ASEAN integration remains an illusion

2 04 2015

by Barry Desker

For the ASEAN member states, the benchmark of successful regionalism has been ASEAN’s effectiveness in bringing the region closer. The lack of interstate conflict has been credited to ASEAN’s success in moulding a greater regional consciousness among policymakers. But while the region has been performing well since it adopted the ASEAN Charter in November 2007, integration is still an aspiration that remains unfulfilled.

Statistically, 90 per cent of the three ASEAN Community Pillars’ targets — political security, economic and sociocultural — have been achieved. The focus has been on concluding and ratifying inter-governmental agreements, adopting work plans, undertaking studies, forming committees and other similar actions. There is less attention on the effectiveness of these measures and the extent of implementation. Little has been done to reduce transaction costs, increase intra-ASEAN flows and improve the pace and depth of ASEAN integration.

ASEAN’s great achievement has been in facilitating regional relationships with the major powers, as well as with international and regional groupings. The East Asia Summit (EAS) — made up of ASEAN plus the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and India — and ASEAN+3 — that is, ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea — are central institutions in these relationships.

One problem has been the competing proposals for regional economic integration, with the EAS promoting the Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia and the ASEAN+3 pushing for an East Asia Free Trade Agreement. The launch of negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in November 2012 was a step forward. ASEAN could avoid a choice between the two alternative economic visions.

More significantly, as a multilateral agreement, RCEP offers the opportunity to avoid the trade-distorting aspects of single-country free trade agreements, as ASEAN’s partners — Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea — are states which have already concluded FTAs with ASEAN.

But the presence of India in the group is a point of concern. India has often been the cause of deadlocks in multilateral trade and economic negotiations. Despite the pro-business thrust of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, the government will need to overcome the instincts of the Indian bureaucracy if RCEP negotiations are to be successfully concluded.

A key concern is that ASEAN’s key concern beyond 2015 is that integration remains an illusion. ASEAN is a diplomatic community with little impact on the lives of most people in its 10 member states. Its members have diverse political, economic and legal systems and are at different levels of economic development.

There is a real worry that a ‘two-stage’ ASEAN is emerging. The six earlier members plus Vietnam are leading the way while Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos remain mired in their least-developed country status. Within the member states, loyalties and affinities are centred on the local state level.

There is hardly any ASEAN mindset except among policymakers, academics and journalists. Most businessmen resist closer economic cooperation if it undermines their existing market dominance, but are keen on opening the markets of their neighbours. ASEAN policymakers appear to have tunnel vision. The three Community Pillars are discussed within silos and there is poor cross-sectoral interaction.

What is lacking is a ‘whole of government’ approach. ASEAN policymakers focus on their individual sectoral responsibilities and are unable to relate their concerns to the issues affecting other sectors of society. While there is considerable discussion of ASEAN connectivity, difficult issues of ‘behind the border’ integration need to be addressed. Critical aspects include harmonising customs standards, standardising legal regimes and developing info-communications technology infrastructure.

Even when proposals are made that appear intended to promote closer integration, they fail to take reality into account. At the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in January 2015, Malaysia reiterated the call for a common ASEAN time zone for the capitals of ASEAN countries. But Timor Leste is in a time zone two and a half hours ahead of Myanmar; aligning with a common ASEAN time zone would make little sense. Does this mean that the door is closed to Timor Leste’s future membership?

A growing worry is the fragile state of ASEAN unity. External parties are able to shape the positions of ASEAN members on regional issues such as the competing maritime claims in the South China Sea. This could undermine efforts to create an agreed ASEAN view.

As China exerts its influence on ASEAN members to prevent any decisions which could affect its preference for bilateral negotiations, it will be increasingly difficult to reach an ASEAN consensus.

In July 2012, Cambodia blocked the inclusion of any reference to the South China Sea disputes, resulting in a failure to issue a communique for the first time after an ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. This development is a harbinger of future trends.

There will be pressures on ASEAN states to avoid criticisms of external powers, and the more vulnerable ASEAN members may feel obliged to agree with their external patrons. ASEAN communiques could therefore see a papering over of critical differences. The appearance of ASEAN unity is concealing sharp differences in points of view.

Barry Desker is Distinguished Fellow and Bakrie Professor of South-east Asia Policy at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

Source :

East Asia Forum

What the APEC and ASEAN summits mean for Indonesia

26 11 2014

By Rachmat Gobel

The stage has been set for greater cooperation and new forms of integration in the region around Indonesia with the conclusion of the APEC and ASEAN summits earlier this month.

