KayJay on ASEAN beyond 50

August 17, 2017

KayJay on ASEAN beyond 50

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As ASEAN celebrates its Golden Jubilee, it is opportune for us to take a step back and ask our people what they want of the regional bloc in the next 50 years before striving forward together as one community.

THERE has never been a better time to examine ASEAN as a regional bloc, how far we have come and where we are heading next. It has been exactly 50 years since ASEAN was formed and since then, this regional bloc has never been stronger and more prominent in the global stage.

Malaysia will always be a pro-active member of ASEAN and other multilateral organisations. Our success story as a nation has been predicated upon the stability provided by a multilateral framework. Malaysia as a country is one that reaches beyond its potential and one that has always set its sight on the distant future. For that reason, we must be integrated into a region that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The past is prologue while the future is ours to shape. While taking lessons from the past, we must continue the work of building the future.

Immediately after the 1969 riots, Malaysia embarked on the New Economic Policy, which was to be a new deal for Malaysia in eradicating poverty and rebalancing the economic distribution in the country. Thirty years later, that was followed by Vision 2020, which would leapfrog Malaysia to a country that is modern and developed.

As we are nearing 2020, it became imperative for us to ask ourselves “what’s next?”. The world in 2050 will be much different from the world today – what will guide us to face this future?

This is I have been tasked to reach as many youths as possible to get their aspirations of what they want to see the nation be in the future, to be recorded in a massive plan called the National Transformation 2050 (TN50).

TN50 is an initiative to plan for the future of Malaysia in the period between 2020 and 2050. From the vision of becoming a developed nation, we should strive to be among the top countries in economic development, citizen well-being and innovation.

For this, I’ve spent the first six months of 2017 traveling through all corners of Malaysia, reaching out to more than one million youths and what they aspire for. Most of them coalesce around wanting a future that is fair, sustainable, competitive, united and happy.

What that means is we want a future that goes beyond the old measurement of GDP growth as an indicator of success to one that looks at well-being more comprehensively. One that looks into wealth and income inequality, healthcare, access to quality education, environmental protection, a good standard of living, integrated public transport, sporting achievement, civic consciousness and greater investments into scientific research, among many others.

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With shared dreams come shared responsibility – and nothing binds a society better than having a common weight on their shoulders. Similarly, as ASEAN heads towards 2050, it is opportune for us to take a step back, ask our people what they want of ASEAN in 2050 and then strive forward together as one community.

The challenge of automation and robots, the need for a differently-skilled and adaptive workforce, the breakdown of societal fabric into smaller family units, the shifting powerhouses in global trade and many other challenges await us in the near horizon.

Though individual countries are looking at these in their own way, there are many areas we can embrace together, leveraging on individual strength to compensate for individual weaknesses, so ASEAN can future proof the region and truly become a global powerhouse in the next 33 years.

What would we like ASEAN to be in the next decade, or five decades? The current generation entrusted with the responsibility to shape the future of ASEAN would like to see an ASEAN that will be able to realise all of its potential. An association consisting of 10 sovereign high-income nations fully developed with prosperity for all. It is indeed a tall objective, but not an impossible one, for ASEAN is a work perpetually in progress passing from one generation to the next, a sacred trust to be upheld.

I am an optimist on the future of ASEAN and I am a firm believer in its role as the catalyst for peace and prosperity in this region. Our fate in ASEAN has been pre-determined by our geography. As the saying goes, we can choose our friends but we cannot choose our neighbours.

The success of one nation in the region will have a positive bearing on all, while the failure of any will have a calamitous effect on all. ASEAN’s future is in its togetherness. We can either leverage on our collective strengths to soar together towards greater heights or go separately to face a more dangerous and challenging world.

Economically, we must continue to build upon the ASEAN Economic Community. More integration is needed, not less. By all means draw lessons from Brexit but the right ones not the wrong ones. We must be serious to further bring down barriers to trade both tariff and non-tariff.

We must work to better integrate our economy and welcome investments, ease the process of doing business, and protect intellectual property while better leveraging our various competitive advantages. Healthy competition coupled with pragmatic cooperation must be the way forward.

