By Asmau Ahmad
United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres on Saturday highlighted the importance of a single global economy at a time when geopolitical divides threaten to spark new conflicts and make older ones harder to resolve.
Guterres said at a press conference in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh that the global economy could not afford to be split into two opposing camps.
The UN chief was speaking to journalists a day after addressing regional leaders attending the 12th Summit between the UN and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“As I told yesterday’s summit meeting, we must avoid at all costs the division of the global economy into two parts, led by the two biggest economies – the United States and China,” he said in a statement.
“Such a rift, with two different sets of rules, two dominant currencies, two internets, and two conflicting strategies on artificial intelligence, would undermine the world’s capacity to respond to the dramatic challenges we face.”
He said ASEAN countries were well placed to bridge this divide, stressing that “we must have one global economy and global market with access for all.”
The UN chief also reported on some of the issues discussed at the summit, including the situation in Myanmar which he described as “an unending nightmare for the people of that country, and a threat to peace and security across the region.”
Myanmar’s military seized power in February 2021 and since then, the country has been in the grip of a political, human rights and humanitarian crisis.
Guterres said ASEAN had taken a principled approach to the issue through its Five-Point Consensus.
The plan was adopted in April 2021 and calls for an immediate cessation of violence, constructive dialogue among the parties, appointment of a Special Envoy, provision of humanitarian assistance, and a visit to the country by the Special Envoy.
“I urge all countries, including ASEAN members, to seek a unified strategy towards Myanmar, centred on the needs and aspirations of the country’s people,” he said.
The war in Ukraine, the global energy and food crisis, and the climate emergency were also on the agenda at the day-long summit.
“In these turbulent times, regional organisations including ASEAN are essential to building global solutions,” Guterres said.
The secretary-general travelled to Cambodia from Egypt, where the COP27 UN climate change conference is taking place.
Guterres is calling for a Climate Solidarity Pact for developed and emerging economies to combine resources and capacities to defeat climate change.
He is also pushing for leaders to reach agreement on a financial mechanism to support countries that suffer loss and damage from climate-related disasters.
The UN chief will travel next to Bali, Indonesia, for the G20 summit of the world’s major economies, which begins on Tuesday.
“My priority in Bali will be to speak up for countries in the Global South that have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergency, and now face crises in food, energy and finance – exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and crushing debt,” he said.
Guterres wants G20 leaders to adopt a stimulus package to provide developing countries with much-needed investments and liquidity.
The UN is also working to alleviate the global food crisis by extending a landmark initiative to get Ukrainian grain back on markets, and by removing obstacles to the Russian food and fertilizers exports.
The secretary-general was asked his view of human rights in the ASEAN region, and in host country Cambodia.
Although the situation is different from country to country, he stressed that human rights should be fully respected.
“Indeed, my appeal, and namely my appeal in a country like Cambodia is for the public space to be open and for human rights defenders and climate activists to be protected, and for the cooperation with civil society to be extended,” he said.
The secretary-general also expressed concern for Myanmar, saying systematic violations of human rights there are “absolutely unacceptable” and causing immense suffering for the population.
Asked about UN and ASEAN cooperation to resolve the Myanmar crisis, he said it was important that the Five-Point Consensus moves forward.
Indonesia will chair ASEAN next year, and Guterres expressed hope that its presidency would see the development of initiatives towards this objective.
“We need to go back to a democracy, to a transition to democracy. We need to release political prisoners. We need to establish an inclusive process, and I’m confident that the Indonesian presidency will be working hard in the next year in that respect.”
Guterres also underlined the UN’s clear position on Ukraine, again responding to a journalist’s question.
The Russian invasion was a violation of the UN Charter, he said, and a violation of the country’s territorial integrity.