An ASEAN Intra-Energy Market?

11 03 2014

By George Lerner

There are huge potential advantages for ASEAN if it can integrate its energy market.

Can ASEAN build an integrated energy market, one that is “less volatile, more flexible and resilient” courtesy of “regional cooperation such as infrastructure connectivity, trade and investment arrangement, and the harmonization of regulatory and technological framework[s],” as envisioned by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia?

The ASEAN Council on Petroleum (ASCOPE) has proposed in its revised Masterplan 2008 to connect ten member states together via a linked energy superhighway of pipelines currently under construction, with five slated to be finished by 2020, equaling more than 9820 km of pipeline, and costing upwards of $17 billion. Sounds promising, but with one problem: there has been little discussion of the regional cooperation needed to make this happen. And the necessary steps – a dialogue to coordinate trans-regional harmonization of legal structures, and the fanning of executive powers for the ASEAN Secretariat – remain elusive.

Over-promising timetables for such an important project is as much a threat to ASEAN energy security as is the energy imbalance that now exists between producers and importers. For example, Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, and its ASEAN Energy Market Integration group, argue that ASEAN-member states might lose interest and look elsewhere for investment and cooperation if the stalled intra-ASEAN energy process leaves a community of 600 million, the world’s fifth largest economy by GDP, without a clear plan of action yet with so much already in place.

ASEAN will require, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Report of 2013 forecasts, a staggering $1.7 trillion of cumulative investment in energy supply infrastructure, to become both a leading supplier and a hub of energy, by 2035. Such developments could rekindle the region’s drooping growth rates and expected slowdown, and advert supply scarcity in the long-term.

Already, ASEAN already has 3,020 km worth of pipeline built across the region, according to Francoise Nicholas, of the think tank the French Institute of International Relations, based in Brussels. Further investment, in the form of actually connecting the pipelines together and forming a regional body to not only administer and arbitrate, but also to coordinate R&D and maintain low price levels through efficient supply channels, could be a huge boon to regional cooperation.

But Basil Constantinescu, the Special Advisor to ASEAN from the EU, argues that while 80 percent is great, many stakeholders realize the other 20 percent will be much harder to achieve. Specifically, to accomplish the remaining 20 percent will require ASEAN to learn from the experiences of the European Union, North American Free Trade Area, Mercado Comun del Sur, and the Central Asia region. Adoracion Navarrob and Maxensius Tri Sambodoc have detailed this in their paper on “The Pathway to ASEAN Energy Market Integration” for the Chulalongkorn project.

They argue that liberalization, not harmonization, could be an effective tool to circumnavigate any timidity or trepidation in the region. Indeed, the thought of changing one’s energy regulatory structure on a national level, with the hope that your regional neighbor will play by the same rules, is murky. Liberalization means that rather than make laws similar to another, difficult given the diversity of common and civil law institutions in the region, the price-mechanism would be better: fewer subsidies for public energy firms and rules that strengthen the separation of the transmission and distribution of energy by allowing consumers to choose their energy supplier. Perhaps this approach would allow for a freer supply of energy.

George Lerner is a Special Lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok and has worked with the ASEAN Secretariat.

Sources :

The Diplomat


ASEAN, Korea for common security, prosperity

6 03 2014

By Ngurah Swajaya

Two years from the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), ASEAN and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their partnership. The convening of the International Conference on the prospect of ASEAN-South Korea relations organized in Seoul, Feb. 26, marked the start of commemorative activities organized throughout this year in ASEAN and South Korea, ending with the Special Summit in South Korea at the end of 2014.

The ASEAN-Korea Dialogue Partnership has been expanded and deepened over the past 25 years since the conferment of sectoral partnership status in 1989 and the full Dialogue Partnership status in 1991. The partnership was further strengthened with the annual interaction at the leaders’ level since 1997, the status of comprehensive partnership in November 2004 and strategic partnership in October 2010.