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ASEAN leaders must focus on good governance, fight corruption, end crony capitalism and work for peace, stability and development with equity. Make ASEAN relevant to the lives of Southeast Asians. That means more action and less talk.–Din Merican

We must work to make ASEAN more relevant to the needs of members and the challenges that they are facing, be it political, security or economic. ASEAN will continue to thrive, despite its many challenges, if every member perseveres to make it a national priority; for the national interest of each member could only be advanced effectively through ASEAN collectively.

The first 50 years is coming to an end, so let us now turn the work at hand to the next 50 years dedicating it to the future generation. Let us continue to build on the dreams of the founding fathers of ASEAN who started a journey so improbable that they themselves in their wildest imaginations never could have thought how successful it would eventually be.

That 50 years later, we are marveling at their collective wisdom in every capital of a united ASEAN is the most fitting tribute of all to this greatest and most enduring of endeavours.–by Khairy Jamaluddin

Khairy Jamaluddin is the Youth and Sports Minister. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

ASEAN-50: From here on ASEAN Centrality must mean Internal Centrality

August 15, 2017

ASEAN-50: From here on ASEAN Centrality must mean Internal Centrality

by Tang Siew Mun and Jason Salim


In a rare moment of political unity, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) unhesitatingly and with unanimity  urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) to “comply fully with United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

Image result for ASEAN CentralityASEAN must be able to navigate through the storm of US-China rivalry in its own backyard


At the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Manila that ended on August 5, the grouping also asked Pyongyang to commit to “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.”

Many have touted this as a sign that the 50-year-old regional organisation has finally come of age as it wades into the high-stakes game of international security.

In retrospect, this is not the first time ASEAN has spoken out against North Korea’s efforts to develop and acquire nuclear weapons, a principled stance consistent with its Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone declaration adopted in 1971. However, some have accused ASEAN of having a track record of “all talk, no action.”

As ASEAN commemorates its golden jubilee, it would need to rectify its credibility deficit by backing up strong words with equally appropriate actions.

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More Action Less Talk

In the case of the Korean nuclear issue, the grouping could collectively take tangible actions to cut off North Korea’s business interests in the region and support other measures approved by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2371. A failure to follow up on this or any of its firm rhetoric would render any ASEAN declaration weak and toothless.

In fact, ASEAN’s privileged position as the convenor of East Asian cooperation can no longer be taken for granted. For decades now, ASEAN has been the leader and innovator in designing and leading pan-Asian collaborative frameworks such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (since 1994), the East Asian Summit (since 2005), and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (since 2010).

These fora have exemplified ASEAN’s long-standing desire to work with major and other middle powers outside the region for the security and stability of the region, but the regional organisation now faces an uphill task to accommodate the whims and wishes of these same powers.

In the face of such pressure, ASEAN must realise that the idea of “centrality” must mean more than merely being in the “centre of the action” or acting as organiser and chauffeur.

ASEAN can hold on to its vaunted centrality only if it continues to have the trust of the major powers as an honest and impartial interlocutor. At the same time, if ASEAN allows the interests of the major powers to solely dominate and overpower these fora’s agendas, these ASEAN-led processes would face the real threat of obsolescence, to the detriment of the region.

Moving forward, it may not be enough for ASEAN to be impartial. Impartiality often means neutrality, and that would lead to “silence.” ASEAN is hard-pressed to balance between the imperative of impartiality and being a relevant regional entity guided by long-standing principles. In other words, there is no point for ASEAN to be “at the centre” if centrality serves only to perpetuate the interests of the major powers at the expense of ASEAN’s own.

All 10 member states must be willing to let ASEAN speak with a clarion voice that may at times contradict some of the major powers. ASEAN should act and speak on an even keel with all of its dialogue partners and hold its own.

ASEAN serves two important purposes for its members. First, it is bound by the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As a grouping of mostly small states, the collective voices of 10 countries in unity and solidarity are more audible and louder than speaking individually — something ASEAN has more often than not succeeded in facilitating over the past 50 years.

Second, ASEAN allows member states to register their stance in a collective setting for situations that might not allow them to do so in individual capacities.