This has immense implications for Indonesia. It is clear that Indonesia operates in an increasingly dynamic global and regional landscape and must adapt itself to a changing environment. With Indonesia on the cusp of an economic take-off as we implement President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s ambitious plans for infrastructure investment and bureaucratic reforms, Indonesia is well positioned to reap the benefits of these summits, which are broadly aligned with Indonesia’s
economic vision.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Beijing was significant. What started as a forum in 1993 to promote free trade and economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region had lost momentum in recent years. However, APEC as a platform for regional integration received a new lease of life and this will be positive for Indonesia.

First, China has introduced an initiative to relaunch the proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which will give countries such as China and Indonesia, which are not part of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade liberalization process, a better option to more independently nurture meaningful regional partnerships. The FTAAP is expected to build upon the gains made by the TPP and other regional free-trade initiatives such as the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Second, improving infrastructure development and connectivity continues to be high on the priority list for APEC. With the flurry of multilateral FTAs in the pipeline, it is important for Indonesia to swiftly improve infrastructure and scale up the production value chain to burnish Indonesia’s image as an attractive investment destination. China’s ascendancy as an economic powerhouse has brought many positive spillovers to the wider region.

Encouragingly, China is stepping up these spillovers. In addition to the recent formation of the Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the US$40 billion Silk Road Infrastructure Fund, launched by China during the APEC Summit, means opportunities and financing for infrastructure investment and development will be more widely available for Indonesia. With ambitious plans and bold reforms in the pipeline, the government will explore viable channels to gainfully employ this capital in overhauling domestic infrastructure networks and repositioning our economy onto a higher economic trajectory.

Furthermore, boosting both regional and domestic connectivity through improving transport and logistical infrastructure and reducing bureaucratic red tape will help to facilitate cross-border trade and investment flows. Projects to expand five ports on the main islands across the Indonesian archipelago are in line with President Jokowi’s vision of restoring Indonesia as a maritime power reflecting a concerted push to improve infrastructure, allowing for better efficiency and reducing logistics costs for businesses and investors.

The 25th ASEAN Summit in Naypyitaw saw ASEAN go from strength to strength. The summit focused on implementing the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by Dec. 31, 2015. The AEC will be a game-changer economically as it aims to transform ASEAN into a single market and a much more competitive economic region, one that is also well integrated into the global economy.

Investors are confident about its success — already, foreign direct investment (FDI) in ASEAN has soared in anticipation of the AEC, reaching $122 billion in 2013 from $114 billion in 2012. With the common regional economic architecture in place, the vibrancy and vitality of the ASEAN economic bloc will be greatly enhanced, ensuring that the sterling growth in economic activity, FDI and trade flows in ASEAN economies continue, bringing about tangible benefits for Indonesia’s people and enterprises.

The government remains conscious of concerns raised that ASEAN integration could be challenging for Indonesia. It will not allow the country to be just a market for other countries’ exporters but will take steps to become an integral part of regional production networks, ensuring that fair gains from trade will accrue to Indonesians and improve their livelihoods.

It is therefore important for trade policies to be structured such that critical sectors, such as those related to food security, receive incentives that will protect Indonesia’s national interests and directly benefit the less well off.

It is also encouraging that ASEAN is starting to think of its agenda beyond the AEC’s establishment, with a task force comprising top officials from member countries instructed to define the post-2015 agenda.

The Naypyitaw Declaration, which emphasizes development of the post-2015 vision of the ASEAN Community, will serve to provide a coherent policy direction as ASEAN nations continue to take great strides in their growth and development. Going forward, ASEAN will strive to control its destiny and maintain its centrality in the region, while remaining relevant to the people and responsive to global and regional developments.

Greater and deeper regional cooperation in both the ASEAN and wider Asia-Pacific regions holds great promise for Indonesia, as it continues to integrate into regional production networks and open up to global markets. The efforts to liberalize trade and investment flows will bring about economic benefits to Indonesia.

However, while the country opens its doors to partner countries, it remains manifestly important that weaker domestic industries are gradually eased into the more open and integrated economy to ensure a smooth and seamless transition. Assistance will be rendered to firms that need to revamp and rethink their business processes to allow Indonesian enterprises to eventually transform into globally competitive businesses.

The flurry of recent summits shows that Asian integration and trade liberalization are very much a reality. Indonesia’s government will actively participate in the regional integration process and push through reforms in Indonesia so as to ensure that Indonesia derives the maximum benefits for its people.

The writer is Indonesian Trade Minister.

Source :

The Jakarta Post

ASEAN Economic Community 2015: Will it happen?