Interactions have also been enriched through all ASEAN initiated mechanisms, namely, the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Plus Three, East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Defense Ministerial Meeting Plus.

Political-security cooperation covers many areas, such as combating transnational crime, terrorism, realization of Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, including non-proliferation and disarmament and the promotion of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Strengthening human rights protection, good governance, democracy and rules of law are also included.

Economic cooperation covers the full implementation of the ASEAN-Korea Free Trade Agreement covering the trade of goods, services and investment. ASEAN is South Korea’s second-largest trading partner while South Korea is ASEAN’s fifth-largest. The target of realizing the US$150 billion bilateral trade by 2015 is attainable considering that 2012 bilateral trade has already reached $131 billion.

South Korea was ASEAN’s fifth-largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2012 and the trend is increasing ahead of the AEC. The number of tourists from both South Korean and ASEAN countries is growing fast and ASEAN has become the second most popular destination for South Korean tourists. South Korea is also part of the negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Cooperation in the social and cultural field has also covered environmental protection, addressing climate change, disaster management, sustainable forest management, energy and food security as well as cooperation on education, health, culture and people-to-people interactions. The Low-Carbon Green Growth initiative launched by the South Korean government and the East Asia Climate Partnership were the initiatives under this pillar.

The establishment of the ASEAN-Korea Center in Seoul in 2009 was instrumental in promoting closer people-to-people interactions. The appointment of the first resident Korean ambassador to ASEAN and the established of its diplomatic mission in Jakarta in 2012 have provided greater opportunity for more frequent interactions, bringing the strategic partnership to a higher level.

The momentum achieved in the past 25 years will not only enable ASEAN-South Korea to seize significant potentials but also strengthen collaboration to address new and emerging challenges from the dynamic regional geopolitical situation.

The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and the Bali Principles of Mutually Beneficial Cooperation of the East Asia Summit provide important instruments to create a conducive environment for peaceful resolution of any potential conflicts and disputes. On the issues regarding the Korean Peninsula, ASEAN has been consistent in creating an opportunity for dialogue and negotiation, in emphasizing the need to abide by international laws, in rejecting acts of provocation and in opposing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In the future, ASEAN and Korea should double their efforts to achieve the agreed trade target of $200 billion by 2020. They should also double the target for FDI and tourism.

ASEAN and South Korea should develop common understanding on the geopolitical issues and pursue common goals to promote regional peace and stability. Therefore, the Korean proposal to organize a security dialogue is also essential in deliberating on how ASEAN and South Korea can effectively support each other in the pursuance of peace and stability and common prosperity, including on the Korean Peninsula issue. ASEAN and South Korea should also start intensifying their collaboration on any global issues of common concern as identified in the Bali Concord III Plan of Action.

As Korea becomes an alternative destination for ASEAN citizens to pursue their academic interests, student exchange and scholarships should be further strengthened. The idea of organizing an ASEAN-Korean Student Summit involving ASEAN and Korean Students in Korea should be implemented to promote closer interactions among the younger generation. As K-Pop and K-Movies have become popular in all ASEAN countries, in exchange, ASEAN’s culture should also be promoted further to the Korean people.

The commemorative activities and the Special Summit this year provide a significant impetus to strengthen the longstanding strategic partnership and to chart further the road map to collaborate beyond 2015. As ASEAN is now preparing the development of its 2030 vision, the momentum should be utilized to align the roadmap of the strategic partnership with the 2030 ASEAN Vision.

Finally, as ASEAN is in its final preparations to establish the people-centered AEC by Dec. 31, 2015 and to further chart its effective contribution to maintaining everlasting regional peace and stability, the ASEAN-Korea Strategic Partnership should strengthen and reinforce the ASEAN-South Korea cooperation to attain shared goals and objectives, in maintaining durable peace and stability and in enhancing prosperity.

Ngurah Swajaya is former ambassador/ permanent representative of Indonesia to ASEAN and Indonesia’s representative to the High Level Task Force for Strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat and Reviewing ASEAN Divisions at the Foreign Ministry.

