The 17th East Asia Summit Declaration: Analysis & Opinion

Posted by Written by Chris Devonshire-Ellis  Reading Time: 9 minutes

Female Empowerment, SME Finance, and Volunteerism the New Focus  

The 2022 East Asia Summit (EAS) concluded last week having been hosted by Cambodia. The EAS is a regional forum that includes the 10 ASEAN countries of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Other members include Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea, along with Russia and the United States.  

The 2022 EAS came immediately prior to the recent G20 meetings in Indonesia, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Thailand. The G20 is a global grouping of the world’s top twenty economies, APEC is an Asia-Pacific grouping, and the EAS, as its name suggests, is mostly more East Asia concerned.  

We can examine the EAS Summit Declaration and comment on the contents as follows:    

The 17th East Asia Summit: Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment, Strengthening Energy Cooperation, A Comprehensive Post-Covid 19 Recovery, and Promoting Volunteerism for Sustainable Development – November 13, 2022, Phnom Penh, Cambodia 

We, the participating countries of the EAS under Cambodia’s Chairmanship of ASEAN 2022, on the occasion of the 17th East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, on November 13, 2022, recognize the need to strengthen regional cooperation in addressing new and emerging issues and challenges of common interest and concern, supporting ongoing efforts towards a comprehensive post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery and ensuring long-term sustainability and resilience of regional development, agreed to generate considerable momentum of EAS cooperation, among others, by focusing our collaboration on advancing women’s economic empowerment, strengthening energy cooperation, and promoting volunteerism for sustainable development. 

Advancing women’s economic empowerment 

We underscored that women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship are crucial to an inclusive and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the achievement of economic stability, economic prosperity, future growth, and sustainable development in our region. We recognized that the development and implementation of COVID-19 economic recovery plans should be responsive to and inclusive of women and girls, including women’s leadership and decision-making roles. We emphasized the need to strengthen institutional mechanisms for women’s economic empowerment, including through mainstreaming gender equality and social inclusion. 

We noted the critical role micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) play in promoting opportunities for women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship; improving women’s livelihoods including their transition from the informal to formal sectors; supporting women’s participation in the workforce more broadly, and including women in private sector management and women-run and led businesses in supply chains. We advance women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship through inclusive and equitable innovation, trade, business, human capital development, financial inclusion the provision of public services, infrastructure, and social protection policies for women carrying out undervalued and unpaid care and domestic work. 

We encouraged the important role of women and girls in strengthening resilience and developing creative and socially inclusive, equitable, and safe solutions, including technological solutions, to challenges that all EAS participating countries face, including climate change. We called to strengthen women’s literacy in and access to inclusive information and communication technologies (ICTs), including through capacity strengthening program and provision of services and access to technological devices, that is critical to ensuring their potential skill for job opportunities, safe access to the digital public platform, and equitable participation in the region’s transforming digital economy and provide safe, protected and collaborative environments that enhance learning. 

We highlighted the importance of advancing efforts to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), without discrimination, including by promoting women’s and girls’ participation and skills development in STEM fields, and ICT literacy, thus contributing to women’s economic empowerment. 

We took note of the inherent value in dismantling all barriers to equal, equitable, and quality education and training opportunities. We supported women’s economic activity, safety, income, and employment opportunities, to make sure that no one is left behind. 

We promoted inclusive and equitable access to financial capital, technological and entrepreneurial management learning opportunities for women to establish, invest in and grow MSMEs, including stepping up regional cooperation that supports women entrepreneurs to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, facilitating their integration in domestic and international markets and global value chains (GVCs), to ensure their continued operation and contribution to the resilience of local economies, as well as to further empower women to be leaders and decision-makers in the recovery process and growth. 

We also encouraged people-to-people connectivity, networking, sponsorship, and mentoring programs that support women’s entrepreneurship, including the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN) and the Network of Experts on Inclusive Entrepreneurship for ASEAN. 