24 11 2014

By Benny Hutabarat

Survey issued by the US Chamber of Commerce reveals prevalent anxiety that a good chunk of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) isn’t going to be ready by the 2015 deadline.

Most respondents were a bit cynical about the AEC’s inauguration even happening by 2020. That’s because this isn’t the first time the AEC has faced a potential delay. The original AEC commencement had been pushed back in 2012 from Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2015. Although Surin Pitsuwan, then ASEAN secretary-general, had firmly said there would be no further delays and that all 10 countries were going to participate, strong and not so strong AEC proponents worried about the possibility that the AEC would not be ready by the close of 2015.

The AEC was born out of the ASEAN Vision 2020 adopted on the 30th anniversary of ASEAN in 1997. The goal is to produce one market and production base by 2020 with a free movement of services, goods, capital, investments and skilled labor. When ASEAN leaders met in 2003, they signed the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II and agreed to establish the AEC by 2020.

However, in 2007, the Cebu Declaration sped up this establishment to the year 2015. This is when ASEAN revealed its AEC Blueprint, which, two years later, became the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community to help with the AEC’s enactment.

The AEC Scorecard was developed to track the progress being made, based upon the EU Internal Market Scorecard. Since its inception, there were two published scorecards — 2010 and 2012.

The 2012 AEC Scorecard reveals four key objectives, one market and production base; a viable fiscal region; reasonable economic growth and incorporation into worldwide economy (187 of 277 measures have been already put into place by the end of 2011).

Thus the AEC formation is right on track, which begs the question why so many people don’t expect it to occur by 2020.

The skepticism isn’t too hard to understand. It took nearly 50 years for Europeans to put together the European Community during the European integration process.


The ASEAN way of not interfering with domestic political affairs may cause the non-recognition of joint economic interest.

Some critics have noted that several AEC implementation deadlines have passed and several key initiatives have yet to begin.

For instance, due to financial shortcomings, corruption, poor governance and the inability for governments to manage interdepartmental and international coordination — just 50 percent of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity has been put into action.

The largest concern, however, is ASEAN’s lack of structure to pull the AEC along.

Think of the AEC as if it were a train. That makes the ASEAN Secretariat the locomotive.

But even the ASEAN Secretariat does not have enough intellectual and financial resources to act like it should.

Even more shocking is that the resources it does possess have changed in 15 years despite the area’s quadrupled gross domestic product (GDP).

The total budget for the ASEAN Secretariat for 2013 was US$16 million — a small amount for an ever-growing institution with more activities and mandates. The European Commission — for its administration — had a budget of around $4.3 billion in 2012.

Many times that amount was spent by European governments to start off their area projects. And the ASEAN Secretariat is less than fully staffed. In 2012, there were just 300 people in the ASEAN Secretariat; the European Commission employees nearly 34,000 people.

The budget constraints at ASEAN headquarters reveal that an entry-level professional makes around $3,000 every month, and this is still after recent significant improvements were made to remuneration packages.

It’s no wonder the ASEAN Secretariat is struggling to find highly qualified and experienced staff for its department.

It’s possible the AEC could be attained if ASEAN members can come together for the greater good — such as the benefits that come from the envisaged economies of one Southeast Asian market. Still, delays in bringing the AEC to fruition are a reflection of one of the more overwhelming challenges that face ASEAN: member states’ unwillingness to view themselves as being one market.

For instance, Indonesia has yet to ratify the ASEAN Multilateral Agreement for the Full Liberalization of Air Freight Services. Its reasoning for not doing so is to keep regional competitors from encroaching on its domestic aviation industry — specifically Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

With Indonesia not participating, the one aviation market is in name only, with no actual “open sky” above the ASEAN territory. There are numerous other examples.

Many times, narrow national interests do better than a larger-scale regional interest with short-term benefits outweighing the long-term ones. The ASEAN way of not interfering with domestic political affairs may cause the non-recognition of joint economic interest.

Should there be no sanction mechanism or powerful regional institutions for both non-cooperation and noncompliance, member states will only respond to peer pressure to carry out community obligations.

The final issue is the slow progress and hurdles being encountered to get the AEC going, all because there is a basic awareness deficit of both AEC and ASEAN throughout the region.

According to a 2013 ASEAN Secretariat survey, three of every four ASEAN citizens have no real understanding about the grouping. There is little doubt that the European experience is something the ASEAN can learn from — helping to promote public awareness regarding the EU.

For directly impacted EU citizens of any EU legislation to understand the assessments made in Brussels, there must be 24 official translations.