Source :

The Jakarta Post

Will Myanmar’s ASEAN chairmanship lead to national reconciliation?

15 02 2014

By Eliane Coates

Myanmar’s chairmanship of ASEAN this year will become an open display of its progress in undertaking national economic and political reforms. Naypyidaw’s hosting of ASEAN has the potential to improve Myanmar’s international reputation, national economy and, potentially, domestic reconciliation efforts.

Long seen as a pariah state, Myanmar sees the ASEAN chairmanship as an opportunity to demonstrate its reformist credentials and a platform to re-engage the international community.

Will Myanmar’s ASEAN chairmanship lead to national reconciliation?
15 February 2014
Author: Eliane Coates, RSIS

Myanmar’s chairmanship of ASEAN this year will become an open display of its progress in undertaking national economic and political reforms. Naypyidaw’s hosting of ASEAN has the potential to improve Myanmar’s international reputation, national economy and, potentially, domestic reconciliation efforts.

Long seen as a pariah state, Myanmar sees the ASEAN chairmanship as an opportunity to demonstrate its reformist credentials and a platform to re-engage the international community.

Under the leadership of a quasi-civilian government, Myanmar has undertaken the path towards substantial reforms, including a loosening of the political system, freedom of the press and economic liberalisation. This has not only convinced Napyidaw’s ASEAN neighbours, but has also managed to woo the major powers, including the United States, into according Myanmar political legitimacy, leading to the easing of sanctions.

As the ASEAN Chair Myanmar has the opportunity to discard its previously isolationist foreign policy to become a responsible stakeholder in the international community. This year is Naypyidaw’s turn to steer ASEAN in dealing with contentious regional issues, including the South China Sea disputes. Naypyidaw’s challenge now is to translate this ‘chairmanship’ into a commendable ‘leadership’ role.

Apart from raising its international profile, chairing ASEAN could potentially unlock greater economic opportunities for Myanmar. This includes growing investor confidence and further integration with ASEAN and the wider regional economic communities.

ASEAN’s goal is to create a single Southeast Asian market and regional trading bloc by 2015. However, Myanmar remains ASEAN’s poorest member with a GDP of only US$53 billion, contributing only 0.2 per cent of continent-wide production in mainland Southeast Asia. Myanmar would undoubtedly struggle to meet the strict policy reform requirements for the ASEAN Economic Community in the specified time frame.

Nevertheless increased investor confidence after the ASEAN chairmanship could help narrow the crucial gaps in critical infrastructure and employment, as well as provide the momentum to achieve market regulation and greater human capacity in Myanmar.

Domestic economic reforms have already helped to increase the flow of foreign capital into Myanmar. In a recent report by the private sector, Myanmar was listed as one of five countries that had made the greatest improvements over the last five years to their business environment. The floating of its national currency, the Kyat, as well as the enactment of a new Foreign Investment Law to regulate foreign ownership limits and land leasing rules, have not only made Naypyidaw more attractive to foreign investors but have also enabled its rich natural resources to be exploited further. One report suggests Myanmar’s energy and mining sector is projected to expand to US$22 billion by 2030 from US$8 billion in 2010.

However, Myanmar’s capacity to fully exploit such opportunities is questionable at best. Endemic corruption, lack of transparency, limited legal recourse, strict approval procedures to rebuild infrastructure, which are slow and costly, and remaining Western economic sanctions continue to stifle the country’s economic growth. There has also been a brain drain of skilled workers to neighbouring countries that offer higher wages. The International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, recently ranked Myanmar 182 out of 189 countries for the ease of doing business within its borders.

While the economic payoffs in hosting ASEAN may be great, more reforms must be made to create an inviting business environment to set the stage for Myanmar’s full integration within the ASEAN Economic Community.

While most regional countries want Myanmar to succeed in its path to democratisation, ASEAN’s support of Myanmar will not be unconditional. The prestige and legitimacy associated with being at the helm of Southeast Asia’s regional bloc must not obscure the fact that Myanmar still has a long way to go, particularly in protecting human rights and pursuing national reconciliation.

