Reboot, not Tinker, says T K Chua to Dr. Mahathir Mohamad & Co


June 22, 2018

Reboot, not Tinker, says T K Chua to Dr. Mahathir Mohamad & Co

 www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Drawing fairly from all PH component parties, Dr Mahathir Mohamad must appoint young MPs as ministers and allow them, instead of retired insiders, to chair the reform panels.

COMMENT
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I think all component parties of Pakatan Harapan (PH) must face reality. They mustn’t curry favour with each other and pretend nothing has happened. It is better for each component party to state exactly its anxiety and unhappiness so that everyone is clear with each other. If we allow unhappiness to fester, the coalition may suffer fissures earlier rather than later.

As a citizen wanting real reforms and good governance for this country, this is my take on PH now.

Whether we like it or not, there is a perception of uneven power distribution among the component parties within PH.

We accept that Dr Mahathir Mohamad played a vital role in the 14th general election, but we cannot ignore the fact that the bulk of the work was actually done by the young turks of DAP and PKR who suffered persecution in the past and civil society. PH’s victory was actually more than 10 years in the making, not just the last two years.

With that in mind, I think PPBM and Amanah have been more than adequately compensated. With Mahathir as Prime Minister and so many state MBs under PPBM, I think it is time to appoint the young and the dynamic from DAP and PKR to their rightful places in the Cabinet and other positions, including the Speaker of the House (Dewan Rakyat).

I believe fairness is the best way to keep all the parties united. Fairness is good to keep the different parties on an even keel and to provide built-in checks and balances. When one party dominates, others may feel resentful.

I see a general reluctance to give room for the young to effect genuine reforms that the country badly needs. I see that important and pertinent ministries and positions are still being controlled by “insiders” rather than reformers. In this regard, may I know why the reinvestigation of Teoh Beng Hock’s death was announced by DAP ministers and not the Home Minister? What is the reason for this?

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We must recognise that Mahathir can only do so much. Beyond that, he must seek consultation and advice from others. Mahathir needs capable and dynamic MPs appointed as ministers and deputy ministers to assist and advise him. I think it is not difficult for any ordinary Malaysian to spot these capable MPs and assemblymen.

In a similar vein, all the reform panels and committees should be led by capable MPs and assemblymen instead of retired insiders and former government officials. If they are so reform-minded, Malaysia would not have gotten into such a big hole in the first place.

Elders with substantive experience can play advisory roles but certainly not calling the shots. We must give the newly elected MPs and assemblymen the opportunity to decide how they want to move this country forward. Why elect new MPs and assemblymen when we are going to use the same old people to reform our country?

There will be pent-up frustration if the energy of these young MPs and assemblymen is not harnessed. I believe they are in a better position to suggest and provide recommendations to the government.

This country needs a reboot, not tinkering.

TK Chua is a FMT reader

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

The Sins of Najib Razak


January 4, 2018

The Sins of Najib Razak

Image result for Trum[p and Najib razakMalaysia’s Kleptocrat shakes hand with America’s Super Mario at The White House last year

In a year that had its fair share of symbolic moments, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak took home a fistful of trophies.

One prize was his cameo meeting in September with US President Donald Trump at the White House, which counts as a juicy political point for the coming general election.

 Najib brought “strong value propositions” for Trump in the form of a multi-billion dollar commitment to buy Boeing jets, an offer to push AirAsia to buy General Electric engines and a pledge to increase investments in American infrastructure.

With this gesture “to strengthen the US economy”, the premier secured numerous pay-offs, including blunting the barbs of his critics on the US Justice Department’s investigation into the troubled state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

Though there was some collateral damage from the trip, the net gain from an electoral viewpoint would be in the PM’s favour, although Najib did remark that his comments on helping the US were misconstrued.

The tacit endorsement which Najib has earned from his meeting with the US leader would play well in rural electioneering, especially since his Washington trip was followed immediately by another photo op with British premier Theresa May.

On the home turf, Najib raised his score as the commander-in-chief of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition through a number of moves that served to blindside the opposition parties or at least, put them on the back foot.

In early April, the government made the unprecedented move of clearing the parliamentary order paper of its business to make way for a Private Member’s Bill.

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The next day, PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang tabled a motion to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, seeking to grant the Syariah Court powers to impose stiffer penalties on all crimes except those with the death sentence.

The enhancement of the Syariah Courts’ powers, a prize long sought by PAS but hitherto beyond its parliamentary reach, is the clearest indication to date of the coming together of the Islamist party with Umno in an electoral alliance, despite their long history of political enmity.