CDE Comment:  

A great deal of attention has been paid to female empowerment in the context of the EAS, with several key development points to be followed through. Much of this is educationally based, putting a stop to females being used as a basic labor force and elevating this resource to take up intellectual rather than traditional manual roles. This requires labor regulatory changes in East Asia as well as an overall repositioning of certain traditionally minded societies in less-developed countries. Further upstream, there will be an increasing need for vocational training and education as regulatory changes infiltrate into the basic educational arena.  

The recognition of SMEs in this was noted, and the financing of these, suggesting that micro-finance schemes – including regional foreign lenders familiar with these concepts may be encouraged to take a role. These concise definitions also make it easier for foreign governments to identify key areas of aid and to direct these with greater accuracy as to where aid flows are targeted for the best effect.        

Strengthening energy cooperation 

We noted with serious concern the surge and volatility of energy prices and the disruption of supply chains, due to the adverse impacts of ongoing and other military conflicts, amidst geopolitical challenges, along with the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy, on energy security, and the well-being and livelihoods of our people. In this regard, we underscored the importance of a resilient and sustainable energy system, and the need to further strengthen energy cooperation, which contributes to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, noting that SDGs are a priority area of cooperation under the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), by enhancing cooperation on energy security and sustainable development, supporting efforts on long-term energy and climate policy and planning, enhancing regional energy connectivity, promoting energy efficiency and conservation, as well as advancing an inclusive and just transition of the energy system and collaborating to address the challenge of climate change by promoting climate resilient development. 

We recognized that developments in low-carbon, renewable, and emerging energy technologies and increasing diversification in energy sources will bring new opportunities for economic growth and recovery, and therefore, emphasized the need for the East Asia Summit participating countries to enhance energy resilience and explore an aspirational long-term regional target towards lower emission energy systems in accordance with their different national circumstances and economic needs, enhance access to and deployment of both clean and low carbon transition energy technologies, as well as explore options utilizing a variety of technologies and fuels to ensure a stable and secure supply of energy for achieving economic growth, as part of the regional transformation to net zero emissions, and for a comprehensive post-COVID-19 recovery in the region. 

We stressed the importance of strengthening energy cooperation mechanisms and platforms, including the East Asia Summit Energy Ministers’ Meeting (EAS EMM), East Asia Summit Energy Cooperation Task Force (EAS ECTF), and the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE). 

We supported the implementation of the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) Phase II: 2021-2025 to work towards energy transitions, resilience, and sustainable development underpinned by the ASEAN Power Grid (APG) Vision including through successful pathfinder projects advancing regional integration and energy resilience. We further encouraged innovation as one of the main drivers of the energy transition process to facilitate research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) of cleaner, resilient, efficient, and safe energy technology options. 

We emphasized the value of education and academia to promote research, development, and innovation in sustainable energy technologies through the increase of international triple-helix cooperation amongst government, private sector, and academia in facilitating access to upgraded clean technologies, and improved greener infrastructure for supplying affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy system. 

We sought to promote cooperation among EAS participating countries to mobilize the public and private sectors, international organizations, and other stakeholders to promote investment in clean energy infrastructure, and low-carbon technologies, and support smart cities development towards accelerating equitable, inclusive, sustainable growth, and climate action through initiatives such as the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN). We further sought to raise public awareness of and enhance participation in ecological protection, climate action, and energy efficiency and conservation. 

CDE Comment:   

Russia is a member of the EAS and will play a major role in energy security, almost certainly eclipsing that of the United States. This was apparent where unlike the G20 and APEC forums, Russia was not singled out for specific criticism over the Ukraine conflict, with the EAS instead stating that it recognized various aspects of the conflict and urged negotiations to stop it. Neither of these was put forward by the G20 or APEC. Russia isn’t solely a hydrocarbon player however, it is also one of the world’s largest builders of nuclear power plants, and it can be expected to be involved in providing nuclear, clean solutions to EAS members as well as oil and gas. Russia has companies capable of building various pipeline connectivity into Asia, just as it has with China and Japan. Routing via third countries such as in Central Asia through to South Asia cannot be ruled out.  

