and prosperity for the peoples in the Southeast Asia as well as in the wider Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions or the Indo-Pacific”.

In the same document, AOIP is described by the following clarification –“this Outlook is not aimed at creating new mechanisms or replacing existing ones; rather, it is an Outlook intended to enhance ASEAN’s Community building process and to strengthen and give new momentum for existing ASEAN-led mechanisms to better face challenges and seize opportunities arising from the current and future regional and global environments. Moreover, the Outlook is intended to be inclusive in terms of ideas and proposals”.

The ASEAN Centrality and AOIP are two important assets qualifying ASEAN for the position of a regional power in Indo-Pacific.

The serious aspects within the framework of today world and regional geopolitical climate coupled with the unsolved situation in Myanmar, without having in sight any viable and encouraging prospect of being settled , raised, in different circles, doubts about the Unity and Centrality of ASEAN.  President of Indonesia responded that “amid increasingly complex global and geopolitical challenges, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has maintained its unity and centrality since its establishment in 1967”.

In other words,  the Unity and the need to consolidate it refers more to unite efforts to cope with the challenges in Asia-Pacific, while the members do recognize and accept the existence of internal differences of opinion between themselves.In fact, the tensions in the region were seriously and comprehensively tackled with real concern and determination by the Summit.

The successes of ASEAN generated, as well, its recognition “as an organisation that is robust and agile, equipped with strengthened capacity and institutional effectiveness to address today’s challenges and to remain relevant for its people, the region, and the world while continuing to serve as an epicentre of growth and prosperity for the region and beyond” (Chairman Statement).

ASEAN Summit is carefully making known to all involved stakeholders its serious concern on the situation in the South China Sea, Maritime Situation in the Region, Development in Korean Peninsula, Developments in Myanmar, Situation in Ukraine and Situation in Middle East. 

The 43rd Summit will remain as a source of inspiration and relevance as well as the starting point for a next stage of development of ASEAN by upgrading itself to the level of epicentre of grows in Indo-Pacific and beyond, the prospect which was welcomed by all participants at the Summit. It was the theme of the 43rd Summit selected by Indonesia and for which she was working during the whole mandate as Chair of ASEAN. In an innovative Chapter called “KEY DELIVERABLES”, the Leaders adopted the ASEAN Concord IV and the ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on ASEAN as an Epicentrum of Growth. The Leaders committed themselves to adopt in 2025 the ASEAN Community Vision 2045. The member states of EAS released their concluding document as “Statement on maintaining and promoting the region as an epicentrum of growth”.

ASEAN represents not only an instrument of regional crystallization, but sine qua non, a strong factor for a more balanced Asia-Pacific, peacefully mitigating the security risks brought up by the rampant great powers rivalry. It has a strong and very clear stand of central and primary importance in the Indo-Pacific space, Asia-Pacific region and globally.

Concluding, the so far achieved results and the future targets and projects being detailed in the Chairman Statement represent a solid ground to assess that ASEAN will,  steadily and successfully, continue its primary role as a reliable force for peace and stability in Indo-Pacific as well as a willing partner to join the similar efforts at the global level. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, present at the 43rd ASEAN Summit, underlined: "I commend ASEAN and ASEAN member states for their vital role in building bridges of understanding. ASEAN has been an important factor for unity in the divided world”. The High Representative of the world organization, in another context on the same Indo-Pacific event expressed his opinion according to which “ASEAN has played an extremely important role as a centre that convenes all those that, unfortunately, represent the most dramatic divisions in today’s world and these series of summits is a demonstration of that fundamental convening role of ASEAN”.

It has to be recognised that the chance of Indo-Pacific space and Asia-Pacific region as whole to remain peaceful and prosperous for what ASEAN is fighting to safeguard depends this time on the relaxation of tensions, mainly between US and China. These days there are ups and dawn in their bilateral relations as well as encouraging signs towards possible positive dynamics, based on the very recent direct exchange  of contacts between their Foreign Ministers and other important officials,  which might lead to a much desirable highest level meeting between the Presidents of the two world powers at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, which will be hosted in San Francisco, California November 12-18.

After all, what really have to matter in international relations and geopolitical developments are the political, strategic and mostly the reciprocal economic advantages that derives from bilateral relation, promotion of national interests and care for the world peace, stability and prosperity, which, in fact, are the ground for multilateralism, endorsed, as well, by ASEAN.


* The author is the Founder and President of IRSEA and Founder and Honorary President of Romania-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He is a graduate of Moscow State Institute of International Relations. As a career diplomat with over four decades of diplomatic service, an University recognized  specialist on Southeast Asia and ASEAN, speaker of Bahasa Indonesia, Russian and English, he represented Romania as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Pakistan and Indonesia and Chief of Mission, with Cabinet Letter, to Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines, Cyprus, Finland and Estonia.

He published multiple articles, thought-pieces and commentaries reflecting his views on current dynamics in International Affairs and the ongoing developments related to the greater scope of Europe Asia relations. He authored several major chapters in edited volumes on Romania’s Foreign Policy, published by the Romanian Academy.

Ambassador (p) Savuica is a former Director of the Republic of Moldova Division, former Director of the Asia Pacific Division and former Director General of the Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa and Latin America Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of ROMANIA.

He is married and has two daughters, a granddaughter and a grandson.