The shifting alignment only reflects the growing importance of religion as a cement to hold together the fractured Malay voter base.

Another aspect of this theme is the hosting of the King Salman Centre for International Peace at the Islamic Science University of Malaysia, following Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit to Malaysia in March.

Not only does this move strengthen Najib’s legitimacy as a leader among Muslims, but it also burnishes his credentials as a key ally in the global fight against terrorism.

All this would go some way towards mitigating the damage that his one-time mentor turned nemesis, the tenacious former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has been inflicting on his image since the elder leader joined forces with the opposition parties.

 

Among the list of sins that is being laid at Najib’s feet is the view that he has sold out the country’s strategic interests to obtain a funding lifeline from China. The East Coast Rail Link, among a laundry list of infrastructure projects, has been singled out for particular criticism. The PM’s team has worked hard at fending off these claims, and Najib has retorted that he would never sell Malaysia’s sovereignty.

Helping to contain Mahathir’s virulent campaign to unseat Najib, the quick-acting Royal Commission of Inquiry into Bank Negara’s foreign exchange losses in the 1990s has shifted some attention away from his litany against the PM to the debacle that took place under Mahathir’s watch.

While the inquiry report is being challenged by Mahathir, it continues to have life enough to give Najib and his team ammunition for their battle with detractors.

Even if the electorate were unimpressed by their leaders’ quarrels over past and present scandals, they would likely be motivated by the long list of benefits that Najib announced in his budget for next year.

From a reduction in income tax rates to easier hiring of domestic help and discounts on study loan repayments, to name a few, the message that Najib has sought to convey to voters is that his government is listening to their needs.

In keeping with this softer touch, Najib paid a courtesy call on de facto Pakatan Harapan leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when the jailed opposition leader was in hospital for an operation on his shoulder joint in November.

If nothing else, the gesture would sit well with voters who see it as a sympathetic or even magnanimous act by the nation’s leader.

That’s a good feeling to ride, going into perhaps the toughest election challenge that the BN has faced in decades.

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But still, for Najib, the coast is not as clear as he would wish it to be. He has to face the increasing number of voters unhappy with the rising cost of living, the never-ending problems with FELDA and its companies (whose settlements in the Malay heartland form the core support of UMNO and the issue of 1MDB that will not easily fade from the scrutiny of international media. Also, the emergence of new politics in Sabah and Sarawak, for which the political mantra — Sabah for Sabahans and Sarawak for Sarawakians — could sway both sides of the political divide.

– http://www.theedgemarkets.com

 

India’s Evolving Subregional Strategy


November 2, 2017

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Number 403 | November 1, 2017

ANALYSIS

India’s Evolving Subregional Strategy

 

By K. Yhome

Development and security issues are interconnected in India’s eastern subregions – the Bay of Bengal, the Himalayas, and the Mekong subregion. Together, these subregions form India’s first geostrategic chain in the wider Indo-Pacific region. A subregion is a small group of geographically adjoining countries sharing a common ecosystem with interconnected development and security spaces. New Delhi’s evolving subregional approach needs to view the three subregions as a single strategic arch.

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The recent military standoff between India and China in the Himalayas, the winning of strategic port contracts in key littorals of the Bay of Bengal by Chinese companies, Islamabad’s reluctance to be part of regional initiatives and China’s growing regional political clout – as demonstrated by the willingness of most nations in the subregions to join the Chinese ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ – have further complicated India’s subregional policies.

Within this challenging environment, India and its smaller neighbors in the subregions have been looking to strengthen alternative subregional institutions such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Initiative, and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC). The renewed focused on these subregional groupings contributes to both India’s domestic and regional governance needs.