National reconciliation presents the biggest hurdle to Myanmar’s reform process. Some outsiders remain sceptical of Myanmar’s development amid ongoing internal inter-ethnic conflict. Myanmar expects ASEAN to recognise its national reconciliation efforts to solve deep-rooted ethnic conflicts through individual ceasefire deals and comprehensive peace settlements for a nationwide reconciliation.

Myanmar’s inter-ethnic violence continues to strain other ASEAN countries due to the refugee outflow of Rohingya Muslims to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Rohingya issue might also spillover to Myanmar’s neighbouring states and pose a potential security threat to some regional countries. In 2013 two Rohingya leaders linked to the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) were reported to have enlisted assistance in the form of weapons and tactical knowledge from Indonesian hardline Muslim groups.

At present, peace agreements have not been consolidated. Instead of granting greater autonomy, Naypyidaw is offering economic incentives through development projects to rebel leaders in exchange for signing ceasefire agreements. While this process has facilitated re-engagement between the two sides, it is no more than a short-term fix; it is unable to replace sincere political dialogue to address the underlying political, economic and social causes of the ongoing armed conflict.

Slow progress in national reconciliation efforts is also compounded by increasing human rights concerns inside Myanmar, despite Naypyidaw having set up a national human rights commission in 2011. The recent visit by the UN special rapporteur on Human Rights only confirmed Myanmar’s inability to conduct objective investigations on widespread human rights violations and to bring the perpetrators to justice, including those belonging to local security forces.

While a spokesperson for the Myanmar government has announced the Rohingya issue will not be on the ASEAN agenda, he agreed the government will accept advice from individual ASEAN governments on the conflict. ASEAN could thus play an instrumental role in pushing Myanmar from behind to achieve national reconciliation and encourage it to implement the 2012 ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.

As the largest democracy in ASEAN, Indonesia could also cooperate with Naypyidaw to strengthen Myanmar’s civil society and engage in more transparent inter-ethnic dialogues. With the potential regional spillover of Myanmar’s internal strife, Naypyidaw should not interpret ASEAN’s move as intervening in its internal affairs. Rather, it would be in Naypyidaw’s best interests to embrace ASEAN’s assistance with open arms.

Eliane Coates is a Senior Analyst at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

Source :

East Asia Forum 

Myanmar Assumes ASEAN Chairmanship at Critical Time for Domestic Reforms

14 02 2014

By Megan M. Roberts

Myanmar took on the chairmanship of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Jan. 1, assuming this high-profile role at an important time for the regional bloc. Its ambitious integration program is gathering steam, though political turmoil—particularly in Thailand—and internal divisions over how to deal with China’s economic influence present formidable challenges to the group’s cohesion. Not surprisingly, then, the theme of Myanmar’s chairmanship is “moving forward in unity toward a peaceful and prosperous community.”

But Myanmar’s chairmanship also comes at a critical time for the country itself, having only recently emerged from international isolation. Domestically, much attention this year will be devoted to preparations for the highly anticipated 2015 national elections, expected—or hoped—to be the culmination of the political reform agenda that began in 2011. The three issues at the top of the list in Myanmar are the constitutional review, the peace process and the rise of sectarian violence.

The first and most visible issue is reform of the oft-criticized 2008 constitution, which was introduced under the former military regime before the 2010 elections. In July 2013, parliament formed a committee to assess possible amendments to the constitution. The 109-member committee is dominated by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (52 members) and military (25 members), in addition to having seven members from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and 25 from small political parties. This composition leaves the committee open to criticism of being overly favorable to the ruling party.