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ASEAN is the best strategic mouthpiece available for individual member states to speak out under the protective and safe umbrella of collective action. However, as commendable as ASEAN’s decision to take a firm stand on a security issue outside Southeast Asia may be, it should seek to avoid double standards particularly when it comes to intra-ASEAN security issues.

The Rohingya crisis, human trafficking and the growth of radical Muslim fundamentalism are just some of the lingering security issues closer to home in which ASEAN should take the lead in addressing.

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Although ASEAN centrality has almost always referred to ASEAN’s position relative to the “outside”, ASEAN should work hard to address the issue of “internal centrality.” There is no point in ASEAN gaining traction outside Southeast Asia when the grouping in effectively invisible within the region.

ASEAN has to address the critical issue of making itself matter to Southeast Asians, and let ASEAN’s citizens understand and own the concept of “community.”

Moving forward, the disconnect between ASEAN and Southeast Asians is one of the major challenges for ASEAN. Without support and stakeholdership from the people, the hard choices to make community-building work would be difficult, especially if leaders fall into the temptation of relapsing into nationalistic stances.

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This would require having the political courage to perhaps even selectively set aside ASEAN’s “most cherished” principle of non-interference for the sake of the common good.

If ASEAN is to be a community in the fullest and truest sense of the word, it has to be able to equate domestic security with regional security, and take collective action whenever necessary.

Outlining firm and principled stances towards external developments are all well and good, but cooperating on common security threats in tangible ways would make ASEAN even more relevant to the public. Let that be our shared vision for ASEAN as it trudges on towards the next 50 years, and the next 50. — TODAY

* Dr Tang Siew Mun and Jason Salim  at ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore.

Manila’s pivot to pragmatism on the South China Sea

August 14, 2017

Manila’s pivot to pragmatism on the South China Sea

by EAF Editorial Board


The Philippines is at the frontline of China’s entry into a strategic theatre in Asia that has been dominated by the United States since World War II. Its experience of China’s rise is a sometimes fraught daily reality.

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In disputed South China Sea territory, episodes like the standoffs between military personnel on remote reefs, tiffs over fishing rights, and brinkmanship over ‘red lines’ like the Scarborough Shoal are a reminder of the importance of the waters to the west of the Philippine archipelago.

The Philippines’ handling of China’s rise holds lessons for other countries sandwiched between Beijing’s provocation and US pressures.

For one thing, the Philippines might offer lessons in how to ‘compartmentalise’ different aspects of the relationship with China, as Aileen Baviera suggests in this week’s lead article. Despite immense tensions inherited from the Aquino administration, the government of Rodrigo Duterte has forged a path that might allow his country to benefit from economic engagement with China, while continuing to speak up on issues of national security and integrity.

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First and foremost is Manila’s acknowledgement that, like it or not, the strategic status quo in the South China Sea has changed — and its own policy must reflect the new reality. The Aquino government’s commitment to using the instruments of international law was laudable. And Aquino’s stance may have gained some ground in the face of hard power realities. But in the face of Chinese determination, and inconsistent US policy, Duterte has taken a different approach.

‘Duterte’, writes Baviera, ‘has downplayed maritime disputes in favour of pursuing close economic and political ties with China’. The President, tired of megaphone diplomacy’s interfering with his goal of maximising the economic benefits of the China relationship, has agreed to leave the territorial disputes at a stalemate while he develops the bilateral economic relationship.

Such pragmatism has come from a curious, and indeed unlikely, source in Duterte. He is a strongman populist who is eroding Philippine institutions, favours brutal solutions to domestic social problems, and, on the surface, possesses an unsophisticated understanding of international affairs. Part of his rapport with China is presumed to stem from a shared disdain for Western preoccupations with human rights.

But Duterte’s preoccupation with policy ends — and disregard for the niceties of the means — may end up serving the Philippines well when it comes to the China relationship.