That New Delhi has been recalibrating its approach toward its subregions is evident through the launching of the “Neighborhood First” policy and the “Act East” policy. However, in the changed geo-political context, traditional compartmentalized views of the subregions are unlikely to provide the fullest benefits to India.
India’s eastern subregions play a critical role in advancing two objectives of the Act East policy. Together the subregions provide India with both land and maritime options to access the East, and have emerged as key spaces for New Delhi to push its cross-border connectivity projects. The ongoing trilateral highway project – linking India’s Northeast with Thailand through Myanmar – is one such initiative with plans to further extend it to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in the next phase.
As New Delhi strengthens its security engagements with the region, nations in the three subregions are emerging as important partners. In 2011, New Delhi put into practice its subregional approach in defense cooperation when it set up trilateral maritime security cooperation with Sri Lanka and Maldives to enhance maritime security. The idea was later expanded by inviting Mauritius and Seychelles to join the initiative.
India has entered into new defense and security agreements and initiated joint patrols and exercises with several nations in the subregions. Recent signings of memoranda of understanding for defense cooperation and offers of extending credit for purchase of arms and ammunition to subregional countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Vietnam, are indications of New Delhi’s renewed increase of subregional security cooperation.
The following elements define India’s evolving approach:
New Delhi’s subregional strategy aims at finding synergies between domestic and external policies, with the goal of advancing its foreign policy interests. Development of its frontier regions is thus a priority, because those regions play a critical role in the effective implementation of the strategy. In this context, India’s Northeast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands – along with the entire eastern seaboard – are key spaces in pushing forward India’s subregional strategy.
Building partnerships with like-minded countries in the development and security of the sub-regions forms another vital element of India’s approach. Unlike the past, when New Delhi was wary of collaborating with external actors in its subregions, India is now willing to leverage its partners where strategic interests converge. The subregions are opening up new opportunities for such collaboration. In this context, a shared vision of an Indo-Pacific region guided by ‘values-based’ and ‘rules-based order’ forms the basis for building partnerships.
New Delhi also has been giving greater roles and responsibilities to its states under the principle of cooperative federalism. The emphasis on the states’ role in regional diplomacy is another facet of the subregional approach. In practice, this is a work in progress. For cooperative federalism to support the subregional strategy there is need for effective coordination between the two. There is also need for creating a cadre of subregional specialists in the bureaucracy and a new policy for India bureaucratic services based on geographical zones that are in line with its subregional strategy.
The rebuilding of mutual trust with neighbours is another critical feature of India’s subregional approach. At a time when China is a willing partner in these subregions, and the smaller neighbors are seeking to maximize benefits, New Delhi is trying to minimize the mistrust that has long characterized its relations with smaller neighboring countries. One such attempt is by reviewing past bilateral treaties and agreements that are considered ‘unequal’ by smaller neighbors. In 2007, India updated the 1949 friendship treaty with Bhutan and last year a joint mechanism between India and Nepal was set up to update all bilateral treaties and agreements.

As India’s global aspirations grow, there is recognition that an unstable neighborhood can guarantee neither economic development, nor security. In this context, India’s vision in its eastern subregions has been to share its economic growth and enhance security cooperation, with the aim to build an ‘interlinked destiny’ of peace and prosperity in the region.
India’s eastern subregions are critical in safeguarding the country’s primacy and in expanding its strategic reach. As New Delhi fine tunes its subregional approach, there is need for constant nurturing of the strategy and assessment of its effectiveness in these ever-changing regional dynamics. This revisiting of the strategy should be aimed at injecting it with new dynamism and innovative ideas to keep pace with the changing times.

About the Author

K. Yhome is a Senior Fellow with New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF). He can be reached at khriezo@gmail.com.
The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

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The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

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The Tragedy of Aung San Suu Kyi


September 16, 2017

The Tragedy of Aung San Suu Kyi

by  Syed Munir Khasru

*Syed Munir Khasru is Chairman of the Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG), an international think tank.

http://www.project-syndicate.org

The escalating campaign of ethnic cleansing by Myanmar’s military in Rakhine State is threatening to undermine the country’s ongoing democratic transition – and to tarnish irrevocably the reputation of the country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. But she still wields enough moral authority to act.

DHAKA – Myanmar is in crisis. The Rohingya – a Muslim ethnic minority group in a predominantly Buddhist country – are under attack by the military, with many fleeing for their lives. This escalating conflict is threatening to undermine Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition – and to tarnish irrevocably the reputation of the country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

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For decades, Myanmar’s government has refused to recognize the Rohingya – who comprise around 2% of the country’s population of over 50 million – as a legitimate ethnic minority, denying them citizenship and even the most basic rights as inhabitants. But it was just last month that systematic discrimination escalated into ethnic cleansing, with security forces responding to attacks on police posts and an army camp by Rohingya militants by launching an assault on all Rohingya people.

So far, Myanmar has confirmed 400 deaths, though United Nations officials put the toll closer to 1,000. Moreover, upwards of 300,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Several thousand more Rohingya are waiting at the border, awaiting permission to enter the country.

For a Bangladesh already reeling from seasonal flooding, managing the inflow of refugees has proved a momentous challenge. Makeshift camps are overcrowded, lacking in basic resources, and vulnerable to natural disasters; already, a cyclone has destroyed some camps. Other surrounding countries, including India, Thailand, and Malaysia, are also feeling the effects of the Rohingya’s plight.

