The meeting comes one month after an Indonesian-led Initiative, the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, was approved by the ten ASEAN Member States.
The Outlook emphasises the centrality of the ASEAN region to the Indo-Pacific. The strategy document was unanimously agreed to unusual for ASEAN for fear of the bloc being sidelined by competing visions for the Indo-Pacific, including the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Initiative of the US and China’s Belt & Road Initiative.
Despite the concurrences, ASEAN nations likely have a much different conception of the Outlook. It promotes a region of ‘shared interests’, while shunning the ‘shared values’ vision of countries like the US, Japan and Australia.
However, the Outlook shares some similarities with both the Chinese and the American conceptions of the region. This is deliberate given ASEAN’s varied interests and complex relationships with both superpowers.
In practice, the Outlook maintains the ability of members like Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos to benefit from Belt & Road infrastructural development that China offers.
On the other hand, it ensures that the interests of others especially countries currently in territorial disputes with China, like Vietnam and the Philippines by supporting the rules based order underpinned by the US.
Overall, the strategy aims to keep both superpowers engaged in the region and serving ASEAN’s interests.