U.N., ASEAN developing partnership for peace in the Indo-Pacific

U.N., ASEAN developing partnership for peace in the Indo-Pacific

Tom Abke

A partnership between the United Nations and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is working to implement its first joint plan of action by addressing North Korea’s nuclear program, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the flight of Rohingya Muslims from Burma’s Rakhine state.

The latest joint meetings were held in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 10, 2018, and attended by senior officials from both organizations. They focused on economic and social cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and implementing the first ASEAN-U.N. Plan of Action (2016-2020).

The session detailing the plan of action called for cooperation on “peace and security, transnational political-security challenges, counterterrorism and preventing violent extremism, as well as human rights and humanitarian developments,” according to a statement from the ASEAN Secretariat. The session was co-chaired by U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca and Singapore’s permanent representative to ASEAN, Ambassador Tan Hung Seng. Participants discussed the South China Sea, tensions on the Korean Peninsula and Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma after violent clashes with police and the military.

Each discussion reflected recent ASEAN actions, including: a March 18, 2018, joint statement calling on North Korea to end its nuclear program and urging U.N. countries to fully implement sanctions against the country; ongoing efforts to negotiate a code of conduct to avoid conflicts over disputed territories in the South China Sea; and the provision of aid for the Rohingya Muslims through the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance.

The dialogue covering economic and social cooperation dealt with sustainable development and climate issues and the need to enhance joint action in these areas. Leading the discussion were ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi and U.N. Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin. Their talks focused on the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 “to realize a politically cohesive, economically integrated, socially responsible and a truly people-oriented, people-centered and rules-based ASEAN,” and the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to eradicate poverty. (Pictured: ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, right, speaks with U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca at a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.)
The pursuit of such lofty goals requires cooperation between the organizations, said Joel Ng, associate research fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“Unilateral engagement on such issues would not likely be very effective and could even be viewed suspiciously by other member states,” Ng told FORUM. “The individual [ASEAN] member states should support the U.N. because the international framework for addressing global or transnational issues is largely set by the U.N. ASEAN provides forums for the discussion of important issues, while the U.N.’s work is largely through their sectoral units such as U.N. Development Program, U.N. High Commission for Refugees, and so on.”

The U.N.-ASEAN partnership has its roots in a coordinated summit in 2000, with more regular meetings in subsequent years. Six joint meetings have been held since September 2017, including the ninth ASEAN-United Nations Summit held in Manila, Philippines, in November 2017.

In his Manila summit speech, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a “quantum leap” in the partnership with an emphasis on threats facing the region. “Multilateralism and regional cooperation will be critical to a peaceful and prosperous future,” he said. “The United Nations stands ready to provide technical support to ASEAN and its member countries in their efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism, and to combat transnational crime, including drug trafficking and people trafficking, through policies able to protect their citizens with effective law enforcement and respect for human rights.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.