Far from moving to stop this humanitarian crisis, Suu Kyi’s government has exacerbated it. While Suu Kyi does not control the military, which is leading the murderous crackdown, her government has blocked UN agencies from delivering vital emergency supplies. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have all been forced to halt work in the affected areas.

This represents a tragic departure for Suu Kyi, who previously won international acclaim – and a Nobel Peace Prize – for her role in the fight for democracy in Myanmar. The rise to power of her National League for Democracy in 2015 marked the end of 50 years of military rule in the country formerly known as Burma, and seemed to herald a new era, in which the human rights of all inhabitants would be respected and protected.

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Amid the violence against the Rohingya, faith in Myanmar’s transition from military dictatorship to democracy is rapidly deteriorating. The military, which holds 25% of the seats in parliament, has already blocked Suu Kyi from becoming president, and, along with Myanmar’s nationalists, it continues to constrain her authority. Now, the military is actively persecuting and even murdering members of one of the country’s largest ethnic and religious minority groups, in what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has rightly called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” – all for political reasons.

Buddhist nationalism has lately been gaining traction among many Burmese, fueling hatred and violence toward the Muslim Rohingya. By attacking the Rohingya, the military secures the support of Buddhist monks, who remain influential in Myanmar and could thus challenge the military’s authority.

As for Suu Kyi, she is now between a rock and a hard place. If she sides with the Rohingya, she will face a powerful backlash from the military and a large share of voters. But, by remaining silent, she is severely damaging the moral authority that allowed her to wear down Myanmar’s generals and place the country on the path to democracy.

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Suu Kyi did appoint a commission, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to figure out how to address the divisions between the Rohingya and Buddhists in Rakhine State, where most Rohingya live. But her goal appeared to be simply to buy time, though she probably also hoped that Annan would find a way to resolve her dilemma.

Of course, that was impossible. Instead, the commission called for the immediate establishment by Suu Kyi’s government of a clear, transparent, and efficient strategy and timeline for the citizenship verification process. The commission also emphasized the need to “allow full and unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas affected by recent violence.”

Myanmar’s military made clear its stance on these proposals right after the report was released: it opened fire on Rohingya civilians in northern Rakhine, leaving at least 100 people dead. The massacre was ostensibly a response to an attack by Rohingya militants that killed 12 members of the security forces, though, as al-Hussein put it, the military’s actions were “clearly disproportionate.”

What Myanmar needs today is a genuine peace process that recognizes the ethnic and religious components of the Rohingya crisis. Suu Kyi, who was praised by the Nobel Committee in 1991 as “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless,” should be the person to lead such a process. Yes, her power is severely limited, as she has no authority whatsoever over the military. Yet her moral authority, which once proved powerful enough to bend the military to her will, is not entirely depleted.

To wield that authority effectively, Suu Kyi must be willing to take a political risk. To be sure, as delicate as the political order is in Myanmar, there is no gridlock that obviates an agenda for progress in achieving peace. But a peace process will require Suu Kyi to stand up to Myanmar’s generals, as she has done in the past, reminding them of the enormous benefits they have reaped from the political transition and convincing them that it is not in their interest to jeopardize the democratization process.

Suu Kyi said in her Nobel Peace Prize lecture in 2012, “to be forgotten, is to die a little.” She must not allow the Rohingya to be driven out and forgotten. Her task is to give power to the powerless and bring peace to Myanmar.

The ASEAN Community: A Lofty Historical Challenge


May 11, 2017

The ASEAN Community: A Lofty Historical Challenge

by Michael Heng

“As an economic power, ASEAN is small by international standards. Given the level of development and technological base, ASEAN is unlikely to make a big impact on the global economy.” Do you agree with Professor Heng’s observation)?

http://ippreview.com/index.php/Home/Blog/single/id/433.html

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded in 1967. Its 50th anniversary this year is a good time to take stock and to look ahead. ASEAN was established with the goal of preserving long-term peace in region at a time when the First Indochina War was raging, even though its explicitly stated goals were economic growth, social progress, and cultural development. One of its guiding principles is to abide strictly by the modern international system of sovereign states where countries do not interfere in each other’s internal affairs. ASEAN’s leaders have chosen to make decisions by consensus, and to avoid airing their differences in the public.

