Friday, 19 August 2011

What is ASEAN Centrality?

US's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a Press Conference after the PMC+1 Session with US in Phnom Penh on 11 July 2012

          Map of ASEAN Member States  

The issue of ASEAN centrality has been the major concern for ASEAN itself, its dialogue partner countries, and the academia since regional integration began to take place such as ASEAN+3 Process in 1997 and the first East Asia Summit in 2005.  So far, Regional integration in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific are seen through several regional mechanisms such as ASEAN+3 Summit, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).  Currently, at the 4th East Asia Summit in 25 October 2009 in Thailand, Australia also proposed the idea of Asia Pacific Community by stating that ASEAN is the core of this newly-proposed regional architecture (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 2009).  So, in general, whatever proposal on regional integration in East Asia or in Asia Pacific, ASEAN is put on the central hub.  Furthermore, besides political cooperation, Corbett and Umezaki (2009), in their executive summary, conclude that ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is also at the hub of economic integration in East Asia.  Therefore, ASEAN is the hub of both political and economic cooperation in the region.  However, there are many challenges and some reasons for this.  According to Hernandez (2008), ASEAN is needed to be the driving force of the regional community building efforts due to rivalry between China and Japan in the region.  In other words, ASEAN is just “the driving force by default” while other key regional players are competing with each other for influence and future leadership in the region.

However, as for ASEAN itself, there has been no official definition on the word “ASEAN centrality” and a clear-cut approach on how to promote it.  According to ASEAN Political and Security Community Blueprint (ASEAN Secretariat, 2009), in order to strengthen ASEAN centrality in Regional cooperation and community building, ASEAN shall initiate, host, chair and/or co-chair activities and meetings with Dialogue Partners within the context of ASEAN+3, EAS, and ARF; initiate and implement concrete cooperation activities; advance ARF towards Preventive Diplomacy; and enhance coordination in ASEAN’s external relation and regional and multilateral fora.  For instance, ASEAN has been chairing and hosting those kinds of regional meetings since 1994.  In addition, ASEAN leaders at the 16th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi on 8-9 April 2010 agreed to adopt a “two-prong approach” for maintaining ASEAN centrality by acceleration of ASEAN integration and intensification of ASEAN’s external relation with ASEAN as the driving force in regional community building (ASEAN Secretariat, 2010).  However, we should look at internal dynamics in the development of ASEAN to understand why it has been so successful and attractive thus far.

So, the question is what underpins the inner development of ASEAN itself? We should look into the role of power, as argued by Camilleri (2003), in the internal dynamics of regionalism.  According to Yahuda in his foreword for Emmers (2003), the concept of balance of power has been central to the inner development of ASEAN and is also the underlying force for driving security cooperation in ARF.  He notices the importance of using balance of power concept by Emmers to explain how ASEAN manages security relations between great powers to prevent the emergence of regional hegemony (US and China) and maintains the independence of the smaller states. Emmers’ thesis is quite amazing and could be considered as an exceptional finding of ASEAN’s development.  He argues that “ASEAN and ARF were established with the denial of hegemony in mind, but not in a conventional sense…... the balance of power factor has influenced the creation and institutional evolution of ASEAN by constraining intra-mural hegemonic dispositions and providing some member states with an additional incentive to cooperate” (p.162).  According to his analysis, the balance of power strategy has been used by ASEAN to prevent internal hegemony among member states and also to avoid and constrain external hegemony in the region, US and China.  In so doing, ARF has been used as cooperative security regime in the Asia Pacific to maintain peace and stability through confidence building measures in the present time and also preventive diplomacy in the future.

So far, three regional players, US, China, and Japan, are the main concern for ASEAN in terms of balance of power calculation.  However, ASEAN’s ability to manage its relations with the three major players seems to be limited.  In addition, ASEAN’s prosperity also depend the good relations between the three. According to Weatherbee (2005, p.292), ASEAN is facing potential risk in its great power equation through which the region’s economic and political stability depends better relations in the China-Japan-United States triangle.  From this view, the balance of power alone is not enough in managing ASEAN’s external relations.  Furthermore, ASEAN might be at risk to become victim of its own strategy.  Also, there should be solid approaches in dealing with this critical and sensitive issue.

Without its own norms and values, development in ASEAN cannot be achieved in terms of political, economic, and socio-cultural cooperation.  In this context, “ASEAN way” has been viewed by many scholars as the promoting force for ASEAN to expand and unite all of its members in Southeast Asia and also engage in regional community building, East Asian Community.  In general, ASEAN way consists of preference for informality, the principle of inclusivity, consensus, norm of non-interference (Capie and Evans, 2003, p.46-49).  Furthermore, according to Weatherbee (2005, p.121), ASEAN way is claimed by ASEAN promoters (leaders) as the region’s distinctive approach to interstate relations.  He explains that mutual respect for sovereign authority and the non-use of force are the central elements of ASEAN way.  In addition, he also argues that by applying ASEAN way to deal with conflict within ASEAN and its external relations, bilateral disputes between its member states is not allowed to disrupt the wider regional stability and functioning of ASEAN itself, and the conducts of external relations is not allowed to affect intra-ASEAN relations.  In this context, besides using balance of power, ASEAN apply its own norms and values, ASEAN way, to prevent escalation of conflict in the region and external interference into ASEAN affairs.  Furthermore, norm of non-interference also raise trust among ASEAN members state and maintain its cohesion.  This norm also builds trust between ASEAN and its dialogue partners, especially China, South Korea, and Japan.

 In short, through balance of power and ASEAN way, the core of attractiveness has been formed for ASEAN to pursue wider regional integration in East Asia.  Therefore, from my point of view, balance of power and ASEAN way are main components of ASEAN centrality which is driving force in the evolving regional architecture in East Asia and the Asia Pacific, at least for this present time. Please see figure 1. 

Related articles on ASEAN:

1. Four ASEAN's Grand Scenario 
    (17 July 2013)

2. Cambodia's Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2012: A Success After All
    (5 January 2013)

3. ASEAN In Review
    (5 January 2013)

4. The Building of East Asian Community: the Role of ASEAN
    (May 2012)

5. Cambodia's Priorities for ASEAN 2012.
    (March 2012)

6. Three Critical Questions on Maintaining ASEAN Centrality.
     (4 February 2012)

7. Challenges for ASEAN
    (22 August 2011)

8. Outlook for ASEAN and East Asian Community Building (EAC)
    (25 August 2011)

9. How Can ASEAN Centrality in East Asian Community be Maintained?
    (15 August 2011)

10. ASEAN Centrality Under Pressure
    (6 September 2011)

11. What is ASEAN Centrality?
    (7 September 2011)

12. Asian Regionalism and East Asian Community Building
    (29 August 2011)

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