Thailand’s Coup – Will ASEAN Answer?


By Kerstin Radtke

ASEAN must decide how to respond to the ongoing struggle for democracy in Thailand

Recent weeks have brought forth a slew of unfortunate developments for the “land of smiles,” as Thailand likes to brand itself. Political turmoil – first in the form of a half-coup on May 20, when General Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law, and then finally the full seizure of power by the army on May 22 – has led to some alarming developments. These events should be of special concern to Thailand’s Southeast Asian neighbors, with which Thailand forms the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Thailand is one of the most active and central players in ASEAN, representing Southeast Asia’s second biggest economy. This coup is far from uncommon news for Thailand. In fact, it constitutes the twelfth effective coup d’état in Thailand since 1932, besides seven other attempts. The pattern of political instability that Thailand has shown over the last couple of years seems almost continuous, and one could argue that the country’s regional neighbors are  somehow used to these ups and downs in the Thai political landscape. However, the fact that the very popular, and in the past conciliatory, King Bhumibol Adulyadej seems to have stayed out of the game this time makes this coup special, with the route back to stability and democracy much more uncertain.

Why should we expect any ASEAN comment at all though, since ASEAN prefers to stress the policy of non-interference and a hands-off approach concerning member states’ domestic issues? The answer is that the non-interference norm has lately seen some recalibration. Domestic issues that have regional implications, or the potential to threaten regional stability and security, are no longer taboo. Instead, facing comments by other ASEAN members might be tolerable or acceptable. One prominent example was the ASEAN response to cyclone Nargis in 2008 in Myanmar.

Concerning Thailand, the ASEAN Heads of State and Government issued an official statement on December 14, 2013, calling “on all parties concerned to resolve the current situation through dialogue and consultations in a peaceful and democratic manner.” Although the statement could be interpreted as pro-government, it nonetheless stands out as a noticeable peak in ASEAN’s cherished principle of non-interference with the internal affairs of its member states. With the army’s seizure of power, the situation in Thailand has not been solved through dialogue, consultations or in a democratic manner. ASEAN should thus follow-up its December statement, especially because it’s expressions of democracy are also backed by principles in the 2008 ASEAN Charter. In this document, the organization subscribed to the ideas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Certainly, critics of the association have denounced the gap between ASEAN’s identity on paper, and its actions when faced with real situations. The question for ASEAN therefore, is whether it wants to live up to its self-ascribed standards, or continue to just pay lip-service.

Indonesia, nowadays often described as the custodian of human rights and democracy in ASEAN, has already taken an active line. On May 22, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said: “Without meaning to intervene in the domestic affairs of Thailand… the development of the situation [there] should be a concern of Indonesia, together with the Asean.” Another factor in ASEAN’s view of the situation should be that Myanmar, a direct neighbor of Thailand, has just turned toward democracy. ASEAN countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, traditionally the most supportive of pro-democracy developments within ASEAN, might also have a strong interest in Thailand going back toward democracy as soon as possible, so as not threaten the new and still fragile developments in Myanmar.

Regionally and internationally, the human rights situation and the further deterioration of Thai democracy were viewed with concern. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed her deepest concern about the situation in Thailand. Several other non-governmental, regional and international organizations like the EU, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), have strongly condemned the military’s seizure of power. The situation on May 20, when the army launched its “half-coup,” did not justify the imposition of martial law, which severely restricted human rights, civil liberties and media freedom. Considering these developments, it will be interesting to observe whether an ASEAN voice will also be heard in the current discussion of the “Thai fight.”

Kerstin Radtke is a Research Assistant at the University of Konstanz, Germany.

Source :

The Diplomat

ASEAN’s Tepid Response to the Vietnam-China Faceoff


By Luke Hunt

The bloc’s inability to craft a united response to Chinese aggression signals a further decline in its regional clout.

By Luke Hunt

As ASEAN wound up its annual meeting in Naypyidaw with the usual round of backslapping and handshakes, Thailand was again close to political implosion while Vietnam’s navy faced another Chinese incursion in waters not far from Danang.

Sadly, both threats to regional stability elicited only a tepid response from ASEAN leaders gathering for the first time ever in Myanmar, a country whose human rights record could end a global attempt to coax its regime out of a North Korean-like status.

Not much was said about Brunei’s introduction of Sharia law and punishments that range from the stoning of adulterers, gays and apostates to lopping the limbs off thieves. Hard-line Muslims are pushing for something similar in Malaysia, which has been embarrassed by its fumbled response to the disappearance of Flight MH370.

Neither a ruthless crackdown on dissent in Cambodia nor a massive borrowing binge in Laos rated much of a mention among ASEAN leaders. Little mention was made of a serious economic crunch in Vietnam, which alongside the Philippines is providing the international bulwark against China’s extraordinary nine-dash line declaration.

Enthusiasm for ASEAN, and in particular the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the end of 2015, has been waning, particularly among heavyweight members like Indonesia. This lack of interest in ASEAN affairs, and a willfully blind attitude to the more weighty issues of state, could not have come at a worse time.