A mutually acceptable resolution of South China Sea disputes looks likely to entail a boost in Chinese aid and infrastructure investment, which the Philippine economy could use to maintain its healthy growth momentum. As Baviera notes, ‘China now sees the Philippines as a welcome partner in its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative’. China has responded appreciatively, desisting from further provocations such as beginning construction activities on the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

The pivot to pragmatism from Manila has also had positive spillovers for ASEAN, a central player in any sustainable settlement between China and regional states over the South China Sea. Instead of undermining regional resolve on territorial issues, ‘Duterte’s China policy shift also reduces disagreement within ASEAN over the handling of the disputes’, and ‘forces some of the other stakeholders who were formerly free-riding on Philippine efforts to do more on the issue, thus easing pressure on the Philippines’.

This dynamic makes the formation of a common ASEAN position more likely: polarisation and provocation on the part of one aggrieved member state can spell doom for ASEAN’s ability to work towards consensus and retain its relevance on South China Sea disputes.

Signs of ASEAN consensus appeared in May, when the ASEAN states and China agreed on a framework for a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. Though the Code of Conduct is not yet a done deal, the more a durable solution to conflict in the South China Sea has credibility as a product of a multilateral Southeast Asian consensus, the better.

But, as Baviera concludes, the key ingredient is whether China will reward a more nuanced Philippines position with accommodations of its own. The opportunity for de-escalation of tensions, allowing for a sustainable resolution to the South China Sea issue and enhanced trust among Southeast Asians, is Beijing’s for the taking.

The EAF Editorial Board is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Amy King, Liam Gammon, Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and Ben Hillman, and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.


ASEAN– New Challenges Ahead after 50 years

August 12, 2017

ASEAN– New Challenges Ahead after credible 50 years

by Dr. Munir Majid


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FIRST, let us give credit where it is due: 50 years of continued existence in half a century of challenge and change is a feat of achievement. ASEAN can consider that the cup is half full.

The problem with ASEAN is that not enough is known about it. And what is known is usually about where it has failed, like its failure to take a common stand or to propose creative cooperation in the South China Sea disputes.

Or its pusillanimity in removing non-tariff barriers (NTBs) which are seriously hindering ASEAN economic integration and establishment of a single market and production base.

The fact that so many things – the half-full cup – are happening on the ground, is lost. Taking just the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), how many Malaysians, for instance, appreciate there are over 1,000 of our companies all over ASEAN, taking advantage of regional growth against the frustrations of investment laws and domestic bureaucracies?

How many are aware of huge Thai companies like Charoen Pokphand (one of the largest private conglomerates in the world, employing 500,000 people across the globe) with big plans to make Malaysia its halal food hub?

Just imagine, Buddhist Thailand working in Muslim Malaysia to propel a fast-growing industry forward – despite whatever halal certification problems it might face in Indonesia, for instance – for its food products. Charoen Pokphand will find a way, as it has all over the world, since its establishment in 1921.

The point is, what is heard are the complaints. Inevitably, as these are louder than what is quietly achieved, with whatever difficulty, by the likes of Sime Darby or Gamuda Land or auto-parts company Ingress Corp Bhd.

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AirAsia Bhd, however loud and incessant its complaints, is now the largest low-cost airline in Asia, truly well-established in ASEAN.

The other side of the story, of course, is – the glass is half empty. The loud, big, private sector push is for ASEAN to strive for optimality.

This is where the great divide begins. Old ASEAN hand Bilahari Kausikan of Singapore once famously said ASEAN is a cow which some people expect to be a horse. The suggestion is, it cannot.

However, why not? Even if it cannot, is the cow fully-milked? Perhaps there should be a convergence between those who say the glass is half full and those who say it is half empty.

With respect to the AEC, there is great effort by the official ASEAN side to engage the private sector to forge cooperation, if not quite convergence. The AEC 2025 Blueprint clearly recognises the role of the private sector in the economic integration process.

In 2015, ASEAN Economic Ministers acknowledged there has to be concentrated effort to get NTBs reduced, and agreed with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) that the way forward is by concentrating on a few people-centric sectors – agri-food, healthcare, retail and e-commerce, and logistics.

In the middle of 2016, the ASEAN Trade Facilitation Joint Consultative Committee (ATF-JCC) was revived, with part of its remit being to form working groups with expert private sector entities to address NTBs in those four sectors with, additionally, the tourism sector.

