Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand are the three cardinal points of the multilateral summits that marked the return of diplomacy at the tail end of a turbulent year
The difficult recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation rising at a record pace, the war in Ukraine, and tensions between the United States and China. In short, there were all the ingredients for a huge washout. Instead, the two weeks of multilateral summits in Southeast Asia ended on a high note. Cambodia can breathe a sigh of relief after hosting the ASEAN summit without a hitch. Concerns about the global economy, threats of recession, and food and energy security took center stage over the impasse of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Myanmar problem. Moreover, the 10 ASEAN members managed to make some tough decisions on long-standing issues. Starting with the bloc's announcement that it has accepted East Timor "in principle" as the bloc's 11th member, after more than 10 years of consideration. While eventual full membership will require a "criteria-based road map," East Timor will be able to attend all meetings as an observer member, albeit without decision-making rights. Relations with the United States and India have been elevated to ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships, making them the third and fourth dialogue partners to be granted this status, after China and Australia. Phnom Penh has demonstrated its ability to manage great-power rivalry. It has attended and co-chaired two summits with the United States, despite poor bilateral relations, showing the ability to handle difficult situations. Indonesia and Thailand achieved the same, with a final joint statement condemning the war in Ukraine but with a balanced text also accepted as "constructive" by their Russian counterparts. Above all, the G20 and APEC summits served as a springboard for a newfound dialogue between Washington and Beijing, with the important face-to-face meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in Bali. Meeting that was followed by intense diplomatic activity where the West, Asia and the Pacific seemed willing to build bridges in relations. For Southeast Asia and ASEAN, a test of maturity passed with flying colors.