The Latest on Southeast Asia: May 25, 2023

The Group of Seven (G7) summit took place from May 19 to 21 in Hiroshima, Japan. Bloc members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States were in attendance, along with eight other country guests: Australia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam, Comoros, and the Cook Islands. The latter two countries came as representatives of the African Union and Pacific Islands Forum, respectively. Their attendance reflects Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida’s focus on engaging with countries in the Global South, especially as the grouping seeks to boost cooperation on global challenges such as food security, climate change, artificial intelligence regulation, and nuclear non-proliferation. The inclusion of Vietnam and Indonesia also reflects the growing importance of Southeast Asia as a region vital to the interests of the G7 members.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise appearance at the summit in an effort to rally support for his country’s struggle against Russian aggression. The G7 sought to promote a more united global front against Russia amid its ongoing assault on Ukraine. A leaders’ statement on Ukraine called for third parties to “immediately cease providing material support to Russia’s aggression, or face severe costs.” The G7 members tightened sanctions on Russia during the summit to cover exports of industrial machinery, tools, and technology that could benefit Moscow’s war effort. But they continue to find little success in convincing most of the international community, including some of the special guests invited to the G7 summit, to support the pressure campaign against Russia.

Vietnam, for instance, has not supported any of the four UN resolutions on the war since March 2022. Vietnamese prime minister Pham Minh Chinh met with Zelensky for the first time on the sidelines of the G7 Summit and insisted on Vietnam’s commitment to the UN Charter’s principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity. But soon after the summit, he welcomed former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to Hanoi and lauded Vietnam’s economic cooperation with Russia. Whatever leaders in Hanoi may think of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia remains too important a strategic partner and source of arms for Vietnam to join in any isolation campaign.

Indonesia has been slightly more vocal in its support for Ukraine, voting yes on three of the UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion and abstaining from one. In a bilateral meeting with President Zelensky at the summit, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said Indonesia stands ready to “become a bridge of peace between Ukraine and Russia” and expressed support for the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.  As the Group of 20 president in 2022, Indonesia championed issues related to food security, especially around ensuring stable supply chains for wheat. But Indonesia has also continued to cooperate with Russia on issues of common interest, signing an extradition agreement with Moscow in late March to strengthen cooperation against transnational crimes.

Karen Lee is a research associate with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

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Karen Lee

Karen Lee

Former Research Associate, Southeast Asia Program