Most international analysis to date has focused on whether provisions will be made to allow Suu Kyi to run for president. Clause 59(f) of the constitution currently bars anyone from the presidency whose spouse or children hold foreign citizenship. Suu Kyi’s deceased husband was a British citizen, and neither of her adult children has Myanmar citizenship. After a brief period of uncertainty, the NLD confirmed in late December that it will participate in the elections whether Suu Kyi is able to run for president or not. In a national address in early January, President Thein Sein expressed support for amending the constitution to allow “any citizen” to take the presidency.

The constitutional review committee released its recommendations on Jan. 31, notably omitting any recommendation related to article 59(f). However, the committee’s report did include recommendations to allow for increased power-sharing between the government and ethnic groups. The report has now been submitted to a parliamentary panel responsible for drafting recommendations. Any changes to the constitution will require a 75 percent majority in parliament, providing the military with an effective veto. Some changes would also require a national referendum. Whether parliament is able to come to agreement on recommended constitutional amendments is one question; whether it would then be possible to implement them prior to the 2015 elections is another.

The second notable reform issue is the peace process. Several minority ethnic groups have been in conflict with the government for decades. In recent years, government efforts to achieve a nationwide cease-fire have proceeded according to the same rapid pace as political reforms. The government recently requested approximately $7 million to be allocated to the peace process, the first time such a request has been made in the state budget.

This issue is closely tied to constitutional reform, as for many of the ethnic minority groups, the problem dates back to the 1947 signing of the Panglong Agreement under Gen. Aung San, the current opposition leader’s father. Under this agreement, a number of larger ethnic minority groups in Myanmar agreed to join a federal union in return for autonomy. However, the groups quickly grew frustrated with the limited implementation of the provisions of the agreement, particularly those related to self-determination. Negotiations fell apart and ethnic groups rebelled.

Since 2011, the government has restarted efforts to bring peace to Myanmar and has signed more than a dozen cease-fires, yet clashes have continued in some areas. The government had hoped to sign a national cease-fire prior to the end of 2013, but these efforts have been stalled by ethnic minority group demands for federalism, both politically and in the armed forces, with calls for a new Panglong conference. Civilians in conflict-affected areas, while acknowledging that the signing of agreements has led to greater freedom, also express skepticism about the sustainability of the current cease-fires.

Finally, although some progress has been registered on the peace process front, Myanmar has witnessed a surge in sectarian violence over the past two years between majority Burman and minority Muslim populations. While this violence was initially focused on the Rohingya in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, violence in 2013 spread beyond Rakhine, attributed to the extremist 969 movement led by Buddhist monk Wirathu. Bouts of violence in 2012 and 2013 resulted in hundreds of deaths and the displacement of more than 140,000 people. This violence also points to deep-seated tensions that, if left unchecked, could present a real threat to political reform underway in Myanmar.

The International Crisis Group notes, “At a time when Myanmar is emerging from decades of authoritarianism and isolation, the rise of intercommunal violence threatens to complicate its transition and damage its standing in the region and beyond.” This issue could also raise tensions with ASEAN countries with Muslim majorities. In May 2012, Indonesian authorities arrested several men plotting to bomb the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta in response to violence against Muslims within Myanmar.

All of this will take place as Myanmar juggles a heavy agenda of ASEAN meetings; the country is expected to host more than 150 events in 2014, including the ASEAN and East Asia summits. It will also occur under a bright international spotlight as observers seek to assess the depth of both ASEAN’s commitment to integration and Myanmar’s to internal reform. Myanmar has the opportunity to demonstrate its regional leadership and showcase the progress achieved under its fast-moving reform agenda. The coming year will determine whether it will do so.

Megan M. Roberts is a program officer with the Southeast Asia Program at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), covering Myanmar and Cambodia.

Source :

World Politics Review

ASEAN’s Long-Term Security Obstacle and Impossible Solution.

14 02 2014

By Peera Chaoroenvattananukul

Two years from now, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be integrated as the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Even though the prospects of the regional economic integration are bright, but the regional security issues remain bleak. This tendency stems from the fragmentations among the ASEAN members with regard to security perceptions.

