Indonesia takes center stage next month when it hosts the 17th Group of 20 Summit in Bali, playing an important role as a mediator in the raging war between Russia and Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed his attendance to the G20 Summit scheduled on Nov. 15-16 even if some Western countries, including Poland and the United States, wanted to isolate Russia and exclude it from the meeting.
Putin has a chance to meet in person Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was personally invited by Indonesian leader Joko Widodo, to attend the summit in an effort to mend relations between the two sides.
Widodo also invited two Southeast Asian leaders, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Indonesia and Asean would want a larger role to end the war in Eastern Europe even as Russia has intensified its drone and missile attacks on key cities and critical infrastructure in Ukraine while losing some territories it had gained earlier in the conflict.
The threat of a nuclear strike in Ukraine remains the most dangerous phase of the war as the United States and Western countries warned Russia it would be held accountable for war crimes.
But the war between Russia and Ukraine shifts to the diplomatic field next month in Bali when the world’s largest 20 economies discuss the impact of the conflict on global food and energy supplies and other economic issues, like soaring inflation and currency fluctuations.
The G20’s most urgent concern is stopping the war that has killed thousands and displaced millions as the conflict enters nine months since Russian tanks rolled into southern and eastern Ukraine.
It will be better if Putin and Zekenskyy face each other in one room during the Bali summit rather than avoid each other. Zelenskyy said Ukraine will attend the G20 meeting if Putin will be there.
It will be in the best interest of G20 member-states if all parties to the conflict will be in Bali. It will be the first time both Russian and Ukrainian leaders will be at the same meeting together.
Since the start of the conflict, Russia and Ukraine have been pushing each other out in major diplomatic meetings. Western countries, particularly the United States, wanted to exclude Russia in all diplomatic events.
For instance, US representatives have been convincing Asean member- states not to invite Russia to its end-of-the-year summit in Phnom Penh, including in the Asean Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus to discuss regional security cooperation and issues.
Asean has been resisting efforts by other powers to isolate Russia, favoring dialogue among parties in the conflict and looking for common ground to end the war.
Asean must not allow extra-regional powers to dictate on what it should do or to take sides in the issue. Taking a neutral stand is not enough. It should be the voice of reason to end the war as nations across the world have been suffering=[;., from the conflict’s fallout.
Since 1967 when the Asean was formed, it has renounced conflict and aggression, including within the region when Vietnam crossed into Cambodia to depose Pol Pot in 1979.
In Bali, Asean leaders also signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and urged other countries outside the region to accede to the agreement before participating in Asean processes as dialogue partners.
If Asean wants to really play a major role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict as a peace mediator, it should get its act together and make a stand on the issue.
It was not enough for Asean to issue a statement calling for a ceasefire in the conflict. It needs a more solid voice as a group to be heard. Resisting to isolate Moscow in its meetings is courageous but it has to do more to be more convincing.
Asean decides based on consensus but the war in Ukraine is dividing the bloc. Indonesia and Singapore have condemned the Russian invasion, with the island-state joining Western states in imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Military-rule Myanmar, which risks isolation in Asean, has taken a stand in support of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, praising Putin for making the right move to defend Russia.
Most Asean states have taken a neutral position, including Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Asean’s secretary general, who comes from Brunei, has not said a word about the conflict.
Hopefully, Asean finds a stronger voice in the conflict. Indonesia has started the ball rolling by inviting Zelenskyy to the G20 Bali summit next month.
The participation of Cambodia and Singapore should carry more weight to Asean’s peacemaking efforts as the world gets more polarized by the worsening conflict.
Asean must stand together and must have a united voice in ending the war in Ukraine. Its own security, stability and prosperity as a region will be at stake when the conflict spills into the region.