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West’s bifurcation and its implication for ASEAN over Russia-Ukraine conflict

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Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland (centre), poses for a photo with other finance ministers after a multi-nation walkout to protest Russia during a G20 meeting in Washington, DC, on April 20. HANDOUT/GOVERNMENT OF CANADA/AFP

West’s bifurcation and its implication for ASEAN over Russia-Ukraine conflict

Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the West has staged campaign against Russia, accusing Moscow of going to unprovocative and illegal war in Ukraine.

Does the Russian war in Ukraine is unwarranted as the West has claimed?

Considering Thucydides’ Trap in Peloponnesian War, Russia under President Vladimir Putin’s rule may feel threatened by emerging power Ukraine. From Russia’s strategic perspectives, sooner or later Ukraine will fall into the West orbits, let’s say, the EU and especially NATO. In this context, Russia has its own reason to protect its national security interest. Thus, the war is justified by Russia.

Likewise, the West also has their own reason to bolster NATO security. Thus, who provokes who? It is hard to say as there are two sides of the conflict and no one is walking a fine line. Isolation and exclusion of Russia from the international community is not a good remedy for the crisis. The only way out of the crisis is political dialogue and diplomacy. The West’s hawkish stance against Russia is by no means beneficial for the world. It instead can bifurcate the world.

The West has staged campaign to isolate Russia.The walkout staged by several Western members at the recent G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers in Washington while Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was speaking at the meeting remotely is an exemplification. However, walking out of the meeting while opposing side is speaking is better than not inviting, cancelling or not attending the meeting at all. This can be a good diplomatic means.

The US has also encouraged Indonesia not to invite Russia. Indonesia, however, is known to still insist to invite Russia. Will all countries across the world follow them all? Presumably not. Italy, the rightist Hungary and the National Rally of the far right and nationalist Marine Le Pen or GOP under Donald Trump in the US, are seen apparently opposing such a policy.

Likewise, ASEAN, under the chairmanship of Cambodia this year, should not let them dictate such a hawkish policy in the region. The West encourages ASEAN member states as well as ASEAN to exclude Russia from any meetings within ASEAN-led mechanisms. Will Russia’s presence at ASEAN related meetings present a big question for ASEAN like Myanmar? The decision rests with ASEAN.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is far different from the Myanmar issue, considering the nature and geopolitical aspect of the issue.

The core purposes and principles of ASEAN political documents should be fully upheld and respected. ASEAN-led mechanisms are platforms where all sides can enhance mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual confidence, mutual understanding and mutual interest to promote peace, security, stability and sustainable growth and development.

Upholding policy of non-interference, respect for political independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity is a sine qua non for formal engagement with ASEAN. Promoting multilateralism that is open, transparent, inclusive, and rules-based is key to ASEAN, which possesses “unity in diversity” and “culture of peace” for more than half a century.

The ASEAN Charter, TAC, ZOPFAN and AOIP have explicitly stated these core purposes and principles. All ASEAN-mechanisms, including ARF, are forums for promoting preventive diplomacy and confidence building measure. ASEAN is part of solution, not part of conflict.

Likewise, the West should also be part of solution rather than be part of the conflict. The idea of making Russia become a pariah state is not a way out. Imposing sanctions against Russia and isolating it from the international fora can only lead to world bifurcation that must be avoided in this 21st century. We should forge closer cooperation and seek ways and means to live in harmonious and amicable world that is secured for all.

In this context and considering the pivot of ASEAN politico-security to the region, ASEAN under Cambodia’s chairmanship should encourage and advocate to maintain peace and stability for sustainable development and prosperity to enhance the ASEAN Community building efforts.

To this end, ASEAN must reinvigorate and expand partnerships with external partners through ASEAN-led mechanisms while upholding and strengthening the ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture and upholding international laws and peaceful solution to the conflict that is of paramount importance for having a harmonious world.

Therefore, Russia must be included in all ASEAN-led fora – the fora where all participating countries can hold talks on and exchange views on their respective concerns and seek a remedy for the issue. The idea of exclusion of Russia from ASEAN-led forums’ meetings spurred by most counties in the West can be obsolete in this very evolving regional security architecture as there are always two sides of the conflict.

ASEAN continues to play a constructive role in maintaining peace, security and stability in the region. Although North Korea has continued to test its ballistic missiles, causing security concern in the Korean Peninsula, it has never ever been excluded from the ARF. No country has ever raised this issue with ASEAN.

We should avoid double standard. ASEAN does not support the war in Ukraine as exemplified by the fact that ASEAN, under Cambodia’s chairmanship, has issued three ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Statements – on the situation in Ukraine, on calling for a ceasefire in Ukraine and on the reported killing of civilians in Ukraine.

Some ASEAN member states have also condemned the war in Ukraine and involved indeed in the suspension of the Russian membership of the UN Human Rights Council. Cambodia also co-sponsored and voted in favour of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution, expressing grave concern on the situation in Ukraine. However, despite these, for the sake of seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict, we do not support the idea of excluding Russia from the meetings within ASEAN-led mechanisms. Doing so can only aggravate tension and cause further uncertainties.

There are other ways to be considered, like the staged walkout at the G20 Finance Ministers’ Meeting in Washington, to leave seats vacant. This can be rather a good diplomatic means than the exclusion setting. There will be three major leaders’ meetings of the year in ASEAN region. Cambodia will host ASEAN Summits and related Summits, including EAS, while Indonesia and Thailand will host G20 and APEC Summits respectively in November.

Cambodia as the ASEAN chair, Indonesia and Thailand have obligation to invite all member countries, including Russia. ASEAN must remain relevant in this context, given the importance of ASEAN existing partnership with external partners, including Russia and Western countries. The West must acknowledge the very constructive role of ASEAN and the very genuine desire, especially the pivotal role of ASEAN chair Cambodia – the country that suffered her past bitterness of war during the 1970s-1990s – calling for political dialogue and peaceful negotiations to be made between all parties concerned.

Thus, the campaign to exclude Russia from the meetings of all regional and international fora will only possibly lead to world bifurcation.The West should have a paradigm shift towards a smart diplomacy that can create an environment conducive for peaceful solution that is the only panacea for a secured and stable world.

Chun Sovannarith, former Minister Counsellor of the Royal Embassy of Cambodia and the Mission to the European Union in Brussels

The views expressed here are that of the author and does not reflect that of The Post.


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