In order to survive in a dog-eat-dog world, small and medium nations of Southeast Asia need to unite altogether as a counterweight to the U.S. and China. The strengthened relationship among the ASEAN countries will be leverage against the two great powers. It will undoubtedly enhance bargaining power as well. Nonetheless, this long-term future is in tatters as long as the ASEAN states are deprived of a unifying vision.

Modeled on the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), ASEAN was originally formed to ward off threats from communism and extra-regional powers. This loosely organized regional institution could glue its members together through the regional norm of non-interference in one another’s domestic affairs. This norm is currently guiding relations among the ten members. This central precept has also been formally institutionalized in the ASEAN Charter, a constitution of ASEAN.

During the Cold War, Western Europe struggled over the German question and the menace of communism. The ECSC was seen as an attempt of the Western European nations to bind West Germany to this regional economic platform. The immediate threat for the Western European states by that time was the surge of the Soviet Union. Hence, the Western Europeans had a unifying vision with regard to the threat to the European common welfare. This unifying threat perception, spearheaded by the Franco-German cooperation, reinforced the relationship within the ECSC bloc.

Unlike Europe during the Cold War, the threat perception among the ASEAN nations varies differently. Due to the regional norm of non-interference, each nation is shortfall of a unifying security vision. Some ASEAN states are plagued by internal divide whereas some are reluctant to pursue assertive foreign policy. Some archipelagic states are deeply concerned with maritime security to the extent that they neglect the regional integration project.

Thailand and Cambodia, for instance, are currently undergoing political turmoil within their boundaries. For this reason, they both tend to accentuate the primacy of domestic politics as opposed to the primacy of regional foreign policy. In this light, the possibility of envisioning a unifying regional perception is dim.

Some ASEAN members such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, which are in conflict over maritime disputes with China, are likely to perceive Beijing as a threat. As a result, they are more than willing to bandwagon with the return of the U.S. to the region as a counterpoise to an increasing influence of China in Southeast Asia.

This is a stark difference from the mainland Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia which are inclined toward the Chinese in order to reap tremendous benefits from China’s so-called “good neighbor policy”. Thailand, however, is an exception since its tradition of foreign policy has been deeply rooted in striking a balance in dealing with two great powers simultaneously. In this regard, the Thais can either side with Washington or Beijing. The geographical proximity of Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, however, is an essential factor which drives these governments toward China as well.

Some scholars in international relations who are faithful to the “hegemonic stability theory” such as Robert Gilpin may offer an explanation that these ASEAN members are bereft of a regional hegemon who would monitor and guide a conduct of relations in Southeast Asia. A natural leader of this region such as Indonesia has failed to advance the unifying security vision. It has been a “reluctant regional hegemon.”

Although Indonesia does not play its decent role as a regional leader, it can hardly be castigated for this matter. A vital flaw of this regional integration project lays in the regional norm of non-interference. With this norm as a core regional guideline, which has been embedded in the ASEAN constitution and the four-decade tradition, Indonesia’s regional inertia, thus, is legitimate in accordance with the appropriate regional conduct. Following this, it can be inferred that this aged-old norm is a root of regional inefficiency.

The long-term security of ASEAN depends on a unifying vision among the ASEAN countries. However, the diverging interests and perceptions among the ASEAN countries bar them from realizing this ultimate security objective. The solution to this division is to transform the regional norm of non-interference. By and large, the possible solution is inherent within the ASEAN system, which cannot be amended easily. This prevents a regional hegemon from performing a role of an enforcer who could be able to unify the ASEAN threat perception and ease tensions within the region.

Source :

World Politics Journal

Let’s be honest about what ASEAN can and cannot do

31 01 2014

By Rodolfo C. Severino

More and more people, especially in the business sector, are asking whether the ASEAN Community can possibly be realised by 2015, as agreed upon by ASEAN leaders in both 2007 and 2009. Mindful of the possible impact on their bottom lines, ASEAN business leaders are even more specific: can the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) be achieved by 2015? And will regional businesses face stiffer competition?

