ASEAN defence ministers have agreed to deepen cooperation among the bloc’s member nations and its partners, in order to effectively address regional security concerns to maintain peace, prosperity and security.

The agreement was reached at the 17th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) on November 15-16 in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

The meeting issued the Jakarta joint declaration, noting the geopolitical and geostrategic dynamic shift in the region and the impacts of major power rivalry that could threaten stability and peace in the Southeast Asia region and beyond, and possibly affecting the security and prosperity of ASEAN.

The attendees recognised the complexity of traditional and non-traditional security threats and challenges, social and cultural changes, the deceleration of the global economy including the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, energy and food security, as well as advances in information and communication technologies.

“[We] declare we will strengthen defence and security cooperation among ASEAN Member States and the Plus Countries in order to respond effectively towards regional security challenges while upholding the principles of ASEAN centrality and unity as well as consensus-based decision making for the maintenance of peace, prosperity and security,” said a joint statement, which was published on November 18.

The defence ministers urged for adherence to the fundamental principles and purposes enshrined in the UN charter, the ASEAN charter, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, and the 2011 Declaration of East Asia Summit on the Principles for Mutually Beneficial Relations (Bali Principles), and to uphold international law, to maintain peace, prosperity and security in the region.

The statement underscored the significance of maintaining regional peace, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and over the South China Sea and pursuing peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.

It emphasised the need for an early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) in accordance to international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, while underlining the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in the South China Sea in its entirety, thus commending existing confidence building measures.

It reiterated the commitment of all parties to cooperating in a constructive and peaceful manner for the South China Sea to become a sea of peace, stability, and prosperity through the full and effective implementation of the 2002 DOC in its entirety, and the early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC consistent with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, within a mutually-agreed timeline. 

“In addition, all parties are committed to promoting maritime security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight and creating a conducive environment for the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea,” added the statement. 

The attendees supported the full implementation of the ASEAN five-point consensus on Myanmar and recalled Myanmar’s commitment to finding a peaceful and durable solution to its current crisis, with ASEAN assistance.

“[We] recognise ASEAN’s ongoing efforts and the ASEAN leaders’ review and decision on the implementation of the five-point consensus as agreed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 11 November 2022 to facilitate the restoration of peace and stability and the peaceful transition to normalcy in Myanmar.

“Towards this end, [we] reiterate the need to develop concrete, practical and measurable indicators in support of the implementation of the five-point consensus, while urging all parties,” said the joint statement. 

Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Seiha said ASEAN intends to continue to work with the US with mutual trust and understanding, in order to benefit the region with lasting peace, prosperity and security.

During the November 15 ASEAN-US informal meeting of defence ministers in Jakarta, Seiha praised the US’s constructive role in the region including active participation in the expert’s working group of the ASEAN defence ministers’ meeting plus (ADMM-Plus).

“The US has co-chaired the ADMM-Plus expert’s working group with ASEAN member states three times. The US will co-chair the fifth round of the meeting with Indonesia. Cambodia supports such a valuable contribution,” he said. 

“The US has always been a close partner of ASEAN. As ASEAN and the US are strengthening and deepening their ties, we also intend to continue to work together, based on mutual respect, understanding and trust, in order to secure long-term peace, prosperity and security for the region,” he added.