Monday, 22 August 2011

Challenges for ASEAN

Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia at the Opening Ceremony of the 20th ASEAN Summit in Phnom Pehn on 3 April 2012

Flags of ASEAN Member States

         Development and progress in ASEAN have not been taken for granted since there have been several failed attempts for regionalism before the birth of ASEAN such as Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), dissolved in 1977, and Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), founded in 1961 and dissolved soon later. Although with many criticism and obstacles since its establishment, ASEAN is still an example of successful regionalism for developing countries in the world today since it could manage to keeping the cooperation loose and informal for more than four decades based on the “ASEAN Way” of consensus and non-interference but at the same time achieving notable progress in maintaining peace and security in Southeast Asia and succeeding in grouping all countries in the region (Except Timor Leste). Furthermore, recent request by Timor Leste to join ASEAN's membership marks a good expectation that ASEAN is likely have a new member soon.  For example, main political achievement such as Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), the Treaty of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ), and, currently the ASEAN Charter, the ASEAN Regional Forum, ADMM Plus, the ASEAN Plus Three Summit, and the expanded East Asia Summit (US and Russia's participation in EAS), ASEAN chair's participation in the G20 Summit, and finally the evolving regional architecture which ASEAN stand as the hub, are all important contributions of ASEAN to regional peace, stability prosperity, and economic integration in the wider region. From these accomplishments, ASEAN has been seen as the attractive model of new regionalism which started first in Southeast Asia and continues to extend to wider region in East Asia and in the Asia Pacific. However, ASEAN centrality in the regional community building is under pressure of adapting to new dynamics of regionalism, the evolving regional architecure (ASEAN+3 Summit, East Asian Community, Exapanded EAS, ARF, and ADMM Plus). 

Since ASEAN has begun deeper integration within itself and extension into ASEAN+3, its norms and values are under pressure to change in order to deal with regional issues. From to time to time, ASEAN way, especially its main component of non-interference, has been under criticism for its inflexibility and ineffectiveness, especially for the case of Myanmar. Within ASEAN, Myanmar issue has continued to be a sensitive point for the EU, United States, and other developed countries. Even though ASEAN has recently established its human right body, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, to protect and promote human rights in the region, there are still so many criticisms on this newly-born institution regarding its weak responsibility and lack of enforcement mechanism.

ASEAN way also has its own disadvantages for regionalism. According to Emmers (2003, p.23), national interest seems to dominate over ASEAN, i.e. consensus building and non-interference which ensure sovereignty of member states. Thus, he concludes that the constant pursuit of consensus and solidarity appears to be sign of weakness in ASEAN which prevent it from discussion on sensitive issues. Beeson (2009, p.100) also concludes that “ASEAN way seem intended to thwart rather than encourage decisive regional interventions and cooperation at times. In addition to the preponderance of national interest and sovereignty, Acharya (2001, p. 200-201) also noticed that “ASEAN has made no effort to develop sanctioning mechanism. Instead, ASEAN has worked by focusing, in a more positive manner, on the task of defining and redefining Southeast Asia’s regional identity and developing norms of collective action”. All of these efforts by ASEAN are just to promote habit of cooperation rather than political commitment on joint enforcement measure, such as dispute settlement mechanism and enforcement mechanism, which would require member states to relinquish some parts of their sovereignty like the European Union.

On economic perspective, ASEAN has not yet succeeded in narrowing development gap between its old members (ASEAN-6) and the new members, the CLMV countries. Recently published data by ASEAN Secretariat shows that the economy size of the CLMV countries in 2008 is less than 9% of the total GDP of ASEAN which is mostly dominated by ASEAN-6 countries (ASEAN Secretariat, 2010).

In addition, there is still a big difference between the two sides in terms of economic infrastructure development, human resource, and per capita national income. Although Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) phase I (2002-2008), with a total funding of 191 million USD from ASEAN-6 and 20 millions USD from its dialogue partners and development agencies, has been completed (ASEAN Secretariat, 2009, p.96), little has been achieved on narrowing development gap between the two blocs in ASEAN. Thus, the vision by ASEAN leaders to achieve an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 may not be realized as expected. If these two main problems, norm of non-interference and big development gap, could not be dealt successfully by ASEAN, it seems clear that ASEAN’s attractiveness would be declined.
Furthermore, ASEAN’s expansion to include the ten countries in Southeast Asia and its extension to integrate with China, South Korea, and Japan to form ASEAN+3 and other countries in the Asia Pacific for a wider regional integration will put ASEAN way in the crossroad – a weak regional organization due to non-interference or a powerful one like the EU, but with possible breaking in ASEAN due to change of the norms of non-interference. However, ASEAN is still choosing the first option (maintain the norm of non-interference) to keep its status quo. According to Collins (2009, p. 129), the continuing validity of ASEAN’s norms has been under doubts due to its expansion to unite the ten countries and the 1997 economic crisis. Furthermore, some ASEAN member states demand the reinterpretation of principle of non-interference since there have been some talks on constructive intervention and flexible engagement in ASEAN already. However, he points out the warning of the former ASEAN Secretary-General, Tan Sri Ajit Singh, that removing the principle of non-interference would be detrimental to the grouping. From this warning, it is understood that ASEAN would face the breaking down of its grouping since some members will leave the group if ASEAN affairs is considered to be interfered with their domestic affairs due to the change of the norms of non-interference.

           However, in contrast, it seems that the best way to maintain ASEAN centrality is to preserve the “ASEAN way” which has secured cohesiveness in ASEAN and in conducting external relations with the regional powers and the great powers.  With ASEAN Way, the environment of mutual trust among member states increase significantly due to non-interference on each other’s affairs.  Given Asian nationalism, ASEAN way promotes trust and the habit of cooperation for all countries in the region at the present time, and probably in the future.  However, there is still the possibility of political and economic integration in the long-run.  In economic perspective, it is of utmost importance that ASEAN should accomplish its goal as an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 through economic integration, narrowing development gap, and human resource development.  This will depend on political commitment of ASEAN leaders, assistances from major dialogue partner countries, and the successful implementation of IAI Work Plan II (2009-2015) and other relevant roadmaps that will bridge the development gap between the CLMV countries and the ASEAN-6. By achieving full integration in itself, ASEAN Economic Community will be seen as a market niche with total population of more than 600 million.  Therefore, the accumulation of economic attractiveness will generally enhance ASEAN centrality in the wider regional framework.  However, lack of political leadership from ASEAN has caused its centrality under question since ASEAN has less initiatives than its Dialogue Partners such as Japan, South Korea, and China. It is no doubt that this problem is caused by limited human resource development in ASEAN in comparison to these three countries, which have high-level human development index.  So, human resource development, especially in the CLMV countries, should be strongly promoted in order to enhance ASEAN connectivity and integration.

You may find these articles also very interesting: 

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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