ASEAN In Review

Signing ceremony of the 21st ASEAN Summit on 18 November 2012 in Phnom Penh

Logo and theme for Cambodia's Chairmanship of ASEAN 2012

Recent Development in ASEAN, East Asia Summit, and ASEAN Regional Forum

       Throughout the year 2012, all ASEAN diplomats had been very busy in Cambodia with many high-profile ASEAN meetings in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap such as the recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting (AMM) Retreat in Siem Reap, 9-11 January 2012, the 20th ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in April, and the 21st ASEAN Summit and Related Summit in November 2012 as Cambodia had assummed ASEAN Chairmanship from January to December 2012. The AMM Retreat in Siem Reap expressed full support for the Theme "ASEAN: One Community, One Destiny" for Cambodia's Chairmanship of ASEAN 2012, which provide an insight of a full ASEAN integration by 2015. Most people hope that ASEAN momentum and centrality will be maintain and enhanced under Cambodia’s able chairmanship. This is not the first for Cambodia to chair this successful regional grouping since Cambodia has done this job very well in 2002-2003 for the first time after its admission into ASEAN in 1999. However, we should have a brief overview of what ASEAN have done in the previous years.

     Cambodia's achievements in 2012 are far more than expected. Many important regional issues and agendas have been successfully addressed in all level of ASEAN meetings in the three pillars, political and security, economic, and socio-cultural cooperation. The adoption of the long-awaited ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, the adoption of Bali Concord III Plan of Action (2013-2017) which lay down ASEAN’s common platform in its external relations, the successful convening of ASEAN Global Dialogue for the first time at the sidelines of the 21st ASEAN Summit, the official launching of ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, the establishment of ASEAN Regional Mine Action Center, the adoption of the Joint Statement on the 10th Anniversary of the DOC, the official launching of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between ASEAN and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand, have been seen as major achievements by Cambodia in 2012.  These successes make ASEAN more focused and action-oriented for ASEAN community building with the aim of achieving an ASEAN Community by 2015 and a more accelerated regional economic integration in the region. On Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), Cambodia managed to have United Kingdom, European Union, and Brazil, the first country in Latin America, to accede to this important treaty of ASEAN. Why some people overlook all these significant achievements, and instead, only raised the downside of the story? No one can be perfect, but at least, Cambodia has tried its best to show to the world that ASEAN is moving forward with major achievements and strong commitment despite its own internal and external challenges.

        On the issue of South China Sea, Cambodia, who was ASEAN Chair for the first time in 2002, invested tremendous diplomatic effort to successfully have the signing between ASEAN Foreign Ministers and China on the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) which lay down the framework for peaceful settlement of the dispute and call for the eventual conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC).  Furthermore, when Cambodia chaired ASEAN for the second time in 2012, a joint statement between ASEAN and China on the 10th anniversary of DOC was adopted in November, which reaffirms the importance of the DOC, and also calls for relevant parties to refrain from any activities which could escalate the tension in the South China Sea. We should not overlook all these important contribution by Cambodia to ASEAN and the region. Those who criticize Cambodia should open their eyes to see both sides of the story and the whole image rather than assuming all the faults to Cambodia. In fact, we cannot stop people criticizing ASEAN Chair, but Cambodia's significant contribution will be long remembered. 

     Under Indonesia’s Chairmanship, the 19th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Bali, 17-19 November 2011, and the 18th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta on 7-8 May 2011, have been declared as a great success for ASEAN this year with the adoption of new initiatives led by ASEAN itself, especially Indonesia. For example, the establishment of the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) Center for regional disaster management, the establishment of ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation in Indonesia, the adoption of the long-awaited Guidelines on the Implementation of DOC, the official launching of ASEAN-China Center at the ASEAN-China Summit in Bali, and the official participation of United States and Russia in the East Asia Summit in Bali, are the significant achievements of ASEAN in its regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific. As a strategic forum aimed to discuss broad strategic, political and economic issues with the aim of promoting peace, stability and economic prosperity in East Asia, EAS now includes 18 leaders, namely all 10 ASEAN members plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, Russian, and the United States. Russia and the US are both key players in the region’s stability and development, so their participation in the EAS will make possible the establishment of a more organized and effective political architecture, giving ASEAN more value, weight, and significance. Another emerging regional security architecture is ADMM PLUS (ASEAN Defense Minister Meeting Plus) which comprises ASEAN members and eight ASEAN Dialogue Partners, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the US. The ADMM-Plus is the first official defence forum involving defence ministers from ASEAN and other key countries.

