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Tue. January 31, 2023
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Story From Doha: The Start of Middle-Eastern Look East Policy
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By Felix Sharief
(the views expressed are his own)

The story of ASEAN’s remarkable growth has reached the Middle-East. During a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN Committee in Doha ACD with Qatari Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa on July 22, the Qatari Foreign Ministry made a surprise by announcing the plan to establish a dedicated unit to fostering the economic ties with Southeast Asia regional grouping.

To start the realization of Qatar plans, the Filipino Ambassador to Qatar told that they had promised to visit ASEAN countries in the near future. Meanwhile the initial to have a deeper engagement could be tracked to February 2013 where the Qatari Ambassador to Indonesia and ASEAN, H. E. Muhammad Khater Ibrahim Al-Khater exchanged views on expanding cooperation between ASEAN and Qatar in a meeting with Secretary-General SG of ASEAN, H. E. Le Loung Minh in ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta. On that occasion, the ASEAN SG also welcomed Ambassador Khater’s official assumption of his role as the Ambassador of Qatar to ASEAN after his presentation of Letter of Credence.

Qatar is on a right track to have stronger engagement with ASEAN with regards to the bloc is aiming to have an ASEAN Economic Community AEC by the end of 2015. With the current 600 million population and expected to become a USD 10 trillion economy by 2030, dwarfing China’s current USD 7.2 billion, ASEAN is like a promising land.

When Doha held The Inside Investor Asia Forum on October last year which attended by the former ASEAN SG, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the Qatar Investment Authority looked at developing joint funds with some of the ASEAN countries to invest in each of them. Thailand recently agreed to import two million tons of liquefied natural gas LNG starting 2015 and will open the door for some broader investment in the Thai economy. Qatar has so far dished out capital to the Malaysian financial services industry, Singapore’s hospitality sector, farming projects in Thailand and Cambodia, tourism complexes in Myanmar and Laos and a planned mining project in the Philippines. Meanwhile, with Southeast Asia’s largest economy, Indonesia, Qatar has set up a joint investment fund worth USD 1 billion with a focus on mineral resources and infrastructure projects.

Qatar strong economic interests with Southeast Asian countries should be followed by greater role in political sectors to contribute for regional peace, prosperity and stability. Qatar has undergone a remarkable transformation to emerge on the global scene as a heavyweight power in contemporary peacemaking. As we’ve seen, Qatar has played a role as mediator in Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan and lower-profile efforts in Palestine and in the border conflict between Djibouti and Eritrea. Qatar’s experiences could be brought to Southeast Asia and offer conflict resolution assistance to ASEAN countries, particularly conflicts involving the Muslim minorities in the region such as Islamic insurgency in Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand and the recent clash between Moslem minorities in Arakhan and Rakhine Provinces in Myanmar with the Buddhist extremists.

Qatar also could contribute to the greater cooperation between two regional groups, ASEAN and the Gulf Cooperation Council GCC. Qatar’s distinctive foreign policy could lead the GCC into having a deeper partnership with ASEAN. There many avenues of cooperation that can be explored by the two regional groups such as exploring the possibility of developing a trade and investment framework agreement and enhancing the prospects of future cooperation in labor and enhancing consular cooperation, as there are lots of Indonesian, Filipino and Malaysian migrant workers in GCC countries. Such cooperation between the two secretariats is also worth exploring to share best practices, knowledge and the exchange of information. This could be realized by the GCC countries by assigning their respective ambassadors to ASEAN. As of today, only Saudi Arabia and Qatar have accredited their respective ambassadors to ASEAN.

Kudos should be given to ACD comprised of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and its current chairman, Vietnamese Ambassador to Qatar, H. E. Le Hong Phan. Their collective efforts to enhance external parties to have a deeper engagement with ASEAN should be applauded. Another ASEAN committee in Middle-East countries such as United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain should now follow the fruitful steps taken by the Doha ACD.

Felix Sharief works as ASEAN Research Analyst at the British Embassy Jakarta. Previously he worked at the ASEAN Secretariat and House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia. He received his BA in International Relations from Universitas Nasional, Jakarta in 2011.

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