ASEAN Leaders to Tackle Regional Crises at Tropical Resort

- International - May 8, 2023
ASEAN Leaders To Tackle Regional Crises At Tropical Resort
ASEAN Leaders To Tackle Regional Crises At Tropical Resort

This photo shows a view of the Labuan Bajo marina, gateway to Komodo National Park, Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, May 8, 2023.

ASEAN Leaders to Tackle Regional Crises at Tropical Resort at Tropical Resort

This image was taken on May 8, 2023, in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, and depicts the marina that serves as the entrance to Komodo National Park.
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Crisis-weary Southeast Asian leaders will be welcomed to a gorgeous tourist resort that offers seafood feasts, blue waters teeming with corals and manta rays, and a hillside savannah teaming with Komodo dragons.

The sunny environment stands in stark contrast to how important their goals are.

The remote, sleepy harbor town of Labuan Bajo was chosen by Indonesian President Joko Widodo as a relaxed setting to debate a packed agenda containing divisive topics. These include the ongoing, brutal civil war in Myanmar and the intensifying territorial disputes in the South China Sea between fellow ASEAN leaders.

Starting on Tuesday, the 10-nation regional bloc’s member nations will convene for three days against the backdrop of the intensifying competition between the US and China.

China’s influence over Taiwan

In order to better oppose China’s influence over Taiwan and the protracted territorial disputes in the strategically important South China Sea involving four ASEAN members—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam—U.S. President Joe Biden has been strengthening an arc of alliances throughout the Indo-Pacific region. In the gas-rich Natuna Sea, where Indonesia is this year’s ASEAN chair, Beijing has also been met by fishing boats and coast guards that have allegedly wandered into what Jakarta claims was its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone.

Widodo, who is approaching the end of his two-term maximum and is in his final year on the international scene, said ASEAN seeks to work with any nation to solve issues through communication.

That includes Myanmar, where ASEAN has failed to quell the violence in one of its member states two years after the military coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and set off a violent civil war. The ruling military in Myanmar has spurned a five-point peace plan by ASEAN leaders and the top general in Myanmar, which asks for an immediate end to killings and other forms of violence and the beginning of a national dialogue.

Only non-political officials were now permitted to attend ASEAN’s biannual summits, and the military leaders of Myanmar were no longer invited. Myanmar has objected to the action.

Concerning Myanmar further, Indonesian officials said on Sunday that 20 of its citizens who had been smuggled into the country and made to engage in online fraud had been released from the Myawaddy township and sent to the Thai border over the weekend. A draught of the joint statement, which the ASEAN leaders intended to read during the meeting to voice their alarm over such human trafficking schemes, was obtained by The Associated Press.

An Indonesian soldier guards in front of Meruorah hotel in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, May 8, 2023.

On May 8, 2023, an Indonesian soldier posts himself in front of the Meruorah hotel in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara province.
Retno Marsudi, the foreign minister of Indonesia, claimed that her nation, which is currently in charge of ASEAN, had handled the Myanmar problem diplomatically.

Marsudi stated, “Colleagues know that Indonesia elected to use a non-megaphone diplomacy approach in the early phases of its leadership. “The goal is to provide the parties with space to develop trust and to be more open in communicating.”

That strategy is complemented by Widodo’s selection of a waterfront location with beautiful sunrises and sunsets and the sound of birds chirping all day.

The Indonesian president

The Indonesian president also anticipated that Labuan Bajo and nearby islands, which are filled with white-sand beaches and even a rare pink-sand beach, would receive more attention from international tourists as a result of the high-profile ASEAN meeting.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrived Sunday with his wife to a red carpet welcome surrounded by military honor guards and dancing villagers wearing flower-filled hats. “This is a very good moment for us to host the ASEAN summit and showcase Labuan Bajo to the world,” he remarked.

However, there are a few snags.

With only three traffic signals and 6,000 residents, the remote fishing hamlet is severely short on accommodations for the throng of ASEAN diplomats, delegates, and media. Many were forced to set up roommates.

Unlike the more well-known resort island of Bali or the hectic concrete jungle of the capital Jakarta, which have both played host to major summits in opulent hotels and convention centres, Labuan Bajo is a much smaller town that can be traversed in a leisurely two-hour stroll. Since there are no public buses, most locals travel by foot, scooter, or private vehicle.

On short notice, a small group of local technicians wearing hard hats was brought in or install cables and increase internet connectivity at the venues.

The little airstrip in Labuan Bajo was overflowing with travelers on Sunday. Teams of diplomats and reporters arrived to receive streamers declaring the optimistic summit motto, “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth.”

Traffic outside the Komodo dragon-named airport gradually grew under the sweltering midday sun.

A day before the summit’s opening, workmen were still sealing some roadside edges near the venues when the sun rose on Monday.

The infrastructure improvements, according to Labuan Bajo resident Andre Kurniawan, who works at a dive shop, will benefit the locals. “Before, we were cut off from some locations; today they are open, and the areas are improving. In the future, I hope Labuan Bajo can become a greater tourism destination,” he remarked.

Academic Tourism Experts In Indonesia

According to Azril Azahari, chair of a group of academic tourism experts in Indonesia, Labuan Bajo wasn’t prepared and was ostensibly chosen as the summit’s host on short notice. “The housing and hotel amenities have turned into a concern. There is a ship that is not a lodging ship but is being utilized for lodging, he claimed.

Even though it wasn’t the best moment for Labuan Bajo to host, Suti Ana welcomed guests to her coffee shop ahead of the conference and remarked that ASEAN would support regional businesses. But now is the time, she added, since we can’t wait.

Azril suggested going with the tiny port town as long as there was good planning and government infrastructure spending.

The gateway to the Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the only place in the world where Komodo dragons, the largest lizards in the world, are found in the wild, is Labuan Bajo, which is situated on the western tip of Flores island in southern Indonesia. Labuan Bajo is also known for its beaches, diving, and snorkeling spots.

Environmentalists and tourism experts worry that increased public attention could put additional strain on the Komodo dragons, who are already in danger. By 2022, there were just 3,300 known to exist.

Azahari cited long-standing concerns that the Komodo dragons would go extinct in the absence of complete protection, saying that if more people arrive, eventually they will be unable to mate in peace.

Officials from Indonesia declared they will take all necessary steps to organize the ASEAN summit in Labuan Bajo smoothly and safely despite the challenges.

“If there’s any commotion along the way, that will be a big stain on the nation’s dignity,” said Edistasius Endi, the regent of Labuan Najo’s West Manggarai district, in a statement.