Home Commentaries & Articles Decoding the 42nd ASEAN Summit

Decoding the 42nd ASEAN Summit

The 42nd ASEAN Summit, held in Indonesia in May 2023, was a significant event where member countries discussed crucial topics such as the Regional Payment System, ASEAN Village Network, and the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific. The summit also addressed pressing regional peace and dispute issues, including the security situation in Myanmar, the South China Sea, and the Korean Peninsula. There was notable enthusiasm regarding the geostrategic construct of the Indo-Pacific. The development of the ASEAN Community remains an ongoing process, with efforts being made to achieve milestones. This commentary aims to provide key takeaways from the summit and analyze ASEAN’s potential in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Cross-Sectoral Cooperation though ASEAN Community Building and post-2025 Vision:  

ASEAN Community Building is a multifaceted and challenging process. However, the establishment of the ASEAN Community in 2015 was a major milestone in the process of ASEAN integration. It is a critical step in promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in Southeast Asia and in the larger region of Indo-Pacific. ASEAN Community is expected to benefit the region through increased intra-regional trade and investments, enhanced economic cooperation within the region, improved regional security, augmented intra-regional cultural understanding, reduced poverty and inequality, and essentially empowering the ASEAN citizens through providing them with a quality life and sustainability. 

The ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) is based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law, good governance, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Both the traditional security threats including armed conflicts, terrorism, and transnational crime, as well as non-traditional security threats including climate change, natural disasters, and pandemics fall under its domain. Over the years, ASEAN has established several agencies and bodies to work on political and security related issues.  The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) promotes dialogue and cooperation on political and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region; the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) props up dialogue and cooperation on defense and security issues among ASEAN defense ministers; and the ASEAN Political-Security Community Council (ASPCC) is the primary stakeholder in this realm. The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is based on the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), which is a free trade agreement among ASEAN member states; the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA), which is an agreement to promote and facilitate investment among ASEAN member states; and the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS), which is an agreement to liberalize trade in services among ASEAN member states. ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) is founded on the mechanisms of the ASEAN Plan of Action on Social Development; the ASEAN Plan of Action on Culture; the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration; and the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. This list is not exhaustive as ASEAN continues to add new mechanisms in place.  In this direction, the 42nd ASEAN Summit has endorsed, welcomed and established several instruments and means to advance the process of ASEAN community building. 

Timor-Leste’s Inclusion into ASEAN in Principle:

After 11 years of intense deliberation by existing members of ASEAN, Timor-Leste, geographically located within the recognised region of Southeast Asia and having established missions in almost all the ASEAN countries, have been accepted in principle. The ASEAN members finally agreed on admitting, “in principle,” Timor-Leste as the 11th and the newest member of ASEAN during the ASEAN Summit in November 2022.  As a prospective member of ASEAN, Timor-Leste was accorded the status of an “Observer” during the 42nd ASEAN Summit in May 2023. After consensus from the entire existing member-body, the Prime Minister of Timor Leste, José Maria Vasconcelos GCoIIH, popularly known as Taur Matan Ruak, for the very first time, attended the summit as an ‘observer’. This is a process for prospective members to prepare for several membership obligations. Before this happens, there are several procedural steps that must be taken by Timor-Leste as part of the process to be a member of ASEAN. The final decision will be made by a consensus during ASEAN Summit, upon the recommendation by the ASEAN Council which comprises of the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN members.

Emphasis on ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP):

The ASEAN’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific is reflected in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP). The AOIP underscores ASEAN’s central role in shaping regional architecture and promoting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific; emphasizing unity, inclusivity, and ASEAN-led mechanisms. ASEAN is firmly committed to implementing the AOIP through concrete projects and activities. During the Summit, the members eagerly anticipate the ASEAN-Indo-Pacific Forum, which will focus on creative economy, infrastructure, business, investment, and digital development for SDGs. They affirm their dedication to maintaining a platform for dialogue and cooperation, while actively engaging with the wider Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, all while upholding ASEAN Centrality. The importance of collaboration with the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is strongly emphasized. Additionally, the ongoing work of the ADMM on the AOIP from a defense perspective is commended.

Discussion on Regional Payment/Connectivity: 

During the summit, in a bid to facilitate regional integration, ASEAN leaders declared its commitment to advancing regional payment connectivity and promoting the use of local currencies for cross-border transactions. The ASEAN leaders recognized the potential benefits of local currency usage in strengthening financial resilience, deepening regional financial integration by improving intra-ASEAN trade and investment, and bolstering regional value chains. The leaders agreed to support the establishment of a Task Force to explore the development of an ASEAN Local Currency Transaction Framework. The summit welcomed the progress made in cooperation on regional payment connectivity and the promotion of local currency usage, including the implementation of bilateral agreements and the interest of other ASEAN member states to join these initiatives. 

ASEAN Villages Network: 

Under Indonesia’s Chairmanship, the ASEAN leaders adopted the establishment of an ASEAN Villages Network. It will work as a forum for cooperation between the member countries’ villages to contribute to and directly benefit from development in the region. The ASEAN Village Network is expected to provide more opportunities for villages in member states to benefit from ASEAN cooperation and other partners, including the private sector and to be able to learn from each other’s best practices in advancing rural economies. Their interaction/participation is expected to contribute to strengthening the identity of fellow ASEAN members. The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication, along with relevant sectoral bodies, will be responsible for mobilizing resources and developing a framework for the implementation of the ASEAN Villages Network.

Highlight on Myanmar

The Chair’s statement which was released after the 42nd ASEAN Summit is essentially a document of 125 points spreading over 25 pages. Myanmar counts for 11 times in that document, second only to Indonesia which comes in 24 times, primarily for being the host country. It shows ASEAN’s geostrategic and geopolitical considerations for Myanmar. Political stability in Myanmar is of utmost importance for ASEAN as the former’s domestic precariousness has not only shaken the peace and prosperity within latter’s region, it has also raised serious questions on the ability of ASEAN in calming any conflicting situation within its geographic mind-map.  The February 2021 military coup in Myanmar has shattered the democratic voices within the country, increased illegal movement of people across the borders, heaved violence and amplified the international community’s pressure on ASEAN to convince the military junta in Myanmar to sit for negotiations and discussions. The Chair’s statement therefore reiterated the security crises in Myanmar and condemned the attack on the AHA Centre convoy in Shan state, Myanmar. The continuous need of delivering humanitarian aid and discussions between Bangladesh and Myanmar for managing illegal movement of people were brought to the notice. The AHA Centre has also completed a Joint Need Assessment (JNA) the gauge the gravity of the situation in Myanmar. Unfortunately, the Five Point Consensus on Myanmar and all other efforts taken by ASEAN are falling short of expectations for their limited structural role and ASEAN’s principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the member countries. 


ASEAN is a dynamic regional organization aiming at cooperation and collaboration not only within the region but also with the dialogue partners and other like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific. ASEAN statements and declarations are carefully curated to address the common challenges in a language which is acceptable to everyone. ASEAN, as a regional organization, does not want to antagonize any relevant stakeholder and want to get benefits from the evolving geopolitics of Indo-Pacific. Simultaneously, ASEAN is also observant of the troublesome incidents and developments in the region which may harm the region’s balance, peace and prosperity. The 42nd ASEAN Summit was no exception to this understanding. On a positive note, ASEAN has evolved as a mature organization working towards inclusive and sustainable development and can be considered as a success story in the history of regional cooperation.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official position or views of the organization.