Thus, national authorities must make them aware of these laws before they can be implemented.

Regardless of their language; EU citizens need to know what their leaders are up to. For ASEAN, English is the working language, but it is difficult for the average citizen to understand the regional agenda, especially if it’s only offered in English.

Nonetheless, the earlier Indonesian government recklessly announced a new policy, which excluded the teaching of English language for primary school students.

It’s also a known fact it is going to take time and money to copy the EU approach, and involving both complicated historical and regional differences.

However, increasing the number of people who are ASEAN-aware using more effective ways of communication is helpful to the AEC establishment.

On top of that, better public understanding about the AEC would entice people to use what is set to become a lone market that includes 600 million people and a $2.3 trillion GDP.

For the AEC to be launched on time, it needs the backing of a powerful ASEAN Secretariat and all 10 member states to forgo their narrow-minded fixations on shared affluence and wealth.


The writer is executive director of the ASEAN Consulting Group.

Source :

The Jakarta Post

Malaysia as ASEAN Chair in 2015: What To Expect

22 11 2014

By Prashanth Parameswaran

The country will be leading the bloc during a pivotal year. Can it deliver on its promises?

On November 13, at the close of the 25th ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar president Thein Sein handed the ceremonial chairman’s gavel to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, marking the official handover of the annual rotating ASEAN chair from Myanmar to Malaysia for 2015. As one of the four original founding members of ASEAN, Malaysia will be tasked with leading the organization in a year filled with important developments in the areas of community-building, economic integration, and regional architecture.

Regional community-building will top the agenda. Malaysia will preside over the organization during a critical the year in which it is expected to form an ASEAN Community (AC) by December 31, 2015. While ASEAN elites have long been skeptical that the deadline will be met, Malaysia will help formulate the “post-2015” ten-year roadmap for this community-building from 2016 to 2025. Work on this has already started, but it will nonetheless be a gargantuan task.

Economic integration will also be at the forefront of Malaysia’s chairmanship in 2015. Part of the agenda will center on the future of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), one of three pillars of the AC which aims to create a single market and production base. But Malaysia will also help conclude negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will be the world’s largest free trade agreement grouping ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand upon its completion by the end of 2015. RCEP’s conclusion, along with an expected launch of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), will likely lead to a deluge of commentary about the emerging shape of Asian integration and the role of China and the United States.

There will also be some conversation about the future of regional architecture – shorthand for the alphabet soup of Asian multilateral groupings such as the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). Since 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the EAS, which was first held in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, some have suggested that it be further institutionalized to cement its place as the premier leaders’ forum for strategic dialogue. Regarding ASEAN itself, Najib has already said that Malaysia will focus its chairmanship on strengthening ASEAN institutions and trying to increasing contributions to the organization by member states.

With this full plate and Malaysia’s concurrent role as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Malaysian officials will hope that tensions in the South China Sea do not flare up again. Even though Malaysia is a claimant state, it has traditionally preferred dealing with the issue quietly to balance protecting its interests and preserving its relationship with Beijing. Yet as previous years have demonstrated, events on the water may divide ASEAN states or force the chair to issue a separate statement. Another round of Chinese assertiveness towards Vietnam or the Philippines, or a decision by the arbitral tribunal at the Hague on the Philippines’ case against China, could well bring the South China Sea issue to the fore. Malaysia’s much-touted capacity for “moderation” and conflict resolution may once again be tested.

Beyond these specific agenda items, Malaysia’s overall theme for its chairmanship is “Our People, Our Community, Our Vision,” reflecting its leadership’s focus on “bringing ASEAN closer to the people” as Najib succinctly put it. Some are quick to dismiss this as laughable, noting that Southeast Asia continues to be dominated by authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes, and that Malaysia’s own ruling party lost the popular vote in the country’s last election in 2013. Yet moving towards a more “people-centered ASEAN” is nonetheless a laudable goal. As some have correctly pointed out, there is still an alarmingly low level of awareness about ASEAN, which still largely remains an elite-driven project.

Next year will be an important one for ASEAN, and it is fortunate to have one of its original founding members at the helm. Malaysia has already articulated a clear and ambitious agenda for its chairmanship, which will officially begin on January 1, 2015. Now it must deliver on it.


The Diplomat

ASEAN a perennial quiet achiever

8 11 2014

by Rodolfo Severino

High on the ASEAN agenda for this November’s summit is, of course, the South China Sea. Failure to achieve consensus on the subject in the 2012 ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (the annual formal and regular meeting of the association’s foreign ministers) under the Cambodian foreign minister’s chairmanship caused the non-issuance of the joint communiqué, something that had never happened before — or since.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders pose for the group photo after the opening ceremony of the 24th ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, 11 May 2014. (Photo: AAP).