ASEAN has scored significant success as an economic community, due largely to the activities of global production networks in the region. In the assessment of a senior Chinese official speaking at a workshop in 2009, ASEAN is the healthiest and most integrated regional organization in Asia and it should be the center and platform to promote Asia’s economic integration.

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However, one cannot ignore the failure of ASEAN to resolve significant intra-ASEAN problems such as the Thai-Cambodian border dispute, the annual haze originating from Indonesia, and the blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar. Such problems cannot be resolved within ASEAN because of the strict non-interference policy in each other’s internal affairs. But conditions in the international arena today are different from when ASEAN was formed half a century ago. Environmental pollution, climate change, epidemics, terrorism, and transnational crime cannot be solved without close international cooperation. In the event of large scale violations of human rights, sovereignty cannot be used as a cover for the state to fan off interference by the international community. With the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, the concept of state sovereignty in the past few decades has acquired subtle but important new interpretations. ASEAN’s strict insistence on non-interference is out of sync with prevailing international norms.

Before the 1997 Asian financial crisis, global capital had focused on gaining market access and investment in Southeast Asia. In the wake of the crisis, it began to be disenchanted with the region’s failure to respond effectively to the crisis. Meanwhile, critical examination of the financial meltdown revealed some serious flaws among the political leadership in most ASEAN member states. This period also saw the rise of China and India as new economic powers next door. Between them, these events prompted soul-searching within ASEAN.

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Driven by internal and more so by external developments, ASEAN has strived to deepen and widen its integration and has set its sights on becoming a community of nations. To do so, it has to look beyond the geopolitical and economic dimensions, and widen its scope to include the social and cultural dimensions. Though some progress has been made in this direction, especially in their agreement to the terms of the ASEAN Charter, it remains to be seen whether the member states will be able to live up to the ideals as enshrined in this document. Even if they do so, they need to go further than this document in order to be in tune with prevailing international norms as adopted by the United Nations.

Unity in Diversity

One of ASEAN’s achievements has been its ability to group together ten member states with different political systems, population sizes, geographical sizes, languages, religions, historical backgrounds, and stages of economic development. It should come as no surprise that the ASEAN Charter has adopted as its principle the concept of “unity in diversity.”

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Unity in diversity is the concept of “unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation” — thereby moving and raising the focus from unity based on mere tolerance of physical, cultural, linguistic, social, religious, political, ideological and/or psychological differences towards a more complex unity based on an understanding that differences enrich human interactions. One should add that this understanding should go beyond the utilitarian aspect to one founded on the basis of appreciating and cherishing differences. No wonder that unity in diversity is said to be the highest possible attainment of a civilization, a testimony to the noblest potential of the human race.

ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint

Just like unity in diversity, the concept of social justice is found in many ASEAN documents. For example, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint of 2009 claims that “ASEAN is committed to promoting social justice and mainstreaming people’s rights into its policies and all spheres of life, including the rights and welfare of disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalized groups such as women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and migrant workers.” The reality in the ASEAN countries however shows clearly that there is a wide mismatch between such lofty statements and what the people experience.

A close reading of the ASEAN Charter will reveal that it has some lofty and high sounding concepts. For example, ASEAN and its Member States shall act in accordance with, among others, the principle of “adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government.” This sounds hollow when its member states undermine the independence of their judiciaries, allow corruption to run wild, pay scant attention to protect their environment, indulge in gerrymandering, and harass their political opposition.

Same Journey but at Different Speeds

ASEAN may be seen as a fine example of unity in diversity. But to strive towards the goal of a community of nations, they must live up to the goals and aspirations as written in their own official declarations. One way to do so is to emulate the best among them in a given area. For example, Indonesia has made significant progress in democratic transformations, and can fairly be said to be the most democratic of the ten. While Indonesia should continue to make progress, the other nine should be inspired by the success of Indonesia and follow its example. Similarly, Singapore’s achievement in economic development and clean government should spur the other nine to do the same.

The common struggles of the ASEAN peoples across the region will be a firm foundation for the growth of ASEAN solidarity, shared consciousness, sense of common interests, and an ASEAN identity.

It is of special importance that Indonesia can carry out democratic reforms, and Singapore can practice clean government. It means that these institutions and practices are not alien to Southeast Asia or in a wider context to the non-Western world.

Unity in diversity here may take on additional meanings: united in pursuing the goals of social justice, economic prosperity, clean government, human rights, democracy, etc. but with different member nations proceeding at different speeds. Those moving ahead should nudge and help those trailing behind.