In January this year, the ATF-JCC met in Bangkok and ASEAN-BAC was called to discuss the way forward. Some progress in terms of customs procedures was made just recently on how intra-ASEAN trade could be facilitated. But work on the specific, prioritised sectors has yet to begin.

This is part of the reason why, while there is cooperation between the official and private sectors, there is not quite convergence. Rate of progress: the process is not just slow. It is long, grinding and exhausting.

Beyond the AEC, more generally, there is great need to raise the profile of ASEAN among the people at large, especially the young, whose knowledge of what it does is lacking. It is like a close-kept secret. The top-down approach among those of a certain age has to change.

ASEAN’s young population have to be brought into the whole process, to energise it and to form the future that will be theirs. If ASEAN wants to bring them along into that future, it is absolutely essential to form an ASEAN Youth Consultative body to hear from the young what they want of and for ASEAN.

If ASEAN does not do this, it will be wasting one of its most valuable assets – its demographic vitality. They can take on the digital world.

After we recognise credit should be given to ASEAN for what it has achieved, it is a totally pro-ASEAN thing to do to highlight the formidable challenges it faces going forward. The biggest is happening now: digitisation.

ASEAN has not quite addressed what is now popularly dubbed Economy 4.0. ASEAN talks about the opportunities of e-commerce and, correctly, intones that the trading platforms, payments settlement and connectivity have to be in place to drive it. But even as this being talked about – and inadequate progress is made – the sweep of the digital economy might have uncomfortable consequences for ASEAN if it does not prepare itself.

The fourth industrial revolution is more comprehensive than just e-commerce. There are vast opportunities for new industries and services, as well as for greater productivity. But there are also grave challenges to employment and skills development.

ASEAN needs to fashion clear policies on education and training – with emphasis on cognitive skills – and retraining, and on employment displacement. Yet the ASEAN mantra to attract investment remains low-cost of production. But will the manufacturing industries come to low-labour cost Indonesia or Myanmar in the new digital economy?

Unemployment and unemployability could seriously affect these countries, particularly their micro, small and medium enterprises sector. Serious socio-economic problems could scupper ASEAN economic integration, indeed threaten regional cohesion.

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The time to act is now. ASEAN really has not that much time to celebrate its creditable 50 years.

The EU a Model for ASEAN?

August 7, 2017

The EU a Model for ASEAN?

Laura Allison-Reumann
Philomena Murray

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The debate about whether the EU is a model for other regions has been around for some time. Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband suggested in 2007 that the EU should be a ‘model power’ rather than a ‘superpower’. The EU would show ‘other actors that European norms can also work for them, … provide economic incentives for adopting these norms’ and ‘shape policies of global competitors by example and persuasion’.

But there are significant problems with classifying the EU as a model, as well as with creating an image of the EU as a model power.

External perceptions of the EU in Asia do not often reflect or culminate in a classification of an ‘EU model’. The realities of regional integration outside of Europe — such as in the case of ASEAN — do not sit well with ideas of mimicking or emulating a model.

Rather than copying the EU model, when ASEAN has responded to pressures such as changing international humanitarian expectations or questions of economic governance, it has done so by simultaneously consolidating ASEAN’s normative integrity, its independence and adopting best practices from a wide array of sources.

The independence of ASEAN’s decision-making and its own priorities and objectives challenge the idea of an EU model for Southeast Asian regionalism. There is some evidence that it remains a source of inspiration and reference, but it rarely features in ASEAN elite narratives or official documentation.

When it comes to similarities, it is true that the EU and ASEAN have both used economic integration and community-building to foster and maintain security and further economic development. In the broadest and loosest sense, the idea that the EU has been a model for Southeast Asian regionalism may have once had some legitimacy. But this claim would need proof of a causal relationship between ASEAN developments and EU influence. The substance of ASEAN integration, ASEAN’s priorities and norms and institutional innovations all point to the significant limitations of any ‘model power’ of the EU.

It is difficult to discern a desire by ASEAN leaders to emulate the EU, even though many statements over the years have expressed admiration for the EU. Especially since the Brexit referendum, there is a rise in scepticism of EU-style regional integration.

