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Asian Insider Podcast: ‘More of the same’ not good enough for Asean to remain relevant, says former Indonesian foreign minister

Synopsis: Every fourth Friday of the month, The Straits Times’ US bureau chief Nirmal Ghosh presents an Asian perspective of the biggest global talking points with expert guests.

Former Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, currently a Distinguished Fellow with the Asia Society Policy Institute, sees a fraying of Asean’s common response to developments in Myanmar. 

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Asean has been skilled in employing adept and calibrated formal and informal diplomacy, and both open and quiet diplomacy, to obtain certain outcomes, but currently Asean’s approach has become predictable. Indonesia, Asean’s current chair, must exercise leadership and vision while maintaining ASEAN unity, the former top regional diplomat says. Yet, Asean is not doing much more than exercising its convening power. 

The United States must understand that Asean countries cherish and value their own autonomy. Meanwhile the international geopolitical environment is seeing the diminution of diplomacy, and weaponisation of issues in the public goods domain – like semiconductors, technology, public health and climate. Asean cannot afford to be complacent. 

Highlights (click/tap above):

03:20 Asean’s gains must be constantly earned, we can’t be complacent

04:30 There really hasn’t been any demonstration of Asean’s leadership or centrality beyond convening power

06:50 There is clearly a recognition that South East Asia is important, but that does not automatically translate into recognition of Asean’s importance.

07:30 It is important for a country like the United States to recognize that the diversity within Asean is not a design fault but a feature – and not to try to force uniformity of foreign policy on the region

08:45 Asean cherishes and values its autonomy

10:12 Diplomacy as statecraft is fraying. Those who speak on behalf of dialogue and negotiation and engagement tend to be accused of pursuing appeasement

11:35 There is a weaponisation of some of the public goods domain that ought to be the very definition of the need for cooperative partnership – technology, cyber, semiconductors, health.

15:45 Things have not been made easier by the lack of unity among Asean member states on Myanmar

19:00 There is chairmanship (of Asean) and there is leadership. 

Produced by: Nirmal Ghosh (, Ernest Luis, Hadyu Rahim and Fa’izah Sani

Edited by: Hadyu Rahim and Fa’izah Sani

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