Promoting Knowledge at the People-to-People Level

According to the Charter, community building is to be intensified through enhanced regional cooperation and integration via the means of the security community, economic community, and socio-cultural community. The first two have enjoyed the lion’s share of official attention. The third deserves to be given its due attention.

A recent study reveals that the general public in cities in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore perceive the formation of the ASEAN Community as beneficial, but they see the formation as elitist and state-centric as it did not involve the people. This is a disturbing finding. City residents are generally more well-informed and involved in the political life of their countries. If they do not feel so involved in the formation of the ASEAN Community, one can imagine how low the sense of involvement can be in the rural areas. Much more must be done therefore to create and nurture a sense of participation by the citizens.

There is a useful role to be played by ASEAN’s professional bodies, like the ASEAN Associations of Lawyers, Engineers, Doctors, Accountants, Architects, Journalists, Writers, Teachers, etc. Through their regular contacts and sharing, we have new channels for evolving ASEAN styles of landscaping, architecture, paintings, music, and so on. The Association of Doctors could also be a good forum for them to develop a teaching program on traditional medicine based on research and as practiced by their ancestors.

In additional to the above are regular exchanges of cultural troupes. Their works should be featured on national television channels, and tickets should be subsidized by sponsors. For those more inclined to intellectual discussions, their interests can be served by local think tanks hosting talks and seminars by public intellectuals and thinkers on topics concerning the broader and long-term future of the region.

Looking Ahead

From its humble beginning, ASEAN has grown into a regional body that is courted by major world powers. Given the different historical backgrounds, cultures, political systems, and their lack of complementary economic activities, its endurance and success might come as a surprise. Credit must be given to its political leaders for being able to respond well to the emerging challenges and opportunities.

The success of ASEAN can also be seen as a clever response to the challenges posed by globalization. This is clearly seen in how the Asian financial crisis prompted ASEAN to speed up and deepen its integration. The same was again seen in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The latest is how global production networks have integrated the ASEAN economies with that of China, forming the basis for the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement.

But the imperatives for regional integration need to be combined with an awareness of the limitations arising from inter-state competition and divergent domestic capabilities within its member states. Here there is a need to work for the greater common good and with a long-term perspective. There are at least four areas where this approach is needed. The first concerns industrial policy. The member states need to sit down and formulate industrial policies which are complementary to each other. Doing so will increase intra-ASEAN trade, which currently constitutes only 25 percent of ASEAN’s trade. The second concerns protection of the environment, a point that was touched on earlier. The third concerns supporting local cultures and intellectual activities, so that Southeast Asia can boast its own world-class writers, painters, thinkers, musicians, and architects. The fourth and arguably the most difficult, is to translate into real practice the paper commitment of ASEAN member states to democracy and social justice. It includes protecting and respecting the rights of minorities, appreciating the political opposition as assets of the countries, and guaranteeing freedom of the press and association.

As an economic power, ASEAN is small by international standards. Given the level of development and technological base, ASEAN is unlikely to make a big impact on the global economy.

Perhaps the most important area which ASEAN can contribute to the world is to bring about the ASEAN Community with cultures and historical backgrounds different from those of the European Union. The new global conditions present Southeast Asia with opportunities and challenges. The greatest opportunities are the big avenues for economic growth in the region, and long-lasting peace. Territorial contestation leading to war is for most countries a thing of the past. Some challenges are persistent — nationalism, ethno-religious parochialism, discrimination against women, massive natural disasters, diseases, and poverty. Some challenges are new — climate change, environmental degradation, depleting natural resources, transnational crime, and terrorism. The challenges call for political, religious, opinion, and business leaders to re-orientate their courses of action toward the greater common good of the people in the region.

What is more crucial and effective is for the citizens of ASEAN countries to render support to each other in their struggle to realize the ideals of the ASEAN Charter such as environmental protection, rights of migrant workers, human rights, and social justice. It would be difficult for the governments to suppress these struggles because these are struggles inspired by a document crafted and endorsed by the government leaders themselves. The common struggles of the ASEAN peoples across the region will be a firm foundation for the growth of ASEAN solidarity, shared consciousness, sense of common interests, and an ASEAN identity.

Like other historical processes, the journey to the formation of the ASEAN Community will take time and will not be easy. There is still a wide gap between the deeds and words of the government leaders of ASEAN. If and when the realities on the ground are in line with the lofty proclamations of the ASEAN documents, then and only then will the ASEAN Community be no longer a dream but a reality. It will be an ASEAN with a new identity, for it will represent a new moral and political order, able to articulate global issues in international forums with moral authority and coherence.