China also has a large say in this as a major energy infrastructure and investor itself. Key to understanding this is not just that a Russia-China energy axis concedes East Asia as vassal states, which will be the US position, but also that both require supply chains from East Asia to feed their economic development and populations, an issue especially pertinent to the PRC. Getting Eastern Asian produce to markets in China and a lesser degree Russia is also key to appreciating this is intended as a symbiotic relationship.  

Both China and Russia will be serious investors in the ‘Asian Smart Cities’ projects. While China has long been an investor in the region, Russia will now, in the event of the EU cutting itself adrift from Russian finance and supplies, be an increasingly important patron of East Asian trade and investment.   

Promoting volunteerism for sustainable Development 

We acknowledged that volunteerism can be a powerful and cross-cutting means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We also recognized the importance of volunteerism in addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s lives, livelihood, and well-being, particularly in supporting national responses and recovery and advocating regional partnerships. 

We stressed the role of volunteerism in reducing the impacts of unemployment and poverty, promoting good health, facilitating the provision of quality education, and inducing well-being. We recalled the role of volunteerism as an important resource for resilience in disaster management and humanitarian assistance. 

We underlined the importance of volunteerism in promoting respect for cultural and religious diversity and its role in strengthening friendly relations, mutual understanding, trust, and tolerance among people. We agreed to promote the work of volunteers, including UN Volunteers in dealing with the COVID-19 socio-economic consequences, and promote diversity, inclusion, and gender equality within the UN Volunteers framework 

We expressed support for activities fostering the recognition and promotion of regular and sustained volunteerism. In this regard, we encouraged the sharing of experience, best practices, and plans to promote volunteerism and volunteer exchanges as well as the development and implementation of joint volunteer programs and projects. 

We sought to promote training courses to develop skills and relevant competencies for volunteers and enhance the role of women and youth in addressing challenges together in the face of both traditional and non-traditional challenges in the region through relevant volunteering programs and initiatives. 

We acknowledged the ongoing volunteerism work under the plans of action between ASEAN and its dialogue partners and the role of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program in promoting global volunteerism. We also encouraged volunteerism to be integrated into national development strategies. 

CDE Comment:  

The volunteering concept is interesting as it implies a direct contract between individual and state in which a mutual bond exists to promote growth and national development. That has gradually ceased to exist in the West, replaced in turn by corporate-operated charity and NGO structures whose commitment to cause rather than individual profiteering can often be questioned. Instead, the EAS has called upon a huge resource of organized individuals to be put to work – under the UN charters as govern volunteer work as a national and regional resource. While not age-specific, the East Asia region is young, with parts of Southeast Asia possessing young, fast-growing workforces. India is set to overtake China as the most populous country next year, while Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam enjoy relatively low old-age dependency ratios. India, Vietnam, and Malaysia are likely to benefit from the demographic dividend compared to other younger economies, as they have relatively favorable demographics and better governance and education frameworks.  

In addition, relatively large working-age populations in both India and Vietnam mean that labor-intensive industries may benefit from economies of scale and find solid domestic demand. Collectively organizing the entire EAS population into providing partial volunteering work across all aspects of society will help unleash a huge, concentrated effort across many social fields. That will require an increasing amount of national pride and identity to be expressed to allow East Asian individuals to be motivated as to the reasons why part of their time and efforts should be put into communal, rather than individual efforts. That will mean an increase in regional discipline and collective, organized groups. Not exactly a throwback to communism, but a new direction in organizing mass labor for the benefit of the community. How this is structured will be a key element in deciding how far East Asia achieves fairness and competition when balanced against a volunteer system that if well managed will be an asset, but if poorly managed or politically viewed as a controllable resource could impose an authoritarian society at the behest of despots. This is a risk that will need to be managed to extract and maintain basic human competitiveness while at same time permitting individualism and innovation, while simultaneously maintaining strong personal identification with the state. 

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