All but ignored by most commentators is the fact that less than ten days later, through the tireless efforts of Indonesia’s then foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, a statement was issued by all ASEAN governments, including Cambodia. The statement outlined ASEAN’s position on the sovereignty disputes over all or parts of the South China Sea, including the peaceful settlement of those disputes, and called for respect for international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the ‘early conclusion’ of a China-ASEAN Code of Conduct.

Also ignored has been the fact that, although only four of the ten ASEAN members have formal claims to sovereignty disputes pertaining to the South China Sea, all have interests in freedom of navigation and overflight there. These interests are based on treaty law and customary international law rather than on the strength of the most militarily powerful claimant in the South China Sea. The fact that ASEAN, like other regional associations of sovereign states, cannot resolve, but can take common positions on, disputes on sovereignty and other legal issues, is also often ignored.

Less dramatic but perhaps just as important is the leaders’ decision to establish the ASEAN Community by the end of 2015. As the deadline approaches, there are real questions about when the ASEAN Community, especially the ASEAN Economic Community with its promises of many integration measures, will kick in. Leaders at this November’s ASEAN Summit need to work through these questions and agree on some answers.

Shortly before the summit meetings commence, it would be in ASEAN’s interest for some senior politicians to make public and, if possible, collective, statements on issues currently plaguing the international community. One of them would be the rise of the Islamic State. Here, the ASEAN foreign ministers issued a statement in New York after a meeting with the US Secretary of State reportedly condemning the Islamic State. The statement also reiterated ASEAN’s commitment to countering terrorism in the region through the ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism and the ASEAN Comprehensive Plan of Action on Counter Terrorism, which seek to tackle the root causes of terrorism. Some or all of the contents of that statement may find their way into the ASEAN and East Asia Summit summaries.

In addition to the almost ritualistic pledges of support for the United Nations, leaders at the summit could stake out ASEAN positions on other live international issues, many of them still evolving.

The denuclearisation and re-unification of the Korean Peninsula are perennial topics of discussion. In the past, ASEAN tended to seek safety in UN Security Council resolutions and the Six-Party Talks on the denuclearisation of North Korea. To deviate from this would most likely involve consultations with the North Korean foreign minister, a regular participant in the ministerial-level ASEAN Regional Forum.

A key challenge for the future of ASEAN is whether the organisation will continue its current role as somewhat neutral convenor and hub of Asia Pacific foreign policy gatherings, or if it will take its own position on key international issues and make real the concept of ASEAN centrality.

Rodolfo C Severino, a retired Philippine diplomat and former ASEAN secretary general, is head of the ASEAN Studies Centre in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Source :

East Asia Forum

Why is (the Korean peninsula and East) Asia unable to capitalize (on) its successes

4 11 2014

Asia needs ASEAN-ization not Pakistanization of its continent

by Anis H. Bajrektarevic

Anis H. BajrektarevicSpeculations over the alleged bipolar world of tomorrow (the so-called G-2, China vs.the US), should not be an Asian dilemma. It is primarily a concern of the West that, after all, overheated China inthe first place with its (outsourced business) investments. Hence,despite a distortive noise about the possible future G-2 world, the central security problem of Asia remains the same: an absence of any pan-continental multilateral setting on the world’s largest continent.The Korean peninsula like no other Asian theater pays a huge prize because of it.
Why is it so?
How to draw the line between the recent and still unsettled EU/EURO crisis and Asia’s success story? Well, it might be easier than it seems: Neither Europe nor Asia has any alternative. The difference is that Europe well knows there is no alternative – and therefore is multilateral. Asia thinks it has an alternative – and therefore is strikingly bilateral, while stubbornly residing enveloped in economic egoisms. No wonder that Europe is/will be able to manage its decline, while Asia is (still) unable to capitalize its successes. Asia – and particularly its economically most (but not yet politico-militarily) advanced region, East Asia – clearly does not accept any more the lead of the post-industrial and post-Christian Europe, but is not ready for the post-West world.
By contrasting and comparing genesis of multilateral security structures in Europe with those currently existing in Asia, we can easily remark the following: Prevailing security structures in Asia are bilateral and mostly asymmetric, while Europe enjoys multilateral, balanced and symmetric setups (American and African continents too). These partial settings are moreinstruments of containment than of engagement. Containment will never result in the integration through cooperation. On contrary, it will trigger a confrontation which feeds the antagonisms and preserves alienation on the stage.Therefore, irrespective to the impressive economic growth, no Asian century will emerge with deeply entrenched divisions on the continent, where the socio-political currents of the Korean peninsula are powerful daily reminder that the creation of such a pan-Asian institution is an urgent must.

