Sights set on Indo-Pacific
Summit sees strategy for region unveiled
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has finally offered its own version of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which includes the bloc's own vision for cooperation in the Indian Ocean, as well as Asia and the Pacific region, which it calls the "Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific".
The strategy was announced about two years after US President Donald Trump proposed the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy and the 2017 Apec Summit in Vietnam, so that the region can take full advantage of Southeast Asia's strategic location in the heart of the Indo-Pacific region.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said that the bloc's outlook on the Indo-Pacific region is based on several key principles.
"First, Asia, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean must not be seen as a divided territory but as a contiguous and closely integrated and interconnected region, with Asean playing a central and strategic role," he said.
"The Indo-Pacific region should be seen as a region of dialogue and cooperation instead of rivalry, and it should be seen as a region of development and prosperity for everyone," he said.
"We also stressed the importance of the maritime domain, and the need to constantly review not just the document, but also the entire regional architecture, which is constantly evolving," said Gen Prayut.
Australia, France, India and Japan have also come up with their own individual visions and strategies for international cooperation in the region.
"There have been suggestions [from non-Asean nations about Asean's Indo-Pacific strategy], but we have not accepted them," he said.
"We have our own stance and ideas that are both creative and useful," he added, speaking to the media after the Retreat session of the 34th Asean Summit in Bangkok on Sunday.
He said the bloc unanimously agreed on the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which will see the bloc develop deeper relations with external partners in the region.
"It is a milestone because we have reached a consensus on how the bloc should negotiate with its external partners," he said.
According to the premier, he encouraged the bloc to take a leading role in connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans two years ago.
"I made the proposal at the East Asia Summit in the Philippines in 2017. I would like to extend my appreciation to the President of Indonesia [Joko Widodo] for his support," he said.
Gen Prayut said the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific is based on universal values, such as trust, respect, mutual interest and the Southeast Asian Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC).
"Most importantly, the Asean-Indo-Pacific cooperation will reflect the centrality of Asean as a regional bloc," he said.
Besides the Indo-Pacific Outlook, the summit also reiterated the importance of strengthening the region's economy -- in particular, through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
"We also hope that RCEP negotiations can be concluded by the end of this year, as it will help Asean as a whole manage changes and uncertainties in the region -- especially amidst the growing trade tensions between Asean's most important trading partners," Gen Prayut said.