BRICS, Gaza, and Ukraine Conflict: Southeast Asia's Geopolitical Balancing Act

BRICS, Gaza, and Ukraine Conflict: Southeast Asia's Geopolitical Balancing Act
Asia and BRICS | Photo by Road Ahead on Unsplash

The recent geopolitical developments have underscored the complex dynamics at play in Southeast Asia's engagement with global issues, particularly regarding the conflict in Ukraine and the growing interest in joining the BRICS economic bloc. The uneven attendance at the recent peace summit for Ukraine, held in Switzerland,  and the increasing interest in the BRICS group among Southeast Asian nations illustrate the region's broader strategic calculations.

Ukraine Peace Summit and Southeast Asia

At the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) in Singapore, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Southeast Asian countries to support the Peace Summit for Ukraine held in Switzerland on June 15-16, 2024. Zelenskyy emphasized that their participation would demonstrate a commitment to peace and diplomacy. Despite this appeal, attendance from Southeast Asia was sparse, with only five of the 11 nations present: Timor-Leste, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Notably, Timor-Leste was the only country represented by its head of government.

Indonesia and Thailand, two of the attendees, chose not to sign the final communiqué. This abstention highlights the varying priorities within the region, with countries like Vietnam and Laos prioritizing closer ties with Russia, and others focused on joining BRICS. Singapore, which has consistently condemned Russian aggression, reaffirmed its stance through Senior Minister Sim Ann, emphasizing the importance of upholding international law and addressing the existential threats posed by such conflicts.

Thailand's participation, represented by Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Russ Jalichandra, focused on the global food security implications of the conflict. However, Thailand's recent application to join BRICS suggests economic growth goals may have influenced its reluctance to endorse the summit’s conclusions.

The Philippines, despite earlier engagements between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Zelenskyy, sent a lower-level representative, reflecting perhaps domestic political calculations and broader foreign policy strategies.

Geopolitical Priorities and BRICS Membership

Beyond the Ukraine conflict, several Southeast Asian nations are pivoting towards BRICS, driven by the desire to diversify their economic and geopolitical options. Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, and Myanmar have all shown varying degrees of interest in joining the BRICS group, which currently consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. This interest signifies a strategic move to align with emerging economies that offer alternative platforms for global governance and economic cooperation.

For instance, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim articulated a clear intention to join BRICS, emphasizing the potential economic benefits and geopolitical balance it could offer. Anwar’s position reflects Malaysia's strategy to remain neutral in the US-China rivalry while boosting trade and investment partnerships through BRICS.

Thailand has also officially applied for BRICS membership, hoping to enhance its economic growth under the leadership of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. Similarly, Indonesia, currently assessing the benefits of BRICS, sees significant potential in aligning with the group to bolster investment and trade, particularly from China and India.

Relevant article:  Thailand Boldly Pursues BRICS Membership Amid Western Opposition

Concerns of Overdependence on China

The growing inclination towards BRICS among ASEAN countries does, however, raise concerns about overdependence on China. Analysts like Dr. Joseph Liow from Nanyang Technological University warn that such alignment might limit these countries' ability to navigate sensitive geopolitical issues like the South China Sea disputes and the Taiwan Strait conflict independently.

Bhima Yudhistira from the Centre of Economic and Law Studies (CELIOS) in Indonesia cautions that China’s economic slowdowns could negatively impact ASEAN economies if they become overly reliant on Chinese investments and trade.

This might interest you: Comparative Economic Forecasts: G7 vs BRICS in 2024

Moreover, the internal dynamics within BRICS, such as the bilateral tensions between China and India or Saudi Arabia and Iran, pose potential challenges to the bloc's cohesion and effectiveness. These complexities suggest that while BRICS offers significant economic opportunities, it also entails navigating a landscape of intricate geopolitical relationships.

The Way Forward

As Southeast Asia balances its engagement with global conflicts like Ukraine and its economic aspirations through BRICS, the region demonstrates a nuanced approach to international relations. The patchy attendance at the Ukraine summit and the burgeoning interest in BRICS reflect the diverse and sometimes conflicting priorities within ASEAN. Countries like Singapore and the Philippines are cautious about joining BRICS due to geopolitical concerns, while nations like Malaysia and Thailand actively pursue membership to enhance their economic stature.

The future of Southeast Asia's participation in international forums like BRICS will likely hinge on how these countries can maintain a delicate balance between benefiting from economic cooperation and managing the geopolitical implications of aligning closely with major powers like China and Russia.

Akhyari Hananto

I began my career in the banking industry in 1997, and stayed approx 6 years in it. This industry boost his knowledge about the economic condition in Indonesia, both macro and micro, and how to More understand it. My banking career continued in Yogyakarta when I joined in a program funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB),as the coordinator for a program aimed to help improve the quality of learning and teaching process in private universities in Yogyakarta. When the earthquake stroke Yogyakarta, I chose to join an international NGO working in the area of ?disaster response and management, which allows me to help rebuild the city, as well as other disaster-stricken area in Indonesia. I went on to become the coordinator for emergency response in the Asia Pacific region. Then I was assigned for 1 year in Cambodia, as a country coordinator mostly to deliver developmental programs (water and sanitation, education, livelihood). In 2009, he continued his career as a protocol and HR officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya, and two years later I joined the Political and Economic Section until now, where i have to deal with extensive range of people and government officials, as well as private and government institution troughout eastern Indonesia. I am the founder and Editor-in-Chief in Good News From Indonesia (GNFI), a growing and influential social media movement, and was selected as one of The Most Influential Netizen 2011 by The Marketeers magazine. I also wrote a book on "Fundamentals of Disaster Management in 2007"?, "Good News From Indonesia : Beragam Prestasi Anak Bangsa di dunia"? which was luanched in August 2013, and "Indonesia Bersyukur"? which is launched in Sept 2013. In 2014, 3 books were released in which i was one of the writer; "Indonesia Pelangi Dunia"?, "Indonesia The Untold Stories"? and "Growing! Meretas Jalan Kejayaan" I give lectures to students in lectures nationwide, sharing on full range of issues, from economy, to diplomacy Less
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