One of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community (along with the ASEAN Political and Security Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community), the AEC is generally taken to refer to the desired free flow of goods and services, or the substantial integration of the regional economy and, therefore, increased regional competition.

ASEAN is still far from being economically integrated as a region. And there is little prospect that it will be fully integrated, as envisioned, in the near future, much less by 2015. But whether or not the AEC is achieved by 2015 should not be held against the literal rendering of the specific measures to realise ASEAN economic integration, as provided for in the Strategic Schedule appended to the AEC Blueprint. Rather, the plan to realise the AEC by 2015 should be looked at as a re-affirmation of the ASEAN leaders’ aspiration for, and commitment to, efficiency in trading, market openness and links with the international community. The year 2015 should be considered not as a hard-and-fast target, in which ASEAN, its objectives and the way it conducts business are suddenly transformed. Rather, it should be regarded as a benchmark to help measure ASEAN’s progress toward regional economic integration.

It should, however, still be recalled that ASEAN member countries have committed themselves to carry out certain measures that are intended to lead to regional economic integration within a given timeframe. While ASEAN should not be condemned for its members’ failure to make good on their commitments, any failure to deliver will likely lead to a loss of credibility and could mean that member countries fall further behind in the global competition for export markets and foreign direct investment (FDI).

ASEAN will undoubtedly miss a number of targets defined in the AEC Blueprint, but the ASEAN spirit is still going strong. Moreover, the AEC should not be considered in separation from the other two components of the ASEAN Community: ASEAN’s supreme achievements have been in the political and security areas. By building confidence and dispelling mutual suspicion between members through frequent meetings and other cooperative activities, ASEAN has made Southeast Asia’s impressive economic growth possible. This has, in turn, enticed major global powers to seek, for strategic and economic reasons, relationships with the Association as a group. Some observers may be disappointed by ASEAN’s failure to ‘resolve’ legal sovereignty and jurisdictional disputes involving member states, but they forget that ASEAN is not an adjudicating body and was never meant to function as such.

The task of raising ASEAN’s public profile belongs to the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, and is essential if this and the AEC are to be effective or even realised. Partly for this reason, some observers have deplored the low level of ASEAN awareness among ‘the people’, forgetting the fact that building awareness of any regional association takes time, that the level of regional awareness and identity in Southeast Asia is higher than in most other regional associations of sovereign states, that ASEAN’s expansion to include today’s 10 members took place only in 1999, and that many Europeans are aware of the European Union because, thanks to this organisation, they can legally live, work and/or study just about anywhere in Europe — conditions that affect the daily lives of people in Europe, but are absent in Southeast Asia. By all means, let us think and talk about ASEAN, but on the basis of the current reality and the present facts. Let us acknowledge what ASEAN is and is not, what ASEAN can and cannot do.

Rodolfo C. Severino is the head of the ASEAN Studies Centre, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. He is a former ASEAN secretary-general.

