A slew of global meetings was held in Southeast Asia in November, which saw the return of face-to-face diplomacy after the pandemic put a hold to traditional diplomatic meetings for almost three years.
Over 12 days, key global leaders converged in Southeast Asia for the ASEAN Summit, G20 Summit and the APEC Summit. While the goal of these meetings was to foster international cooperation amid global challenges countries face, geopolitical dynamics were also very much on display.
ASEAN Summit (10-13 November)
- The 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits and Related Summits took place between 10-13 November in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Leaders from the 10 ASEAN countries and key partners, including US President Joe Biden and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the meetings, which were held in person for the first time in three years.
- ASEAN leaders agreed in principle to admit Timor-Leste as the 11th member to the Southeast Asian bloc. Once granted full membership, Timor Leste would benefit from ASEAN’s free trade area agreements and create greater opportunities for foreign direct investment into the country.
- ASEAN upgraded its ties with the US and India forming the US-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and the ASEAN-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The upgrade in relations will see increasing cooperation in areas such as sustainable development and economic cooperation.
- The prolonged Myanmar crisis and the lack of progress in Myanmar’s implementation of the five-point consensus loomed large at the meeting. The Myanmar junta leader was not invited to join the meeting, but Myanmar remains a member of the organisation.
- Indonesia will be taking over as the ASEAN Chair next year and is expected to be more vocal on the Myanmar issue than Cambodia.
- The East Asia Summit (which was attended by ASEAN member states and 8 other countries including the US, China, and Russia) failed to release a joint statement as Russia objected to language on Ukraine supported by the US and several other countries.
- US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted the meeting failed to produce a joint statement because the US and other countries were “insistent on discussing the global implications of Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine.”
G20 Summit (15-16 November)
- The G20 Summit gathered leaders from the world’s major developed and emerging economies in Bali, Indonesia.
- The highly anticipated meeting between US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping took place on the margins of the G20. While both countries did not release a joint statement following the meeting or have joint media appearances, the bilateral relations between the US and China appeared to be constructive and positive. Political communication has reopened between the two countries. Biden indicated that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China next year to continue the official dialogue that the two leaders started.
- The Ukraine war dominated the agenda at the G20, with Russian President Vladimir Putin notably absent from the summit.
- While there were concerns the G20 would not release a joint communique, leaders finally rallied around Indonesian President Jokowi’s push to publish a joint declaration, which succeeded in including a condemnation of the war in Ukraine. “Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy - constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks,” the G20 statement said.
- While Russia signed off on the final statement, the statement also added a caveat that some countries have “other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”
- A few concrete deliverables were announced at the Summit, including the launch of the G20 pandemic fund- which will help lower income countries to improve its pandemic preparedness.
- The largest climate financial deal was also announced at the Summit, which provides Indonesia with US$ 20 billion to aid in Indonesia’s energy transition and pivot away from coal power. The deal includes $10 billion in public funds from the US and Japan and another $10 billion from private sector investors. Under the agreement, Indonesia has pledged to generate a third of its power from renewable energy and limit its carbon emissions to 290 megatons of CO₂ annually by 2030.
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit (16-19 November)
- The 29th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bangkok received less global attention, with US President Joe Biden missing the summit due to a family obligation and sending his Vice President, Kamala Harris in his stead. Biden’s absence from the APEC summit is largely considered a blow to Thailand, a key US ally in the region. Notably, China’s President Xi Jinping attended the APEC summit in person.
- Xi met with global leaders on the summit’s margins, including Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and US Vice President Kamala Harris. The meeting between Xi and Harris echoed similar messages from the Xi-Biden meeting in Bali, where the emphasis was on keeping lines of communication open between both countries.
- The APEC Business Advisory Council, which comprises private sector leaders from 21 APEC member countries, summited 69 recommendations, ahead of the summit. The recommendations called for the full reopening of borders and policy responses to tackle global economic challenges such as inflation, risk of recession, energy and food security.
- While the APEC summit traditionally focuses on trade and economic issues, geopolitics permeated the discussions. US Vice President Kamala Harris gathered leaders on the sidelines to condemn North Korea for its latest intercontinental ballistic missile test launch. The APEC joint ministerial statement used similar language to the G20 statement and included a paragraph condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- A key outcome from the summit is the adoption of the Bangkok Goal for the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG)economy model by APEC leaders. The BCG, which is championed by Thailand, aims to promote a “green economic model” as a growth strategy. The US will host the next APEC leaders’ meeting in San Francisco and climate change is expected to be high on the agenda.