The Cold War revisited
Currently in Asia, there is hardly a single state which has no territorial dispute within its neighborhood. From the Middle East, Caspian and Central Asia, Indian sub-continent, mainland Indochina or Archipelago SEA, Tibet, South China Sea, Korean peninsula – that Poland of Asia, and the Far East, many countries are suffering numerous green and blue border disputes. The South China Sea solely counts for over a dozen territorial disputes – in which mostly China presses peripheries to break free from the long-lasting encirclement. These moves are often interpreted by the neighbors as dangerous assertiveness. On the top of that Sea resides a huge economy and insular territory in a legal limbo – Taiwan, which waits for a time when the pan-Asian and intl. agreement on how many Chinas Asia should have, gains a wide and lasting consensus.
Unsolved territorial issues, sporadic irredentism, conventional armament, nuclear ambitions, conflicts over exploitation of and access to the marine biota, other natural resources including fresh water access and supply are posing enormous stress on external security, safety and stability in Asia. Additional stress comes from the newly emerging environmental concerns, that are representing nearly absolute security threats, not only to the tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu, but also to the Maldives, Bangladesh, Cambodia, parts of Thailand, of Indonesia, of Kazakhstan and of the Philippines, etc. All this combined with uneven economic and demographic dynamics of the continent are portraying Asia as a real powder keg.
It is absolutely inappropriate to compare the size of Asia and Europe – the latter being rather an extension of a huge Asian continental landmass, a sort of western Asian peninsula – but the interstate maneuvering space is comparable. Yet, the space between the major powers of post-Napoleonic Europe was as equally narrow for any maneuver as is the space today for any security maneuver of Japan, China, the Korean peninsula, India, Pakistan, Iran, and the like.

