1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Ukraine summit: Which Southeast Asian nations are going?

David Hutt
June 14, 2024

World leaders are converging in the Bürgenstock Resort in Switzerland for a summit on peace in Ukraine. A handful of Southeast Asian delegates have flown in for the meeting.

The logo of the Summit on Peace in Ukraine is displayed outside the conference at the Buergenstock Resort in Switzerland
The Summit on Peace in Ukraine is taking place at the luxury Bürgenstock Resort overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland Image: Urs Flueeler/KEYSTONE/picture alliance

Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy specfically appealed to Asian countries to participate in a Switzerland-led peace summit taking place on Saturday and Sunday.

"We want Asia to know what is going on in Ukraine; Asia to support the end of the war," he said during a surprise visit to Singapore, where he attended the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security conference. "We want Asian leaders to attend the peace summit."

Being held at the swanky Bürgenstock Resort that overlooks Lake Lucerne in the Swiss village of Obbürgen, the summit is aimed at building on Zelenskyy's 10-point peace plan, which demands that Russia returns the Ukrainian territory it has captured, including Crimea. The plan also demands that Russia remove its troops and military assets.

The weekend's Alpine gathering follows on the heels of Zelenskyy's address to the German parliament on Tuesday, amid a Berlin-hosted conference to secure funds for Kyiv.

Of the 160 countries that were invited to the summit in Switzerland, around 90 accepted the invitation.

Swiss military personnel inside a razor wire fence inside the Global Peace Summit for Ukraine security zone in Obburgen near Burgenstock, Switzerland
Around 4,000 troops have been deployed and a ring of steel has been put in place around the Swiss Alpine venue Image: Pierre Albouy/REUTERS

Who from Asia will be at the Swiss summit?

Southeast Asia is split down the middle. Four countries — East Timor, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand — have confirmed their attendance. Malaysia and Indonesia haven't confirmed either way. Others were always going to be no-shows. In Singapore, Zelenskyy alleged that China — a "no limits" friend of Russia — had pressured some Asian countries not to attend, a claim the Chinese government denied.

According to the most recent State of Southeast Asia survey, an annual poll of "elite" opinion in the region by the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, the region clearly thinks Russia's war in Ukraine matters.

It was a top three geopolitical concern in most of the 10 countries surveyed, with only 5% of respondents across the region thinking the conflict had no impact on them.

When asked why the war matters, the vast majority (68%) said it was because the rise in energy and food prices were causing economic hardship at home.

Russia's friends in the region

The military junta that took power in Myanmar through a coup in 2021 is the most pro-Moscow country in the region and has received some military assistance from Russia the year after its putsch sparked a nationwide civil war.

Communist-run Laos has improved relations with Russia since 2022, and discussions are underway over some form of joint military cooperation. Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith was the only leader from a Southeast Asian state to attend the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow last month.

Ukraine defiant as Russian invasion enters third year

Vietnam is a former ally of the Soviet Union and, until recently, the country counted Russia as its largest arms provider. Now, they are "caught in a very tight spot," Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington, told DW.

Moscow's erosion of international laws is unnerving for Hanoi, which is engaged in heated disputes with Beijing over territory in the South China Sea.On the other hand, Vietnam is desperate to show that it has a neutral foreign policy, so as not to be drawn any further into US-China rivalry.

One way that Hanoi has professed its neutrality is by refusing to publicly criticize Russia or to allow itself to be pressured by Western states to do so.

This week, Russia's prominent business newspaper Vedomosti claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit Vietnam after his planned trip to North Korea.

Cambodia to stay away

Cambodia surprised many when its authoritarian government strongly came out in support of Ukraine in February 2022. Phnom Penh claimed this was because it knew the devastation of invasion, given the country's recent history of genocide and conflict.

This week, however, Phnom Penh announced that no Cambodian representative would attend the Swiss summit because it would be "unsuccessful" without Russia's participation.

Days later, Igor Driesmans, the EU's ambassador to Cambodia, said that he had met with Hun Sen, the head of Cambodia's Senate, and stressed the "importance of the Summit on Peace in Ukraine." 

East Timor, which only gained independence in 2002 after centuries of colonization by Portugal and then Indonesia, has consistently supported Ukraine in international forums.

The Philippines has firmly rooted itself to the West since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in 2022, following some unsuccessful attempts by his predecessor to move closer to Beijing. The US, Japan, and some European countries have upgraded defense relations with Manila since 2022.

Zelenskyy in Berlin for Ukraine Recovery Conference

Why is Thailand taking part in the summit?

On principle, as one of the world's smallest countries with a strong stance on sovereignty, Singapore opposes the use of force by big countries against smaller ones.

Thailand has also tried to remain fairly neutral during the conflict. One reason for the "fairly cordial ties" between Bangkok and Moscow is that Russian visitors have propped up the tourism and real estate markets in the country, said Abuza.

However, analysts believe that the reason that Bangkok announced its participation in the Switzerland-led summit is because of the civilian government taking office last year and the fact that the country is keen to improve its image in the West after being ruled by a military junta for over a decade.

"Thailand and Malaysia want to stay out of the squabbles of the major powers," while Indonesia is mostly concerned about the impact of the war on food and energy prices, Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told DW.

Will Malaysia and Indonesia attend?

Days ahead of the summit, it was still unclear whether Malaysia and Indonesia would send representatives, although Reuters reported that Indonesia would send its Swiss ambassador. Zelenskyy met both countries' leaders last month in Singapore, and both expressed interest but were non-committal, 

The Israel-Hamas war has shifted priorities for the region's two Muslim-majority countries. Malaysia especially has rebuked the US and European states for their stance on the conflict.

"Russia is viewed in some regional states as being Islamic-friendly while the US is seen as hostile to Islam," said Storey.

Few pundits expect the peace summit in Switzerland to move the needle on the Russia-Ukraine war, viewing it chiefly as a symbolic effort to consolidate international support for Kyiv.

But one important topic of discussion will be sanctions. Even those Southeast Asian countries that have consistently condemned Russia and will attend the summit have not fully enforced Russian sanctions. Many import cut-price crude oil and Russian grain, noted Abuza.

Singapore, despite imposing its own sanctions on Russia in early 2022, has allowed Russian oil to be traded and continues to engage economically with Moscow.

In 2023, the Malaysian firm Glocom was sanctioned by the US for selling semiconductors to Russia, in contravention of international sanctions.

Zelenskyy alleges attempts to disrupt upcoming peace summit

Edited by: Keith Walker

Before you leave: Every Friday, the DW Asia newsletter delivers compelling articles and videos from around the continent right to your inbox. Subscribe below.