Japan’s ASEAN strategy in 2014

8 01 2014

By Kei Koga

STRATEGIC DIPLOMACY: Political tension between Japan and China is increasingly playing a pivotal role in the former’s ties with Asean
JAPAN and Asean commemorated 40 years of friendship and cooperation with a Summit Meeting in Tokyo on Dec 14  proclaiming in their joint commitment to work “hand in hand, facing regional and global challenges”.
Given the current heightened political tension between China and Japan following Beijing’s announcement of its new East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), the Summit was part of Japan’s pursuit of its “Strategic Diplomacy” toward Asean in balancing China’s increasing influence in East Asia.
The joint statement reemphasised the importance of principles of international law and enhancement of cooperation to ensure “the freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety in accordance with the universally recognised principles of international law”. While not as robust as some expected, the statement illustrates Japan’s deepening reliance on Asean — in at least three ways.
FIRSTLY, the statement highlighted the importance of “Asean’s centrality” in regional multilateralism, such as the Asean Plus Three (APT) and the East Asia Summit (EAS). Asean member states have been concerned about being marginalised by great power politics following the end of the Cold War. Asean has become the political and economic “spear and shield” of the Southeast Asian states by unifying their voices and coordinating diplomatic moves.
It is also strategically beneficial for Japan to affirm Asean centrality in the context of heightened Sino-Japanese rivalry because either power need not take the lead in the region. By explicitly endorsing Asean centrality, Japan has clearly recognised Asean as a driving force in nurturing a regional architecture in East Asia, which served to reassure Asean.
SECONDLY, Japan and Asean struck a right balance in their political demands. While Japan is concerned about China’s assertiveness over the East China Sea, it was clear that Asean as an institution did not want to become overly entangled in great power politics. Given the diverse strategic interests of the Asean member states, it would be highly unlikely that Japan could persuade all Asean member states to stipulate its security concern about China in the joint statement.
Instead, the statement focused on the importance of international rules and norms, which were indicated by the references to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
This confirmed the common stance of Japan and Asean towards freedom of navigation in the high seas, including the freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety. In this way, Asean does not need to be politically entangled in the Sino-Japanese rivalry, while still upholding respect for international rules and norms. This can also function as political deterrence against China’s potential move to establish an ADIZ over the South China Sea, for which Asean is directly concerned.
THIRDLY, the statement paid particular attention to the East Asia Summit as “a Leaders-led forum for dialogue and cooperation on issues of strategic importance to the region”. This statement shifts their regional political issue from the long-questioned division of labour in East Asian community-building between APT and EAS to the management of the current strategic flux in East Asia.
In sum, Japan’s basic stance toward Asean is to advance what is “feasible” and avoid an “unfeasible” cooperation. Ultimately, Asean is a regional institution that would help prevent deterioration of the strategic situation by keeping the channel of communication open at the political level. However, it does not work as a major power’s balancing tool against any other major power.
Hence Japan separately approached each Asean member as part of its hedging strategy toward China. For example as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe travelled to each Asean member state in 2013, Japan pursued strategic cooperation bilaterally with each member.
 Through these travels, Japan attempted to strengthen its political and security ties with Asean states.
In the Tokyo Summit, it held bilateral meetings with several Asean members, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, regarding China’s ADIZ. Therefore, Japan’s “Strategic Diplomacy” toward Asean is a dual strategy — enhancing bilateral security cooperation with those willing among the Asean member states, while respecting the institutional cohesiveness of Asean by explicitly recognising Asean centrality.
While the 40th anniversary of Asean-Japan relations has given political traction to further deepen and broaden cooperation, there are four main political challenges this year.
FIRST, Japan’s diplomatic effort to continue opening channels of communication with China is critical. The diplomatic and political tensions between Japan and China, characterised as a “security dilemma” or a “game of chicken,” not only exacerbate bilateral tensions but also increase regional concerns, including Asean’s.
As Asean provides forums in which both Japan and China can meet and communicate with each other, both need to make the most of such opportunities. In this sense, Japan’s first and foremost diplomatic agenda this year is to prevent further jeopardy to its political image created by Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on Dec 26 and to reorganise its diplomacy.
SECOND, Japan should help to further institutionalise EAS and ensure US commitment to the forum. To make EAS a truly strategic forum, US participation is imperative, which will also enhance Asean as a credible forum.
THIRD, Japan and Asean should map out action plans to cooperate on regional and global issues. The joint statement suggests that the scope of their cooperation should be comprehensive. Now that shared-principles are clarified, Japan and Asean should chart a road map to enhance such principles, possibly through the Asean dialogue process with its trading partners and through Asean-led institutions.
FOURTH, Asean is likely to become relatively inward-looking this year as it needs to focus on establishing the Asean Community comprising its Economic, Political-Security, and Social-Cultural Community pillars. Japan’s support for such community-building this year will be a key factor for maintaining the momentum of Asean-Japan cooperation.

Source :

New Straits Times