Centrifugal – centripetal oscillatory interplay
On the eastern, ascendant flank of the Eurasian continent, the Chinese vertigo economy is overheated and too-well integrated in the petrodollar system. Beijing, presently, cannot contemplate or afford to allocate any resources in a search for an alternative. (The Sino economy is a low-wage- and labor intensive- centered one. Chinese revenues are heavily dependent on exports and Chinese reserves are predominantly a mix of the USD and US Treasury bonds.) To sustain itself as a single socio-political and formidably performing economic entity, the People’s Republic requires more energy and less external dependency. Domestically, the demographic-migratory pressures are huge, regional demands are high, and expectations are brewing.Considering its best external energy dependency equalizer (and inner cohesion solidifier), China seems to be turning to its military upgrade rather than towards the resolute alternative energy/Green Tech investments – as it has no time, planor resources to do both at once.Inattentive of the broader picture, Beijing (probably falsely) believes that a lasting containment, especially in the South China Sea, is unbearable, and that –at the same time– fossil-fuels are available (e.g., in Africa and the Gulf), and even cheaper with the help of battleships.
In effect, the forthcoming Chinese military buildup will only strengthen the existing, and open up new, bilateral security deals of neighboring countries, primarily with the US – as nowadays in Asia, no one wants to be a passive downloader. Ultimately, it may create a politico-military isolation (and financial burden) for China that would consequently justify and (politically and financially) cheapen the bolder reinforced American military presence in the Asia-Pacific, especially in the South and the East China Sea. It perfectly adds up to the intensified demonization of China in parts of influential Western media.
Hence, the Chinese grab for fossil fuels or its military competition for naval control is not a challenge but rather a boost for the US Asia-Pacific –even an overall– posture. Calibrating the contraction of its overseas projection and commitments – some would call it managing the decline of an empire – the US does not fail to note that nowadays half of the world’s merchant tonnage passes though the South China Sea. Therefore, the US will exploit any regional territorial dispute and other frictions to its own security benefit, including the costs sharing of its military presence with the local partners, as to maintain pivotal on the maritime edge of Asia that arches from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, Malacca, the South and East China Sea up to the northwest–central Pacific. Is China currently acting as a de facto fundraiser for the US?
A real challenge is always to optimize the (moral, political and financial) costs in meeting the national strategic objectives. In this case, it would be a resolute Beijing’s turn towards green technology, coupled with the firm buildup of the Asian multilateralism.Without a grand rapprochement to the champions of multilateralism in Asia, which are Indonesia, India and Japan, there is no environment for China to seriously evolve and emerge as a formidable, lasting and trusted global leader. Consequently, what China needs in Asia is not a naval race of 1908, but the Helsinki process of 1975.In return, what Asia needs (from China and Japan) is an ASEAN-ization, not a Pakistanization of its continent.
Opting for either strategic choice will reverberate in the dynamic Asia–Pacific theatre. However, the messages are diametrical: An assertive military – alienates, new technology – attracts neighbors. Finally, armies conquer (and spend) while technology builds (and accumulates)!At this point, any eventual accelerated armament in the Asia-Pacific theatre would only strengthen the hydrocarbon status quo, and would implicitly further help a well-orchestrated global silencing of consumers’ sensitivity over the record-high oil price.
With its present configuration, it is hard to imagine that anybody can outplay the US in the petro-security, petro-financial and petro-military global playground in the decades to come. Given the planetary petro-financial-media-tech-military causal constellations, this type of confrontation is so well mastered by and would further only benefit the US and the closest of its allies.China’s defense complex is over-ideologized, under-capitalized, technologically outdated and innovation-inert, while the US’ is largely privatized, highly efficient, deployable and prime innovative. Thus, even in security domain, the main China’s problem is not a naval or overall military parity, but the disproportionate technological gap. After all, China’s army was not meant (by Mao) and maintained (by Deng and his successors) to serve the external projection purpose. It was and still remains an ideological enterprise of cohesion, an essential centrifugal force to preserve territorial integrity of this land-colossus.(However, a design of the armies in the China’s neighborhood significantly defers.)
Within the OECD/IEA grouping, or closely: the G-8 (the states with resources, infrastructure, tradition of and know-how to advance the fundamental technological breakthroughs), it is only Japan that may seriously consider a Green/Renewable-tech U-turn. Tokyo’s external energy dependencies are stark and long-lasting. Past the recent nuclear trauma, Japan will need a few years to (psychologically and economically) absorb the shock – but it will learn a lesson. For such an impresive economy and considerable demography, situated on a small land-mass which is repeatedly brutalized by devastating natural catastrophes (and dependent on yet another disruptive external influence – Arab oil), it might be that a decisive shift towards green energy is the only way to survive, revive, and eventually to emancipate.
An important part of the US–Japan security treaty is the US energy supply lines security guaranty, given to (the post-WWII demilitarized) Tokyo. After the recent earthquake-tsunami-radiation armageddon, as well as witnessing the current Chinese military/naval noise, (the cabinet of the recently reconfirmed PM Noda and any other subsequent government of) Japan will inevitably rethink and revisit its energy policy, as well as the composition of its primary energy mix.
Tokyo is well aware that the Asian geostrategic myopias are strong and lasting, as many Asian states are either locked up in their narrow regionalisms or/and entrenched in their economic egoisms. Finally, Japan is the only Asian country that has clearly learned from its own modern history, all about the limits of hard power projection and the strong repulsive forces that come in aftermath from the neighbors. Their own pre-modern and modern history does not offer a similar experience to the other two Asian heavyweights, China and India.
This indicates the Far East as a probable zone of the Green-tech excellence, as much as ASEAN might be the gravity center of the consolidated diplomatic and socio-political action,and a place of attraction for many Asians in the decade to come.The ASEANized Korean peninsula – if patient, nuanced and farsighted (and if the unilateral peninsular assertiveness is always met with a de-escalating restrain, and never with a spiraling reciprocal provocation) may become this part of Asian excellence.

Post Scriptum on the Korean peninsula:
As one of the exceptionally few world regions, Korean peninsula so far holds both what is otherwise missing in many other world’s theaters – stabilized demographic growth and an impressive economic growth. However, the demographic and economic growth poses an additional environmental stress, which – if not under check – may result in confrontational domestic policies and practices aimed at to maximize a grab for finite, scarce resources.

Hence, be the outside world Kantian or Hobbesian (be it driven by the sense of higher civilizational mission and common Korean destiny, or by the pragmatic need to strengthen the nation’s position), all necessary means are here! To register its future claims, the Korean – as well as wider East Asian theater – have to demonstrate its lasting and decisive vision and will.

Tentatively, we can cluster that will around three main tasks:

(i) Prosperity: Support to all three sides of the knowledge triangle: research (creation of knowledge); development/innovation (application of knowledge); education (dissemination of knowledge), as well as the promotion of life itself;
(ii) Solidarity: Human dimension enhancement through promotion of cohesion policies, including the full respect of authenticity as well as the preservation and promotion of indigenous socio-cultural and environmental diversities;
(iii) Security: Enhancing the human-centered (socio-economic) safety, based on free- dom, justice and inclusive collective (environmental and socio-political) security.

