Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo took over the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Sunday and vowed not to let the region turn into a proxy between two powers, referencing the growing tensions between the US and China.
“ASEAN must become a peaceful region and anchor for global stability, consistently uphold international law and not be a proxy to any powers,” Widodo said at an ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. “ASEAN should not let the current geopolitical dynamic turn into a new Cold War in our region.”
Indonesia and the nine other Southeast Asian nations that make up the ASEAN have found themselves between two powers as the US is pushing them to join in the campaign against Beijing. The ASEAN members could face major consequences if the new Cold War between the US and China turns hot and fighting breaks out in the region.
When tensions spiked in August in the wake of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visiting Taiwan, the ASEAN called for the US and China to work to restore calm. “We should act together and ASEAN stands ready to play a constructive role in facilitating peaceful dialogue between all parties,” the bloc said in a joint statement.
The US is looking to increase its military presence in Southeast Asia but is struggling to find a country that will get on board. Even the Philippines, a treaty ally of the US, isn’t eager to pick a side, with its President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. making a point to maintain good relations with Beijing.
On the economic front, the US has had some success. A handful of ASEAN members signed up for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), an economic initiative launched by the Biden administration that’s meant to counter China in the region, although the IPEF at this point is just a vague agreement without concrete terms.
Sunday’s ASEAN meeting was part of the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, where President Biden attended the summit and was in the same meeting as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Biden is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday in Bali, Indonesia, ahead of the G20 summit.