To have a master plan to achieve an ASEAN Community by 2015, the 14th ASEAN Summit in Cha-am, Thailand, in March 2009, adopted the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community (2009-2015) with the establishment of three sub-communities: ASEAN Political and Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community, and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. This roadmap succeeds Vientiane Action Programme (VAP) and provides strategic guidance and concrete measures for ASEAN to realize the three communities, especially the ASEAN Economic Community with the adoption of Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Work Plan II (2009-2015) to narrow development gap in ASEAN.  After 1 January 2010, 99.5% tariff lines in the ASEAN’s inclusion lists under the Common Effective Preferential Tariffs for ASEAN Free Trade Area (CEPT-AFTA) stood at 0 to 5% and Intra-ASEAN trade almost tripled to US$ 458.1 billion in 2008 as compared to 2000 when all ten member states joined the CEPT-AFTA (ASEAN Secretariat, 2010).  Furthermore, the year 2010 is the starting point for the flow of free trade in ASEAN and between ASEAN and other dialogue partner countries. For example, some of ASEAN+1 Free Trade Agreements (FTA), such as ASEAN-China FTA, ASEAN-Korea FTA, and ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA, have come into effect. With all of these progresses, ASEAN has become the regional trading hub and expectation of fast economic recovery in the region is likely very high with the increase of free trade.

Recently, the ASEAN Charter and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) are the most remarkable achievements for ASEAN.  After waiting for a long time, the ASEAN Charter has been ratified and came into force in 2009 to make ASEAN as a rule-based organization with legal personality. With the ASEAN Charter, the Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) for ASEAN has been established in Jakarta. For CPR, each ASEAN member state has to appoint its Permanent Representative (PR) to ASEAN. So far, all member states have appointed their PRs to this body. This CPR is responsible for coordinating ASEAN matters and conducting external relations with ASEAN dialogue partners such as United States, Japan, South Korea, China, etc. Then, most of the ASEAN’s dialogue partners and other countries in the world have already appointed their Ambassador to ASEAN. The entry into force of ASEAN Charter and the establishment of CPR is attracting more countries to appoint their Ambassadors to ASEAN.  In responding to some criticism that ASEAN had done nothing for the promotion of human rights, the 15th ASEAN Summit in Thailand, in October 2009, inaugurated the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to strengthen regional cooperation on this issue. After its establishment, AICHR will submit its annual report on its activities to ASEAN Foreign Minister Meeting. 

Furthermore, the US accession to Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and the first ASEAN-US Leaders’ Summit in Singapore in 2009 have been regarded as an important milestone and a significant shift of US’s policy toward ASEAN. According to the Joint Statement on First ASEAN-US’s Leaders’ Meeting (ASEAN Secretariat, 2009), both ASEAN and the US have agreed to increase their cooperation and to establish ASEAN-US Eminent Persons Group which aims to find ways to improve ASEAN-US relations. This summit also represents recent US’s policy change toward Myanmar, which also participated in the Meeting. The US also assured its support on ASEAN centrality in the regional community building process and acknowledged a recent power shift of the world toward Asia.

Since its inception in Thailand in 1994, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) now has 27 member states including the Democratic People Republic of Korea (DPRK) which had accessed to TAC and gained its membership in 2008 (ARF, 2010). The four members (France, US, Russia, and China) of the United Nation Security Council and other major regional powers such as the European Union make ARF a high-profile multilateral security dialogue in the world. The objective of the ASEAN Regional Forum is to foster constructive dialogue and consultation on political and security issues of common interest in the Asia-Pacific region through confidence-building and preventive diplomacy. On 23 July 2009 in Thailand, the ARF Vision Statement was adopted in order to provide a clear vision by 2020 to promote ARF’s role and institution building such as the establishment of ARF Secretariat in the future. According to ARF Vision Statement (ARF, 2009), all member countries reaffirmed ASEAN as the primary driving force in the ARF process. In overall, ARF is the ASEAN-led multilateral security forum in a broader regional framework. By leading the ARF, the central role of ASEAN in promoting regional peace and stability and in helping to shape the evolving regional security architecture is confirmed. According to ASEAN Political and Security Community Blueprint (ASEAN Secretariat, 2009), ARF is also one of the strategies needed to be promoted in order to improve ASEAN centrality. In addition, ARF is a regime for cooperative security or a cooperative security arrangement based on slow and gradual approach, rather than quickly challenging with the current security structure or regional alliances (Emmers, 2003, p.5). However, development in ARF is slower than expected although it would be evolved to preventive diplomacy as stated in ARF Vision Statement due to complex security issues in East Asia and lack of political wills of its members.

Finally, on disaster management, besides the recent establishment of the AHA Center as the regional  coordination center for disaster management, ASEAN has done very well in taking initiative and gathering international supports (ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference) for recovery efforts of Myanmar after the disastrous effect of the Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 that struck the Southern part of this country, killing 140,000 people, and left a total damage of 4.057 billion USD (Coordinating Office of ASEAN Humanitarian Task Force, 2010). According to ASEAN’s initiative, the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), which consists of ASEAN, Myanmar, and the United Nation, has been established to coordinate the recovery efforts and to conduct Post-Nargis Joint Assessment. 

Relevant articles on ASEAN: 

     1. Challenges for ASEAN
             (22 August 2011)

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

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

        4. ASEAN Centrality Under Pressure
            (6 September 2011)

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

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