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Former Secretary General of ASEAN Surin Pitsuwan has long suggested that the EU is an inspiration rather than a model for ASEAN. Similarly, Singaporean scholar Reuben Wong has argued that the EU does not exercise ‘model power’ and that ‘the EU exerts some power over ASEAN — but merely as a reference point’. He argues that the EU has a passive rather than active influence on ASEAN.

Indeed, research shows that when learning from the EU, ASEAN actively and judiciously accepts, rejects or adapts aspects of EU integration that suit its own context. In other words, ASEAN officials and policymakers have been more likely to turn to the EU for reference, support or inspiration based on functional utility rather than the normative attractiveness associated with models.

The EU has toned down its own language regarding a putative model over time. It has also shifted its approach to supporting Southeast Asian integration. Although the EU is a strong supporter of regional integration in Southeast Asia, over time it has also recognised that ASEAN has its own process to follow, and that European support should be guided by ASEAN, rather than the EU projecting a model.

There has been considerable willingness on the part of ASEAN to learn from the EU. Visits such as those made by ASEAN’s Eminent Persons Group for the ASEAN Charter to Europe in 2006 and by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) officials in 2011, 2013 and 2015 attest to this.

ASEAN also went beyond the EU in the search for inspiration for the ASEAN Charter, looking also to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) with its short constitution, which proved to be a more suitable format for ASEAN than the EU’s lengthy treaties. For one ASEAN official, the EU offers lessons on what ASEAN should avoid in that ‘sometimes the EU experience is good for us because we learn what not to do’.

The use of regional ‘models’ should be treated with caution. This practice emphasises emulation and downplays learning, mutual lesson-sharing and cooperation, essentially reducing the EU’s partners to passive mimics rather than dynamic innovators. It allocates all agency to the EU and effectively assigns a receptive or passive role to the other regional body, with little or no reflexivity.

It also creates subjective benchmarks that do not allow for feasible alternatives to a dominant — and in this case Eurocentric — experience to be given sufficient credit and attention. This is not to suggest a morally or culturally relativistic disregard for models, but rather an acknowledgement that adherence to, and support for, the intrinsic values of the EU can be pursued through other means than projecting an EU model.

Further, other regional bodies may not share the values that the EU espouses, just as some would regard the EU’s institutionally embedded governance structure as not appropriate or exportable. The dangers of integration snobbery come to mind.

Finally, the question must be asked as to the source of the idea of a ‘model’: is it self-proclaimed, determined by those seeking a model or template, or is it created by outside observers? Unless all parties agree, there is a high probability that the credentials of any asserted model will be debatable, and partnership should instead be emphasised.

To an extent, the EU has attempted to promote its experience as a form of external driver of ASEAN. But that experience is not a model.

Laura-Allison Reumann is Research Fellow at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Philomena Murray is Professor in the School of Social and Political Sciences and Director of the Research Unit on Regional Governance in the EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges at The University of Melbourne. 

This article was originally published here  https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/should-the-eu-be-considered-a-model-for-asean

ASEAN@50–Finding the Right Equilibrium

August 6, 2017

ASEAN@50–Finding the Right Equilibrium

by Syed Hamid Albar


Image result for Founding Fathers of ASEANThe Founding ASEAN Leaders on August 8, 1967

ASEAN is a rule-based regional organisation, but the challenge now is to introduce mechanisms compelling member states to play by the rules.

ASEAN embraces its golden jubilee this year. The time is right to understand what worked and what we could have done better, and how do we move ahead as one cohesive alliance against the backdrop of ever-shifting global dynamics.

Following the failures of the Association of South-East Asia (ASA) and Maphilindo  Greater Malayan Federation (MAPHILINDO), have the aims and visions of the five original ASEAN member states which signed the Bangkok Declaration on August 8, 1967 to chart a new future for the region been fulfilled?

The crisp answer would be yes. With 10 members now, the coalition has weathered the ups and downs of member state relationships anchored upon a set of core values.