This opportunity should be understood as history’s call – which both invites and obliges at the same time. Or, as Hegel reminds us that since: “reason is purposive activity…” the state should be: “…the actuality of the ethical Idea, of concrete freedom…” for all. An effective long-range prosperity, solidarity as well as (external or internal) security cannot be based on confrontational (nostalgia of) ‘religious’ radicalism and other ideological collisions. Clearly, it cannot rest on the escapist consumerism, corrosive socio-economic egoism and exclusion, restriction and denial, but only on promotion and inclusion. Simply, it needs to be centered on a pro-active, participatory policy not a reactive, dismissive one.

Anis H. Bajrektarevic, Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member

Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies

Vienna, 28 OCT 14


Present text is prepared for the Geneva conference: ‘The Role of Dialogue and Understanding In De-Escalation on the Korean Peninsula and in East Asia’, UNOG 31 OCT 2014.


Jamil Maidan Flores: Why ASEM Is Vital to Indonesian Interest

23 10 2014

It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of ASEM, which bridges East Asia and Europe

asem_logoLate last week, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held its 10th summit in Milan, Italy. The event involved 51 nations from the two continents plus two regional organizations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the European Union.
As European Council president Herman Van Rompuy pointed out, these 51 nations account for 60 percent of humankind, 50 percent of global gross domestic product, and 60 percent of global trade. Remove their contributions, and the global economy ceases to be viable.
Once again Indonesia wasn’t represented by its head of state and government at the ASEM summit. This time the world understood and excused Indonesia. After all, the summit coincided with the very eve of the turnover of the presidency from Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had just completed his second term, to his successor, Joko Widodo.
It was different in 2010 when President Yudhoyono failed to attend the ninth ASEM summit in Brussels. Although days after that summit, he visited the Netherlands. Earlier, Yudhoyono did not make it to the US-Asean summit either. As a result, speculation was rife that the Indonesian government, in deference to China, was distancing itself from the US and the West. It was around that time that the US announced its “pivot” or “rebalancing” toward East Asia after years of apparent neglect of the region by the administration of George W. Bush.
Fortuitously, the Indonesian government had earlier begun espousing the principle of “dynamic equilibrium,” which rejected all forms of big power rivalry, especially the Cold War type. In the context of this principle, it became easier for Asean to welcome the participation of both Russia and the US in the East Asia Summit (EAS).
Europe, of course, made its pivot to East Asia a long time ago, through the establishment of the ASEM in 1996. I remember then Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas pushing for the inclusion of Australia and New Zealand on the Asian side of the ASEM equation at an Asean meeting in Bangkok in 1994.
The Thai foreign minister, with irreverent humor, suggested that Indonesia annex both Antipodean countries so it could represent them in ASEM. Alatas remained poker faced and let the remark pass. It wasn’t funny.
It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of ASEM. It’s the third leg of a global triad connecting the world’s core region: NATO connects Europe with North America; APEC links East Asia with the Americas; while ASEM bridges East Asia and Europe. Without ASEM, the global architecture, imagined as a triad, would limp on two legs.
However, for a fuller understanding of what can be realistically expected of Europe, I recommend a look into the views of that irrepressible Vienna-based intellectual, Dr. Anis Bajrektarevic, who says in effect that Europe is dominated today by France on political matters and by Germany on economic issues. Their bilateral alliance, he says, forms the geopolitical axis, the backbone of the European Union.
In that light, the mostly economic “French pivot” to East Asia should be even more welcome. So is the offer of Germany to take up in ASEM deliberations the cause of arbitration on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
On the East Asian situation, Dr. Bajrektarevic says that China would be making a strategic mistake if it didn’t embrace multilateralism, and if it didn’t achieve rapprochement with the three champions of multilateralism in Asia: Indonesia, India and Japan. For their part, the three, plus the US, would be well advised to deepen a constructive multilateral engagement with China.
That makes a case for the conclusion of an Indo-Pacific Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation.
Meanwhile, make no mistakes: for all its internal problems, the EU is constructively involved in East Asia. Indonesia and other Asean countries would do well to encourage a deepening of that involvement.

jamil-maidan-flores_BBC 1C

Jamil Maidan Flores is a Jakarta-based literary writer whose interests include philosophy and foreign policy. The views expressed here are his own.

Source :

The Jakarta Globe