Asean heads to tackle regional crises at tropical resort

LABUAN BAJO, Indonesia — A picturesque tourist destination will host crisis-weary Southeast Asian leaders with sun-splashed tropical islands, turquoise waters brimming with corals and manta rays, seafood feasts, and a hillside savannah crawling with Komodo dragons.

The sunshiny setting is a stark contrast to the seriousness of their agenda.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo picked the far-flung, rustic harbor town of Labuan Bajo as a laidback venue to discuss an agenda rife with contentious issues. These include the continuing bloody civil strife in Myanmar and the escalating territorial conflicts in the South China Sea between fellow leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The 10-nation regional bloc and its member states will meet for three days starting Tuesday, May 9, 2023, with the growing rivalry between the United States and China as a backdrop.

US President Joe Biden has been reinforcing an arc of alliances in the Indo-Pacific region to better counter China over Taiwan and the long-seething territorial conflicts in the strategic South China Sea which involve four Asean members: Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Indonesia, this year’s Asean chair, has also confronted Chinese fishing fleets and coast guard that have strayed into what Jakarta says was its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone in the gas-rich Natuna Sea.

Widodo, who’s in his final year on the world stage as he reaches the end of his two-term limit, said Asean aims to collaborate with any country to solve problems through dialogue. (AP)