We call this the “Asean Way”, striking a balance between consensual decision-making and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs in a show of mutual respect.
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We can take pride that the ASEAN region is principally stable and peaceful. The measured pace has helped it to attain this position and ASEAN has done well, taking into account the fact that the region is a microcosm of various religions, languages, ethnicities and cultures.

However, the inter-subjective structure of ASEAN has proven to be a stumbling block in resolving potential flash points or conflicts that could destabilise the region and ASEAN unity due to exposure to geopolitical happenings such as overlapping land and maritime claims, China’s advancing presence and the alleged “cold war” between the United States and China.

Additionally, member countries do not appear to share a common view on what is democracy or human rights. ASEAN is still sensitive on the question of non-interference and its treatment of human rights issues. Reticence to take a firm collective stand, for example on the Rohingya issue in Myanmar, has been a thorn on our side, questioning the very values that ASEAN stands for.

There is undoubtedly a need for deeper examination on challenges confronting ASEAN as it embraces democracy and economic liberalism. Continued denial on this subject will not bode well for sustaining Asean’s credibility and integrity.

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The ASEAN Economic Community has been firmly established and an integrated people-centred ASEAN has been declared, based on the three pillars of ASEAN under the Bali Concords I & II. But what do these mean?

Has ASEAN been able to build a cohesive and united body, consistent with its Charter? Has it succeeded in building trust and understanding in order to create an ASEAN identity?

For too long, we have made this an exclusive “talk shop” platform for government-to-government dealings, but the time has come for us to recognise that as a political platform, ASEAN must take sustainable and constructive steps to make a firmer collective stand on issues affecting the region.

The institutional and government-centred character of the past must be shed to make way for inclusiveness and relevance to civil society.

These are important to resolve as we have seen how different member states have varying interpretations of the relationship between the individual, state and civil society, and sometimes, the core values of freedom.

Due to rigidly sticking to the issue of sovereignty and non-interference as a regional organisation, ASEAN has been, in critical instances, slow to give its collective or common response to natural disasters like the tsunami, Cyclone Nargis and the haze. If these were a test of our effectiveness, we failed, and it is sometimes quite a wonder how member countries are able to rise above conflicting areas to register healthy political and economic growth.

Malaysia has used the slogan of unity and diversity as a source of its strength. ASEAN must do the same. Otherwise, the differences and diversities of ASEAN can be a threat to peace, stability and security.

There are also frustrations about the rigid application and inflexible processes of ASEAN’s decision-making and yet, we have witnessed how hope and optimism steered the evolution of this organisation.

Beginning its initial journey based on a loose framework of rules, over the years, ASEAN has grown into a full-fledged legal and rule-based regional organisation guided by its Charter. The challenge moving forward will be to introduce mechanisms and enforcement tools compelling member states to play by the rules.

It is encouraging that ASEAN leaders, previously criticised for leaning towards “golf diplomacy”, are more willing to come to the table to confront intractable issues. However, discussions alone will not be enough.

In grappling with complexities the future will bring, we must form meaningful responses to the needs of a changing world. Our actions must not just resonate with governments but also with civil society from all walks of life.

As leaders, we must have the courage to act with gravitas and gumption in the interest of the greater good for the continued growth of our region.

The value proposition for standing together as one coalition is strong. With a total population of 628 million and a combined gross domestic product of US$3 trillion (RM12.9 trillion), the ASEAN region today is a formidable global power bloc from economic, political and security perspectives.

We stand on the cusp of an era that will see Asean leadership make its way into the global order. Thus, in mulling the existential narrative for ASEAN over the next 10 years, we must build greater resilience in our region and tackle existing challenges with all the seriousness we can muster.

ASEAN cannot afford to be lulled into a false sense of security in past glories. Instead, we must take a brave, no-nonsense approach to finding that point of equilibrium that will further elevate our standing amid new realities in the international system.

*Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar was former Foreign Minister. This is one of a special series of articles to mark the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping by the ASEAN members of the Asia News Network. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords:Asia News Network , Asean 50

Read more at http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/asean50/2017/08/04/asean50-finding-the-right-equilibrium-asean-is-a-rulebased-regional-organisation-but-the-challenge-n/#VwRwz6u0yw5wBWdR.99