The Thais had been tasked with negotiating a code of conduct between China and ASEAN over Beijing’s “ancient claims” in the South China Sea – also known as the West Philippines Sea and East Sea in Vietnam – as gunboat diplomacy between Hanoi and Beijing reaches its most dangerous levels since 1979.

Ancient claims have no basis in international courts, but Beijing is relentless in its territorial ambitions. It is also using its own rules in maritime disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan – and possibly Indonesia over the Natuna Sea.

But the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has left the Thais and ASEAN rudderless as China tried to defend its stationing of an oil rig on Vietnam’s continental shelf.

As Vietnamese and Chinese ships jostled and fired water cannons at each other – the best ASEAN could do was issue another summit statement urging restraint and expressing “serious concern,” timidly avoiding any mention of China.

Furious protesters have trashed 15 Chinese factories in Vietnam, forcing Chinese investors and tourists to flee across the border and into the safety of Cambodia. Golfers in Danang reported fighter jets overhead, heading out to sea.

Observers said it was the first time Vietnam had allowed the state-run press to freely cover the protests, which the government also allowed to proceed. However, Singapore-based Channel News Asia was taken off the air after flagging a report on the protests.

At least 200 people have been arrested and the Vietnamese government has pledged to crack down on hooliganism.

“It is clear that China’s new assertiveness is triggering anxieties among its neighbors,” said  Ernest Bower, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

ASEAN has long been ridiculed as a toothless tiger and its behavior amid the current standoff between China and Vietnam – perhaps the greatest challenge to face the group – only reinforces the claims.

If ASEAN genuinely wants to be taken seriously, now might be an appropriate time for a united public front on China’s territorial ambitions in the seas that divide the bloc’s 10 nations. If it is unable to do that, then individual member states face the daunting task of dealing with Beijing on their own, further relegating ASEAN to the political sidelines and undermining its diplomatic credentials.

Source :

The Diplomat

Weaknesses in the ASEAN way


By Bahana Menggala Bara

Whenever weak Southeast Asian states join forces in ASEAN to engage with major powers, they aim to dictate to the giants.

This ASEAN way, with its emphasis on non-interference and consensus, has developed into an approach that offers an alternative to the more dominant Western one.

Contemporary Southeast Asian dynamics offer the so-called ASEAN way as an approach that may provide a positive model of self-engagement. But outside the relatively clear-cut idea of self-motivation, the ASEAN approach quickly becomes more challenging since ASEAN’s attempts to mimic the values of other regions are puzzling in their complexity.

To start with, ASEAN is an anomaly as far as regional groupings are concerned, as it asserts itself as the driving force when conducting external relations. This engagement challenges the current offensive norm in which major powers are the only entities free to engage in security competition.

In a confounding manner, ASEAN deems it has a similar capacity to do so, though it does not act on it to compete, but to stabilize.

However, ASEAN’s engagement with bigger powers poses a double-edged sword. Theoretically, it may well serve the weak and major powers’ mutual interests, but the extent to which ASEAN member states individually put regional interests before their national ones remains to be seen.

ASEAN may find benefits if it can bargain with major powers. However, dealing with unshared interests requires great wisdom and diplomacy, especially from the ASEAN chair.

Evidently, ASEAN under Cambodia’s chairmanship failed to issue a Joint Communiqué in 2012, letting itself be pulled by the force of interests from emerging powers. Here, the ASEAN ideal to engage with the major powers turned into being driven instead of driving.

It is therefore imperative that further reform be encouraged by strong ASEAN leadership. Additionally, Indonesia stepping in to restore the situation provides another anomaly of clashes of socializing, leaving one with the notion that weak leadership in ASEAN remains a concern.

Moreover, ASEAN’s ability to manage its complex external relations by creating myriad architectures remains a subject to be explored.

As is widely known, ASEAN has designed the ASEAN Plus One mechanism to facilitate the construction of larger regional architectures that do not overlap because they carry different purposes and act at different levels.

However, the architectures produce abundant documents and declarations from each consensus. In their making, a large number of meetings take place at all levels. One may find that this kind of approach is less efficient and less effective than a consolidated one.

The ASEAN approach tends to focus on the process instead of the result. In the end, the implementation of documents ends up in a long queue.

Finally, in conducting external relations with its dialogue partners, ASEAN’s actions tend to enforce a free trade regime. ASEAN, in this regard, has fallen into the regime of capitalism, a Western product. In this sense, ASEAN has unconsciously adopted Western values. By integrating with the world market ASEAN is mimicking the Western approach.

In the end, ASEAN becomes a part of the West’s efforts to create economic interdependence. ASEAN “grows” to become a mere market and hence is open to the exploitative relationship between core and peripheral economies. Ultimately, for ASEAN to purely mimic the Western approach as part of its learning process becomes a drawback.

As a regional grouping, ASEAN has four major weaknesses: The tendency to prioritize national over regional interests, weak leadership, ineffective bureaucratic structure and purely emulating the Western approach.

The first weakness often occurs because a large gap between CLMV (Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Myanmar, Vietnam) and the ASEAN Six (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines).

To be independent, rather than depending on external powers, it is paramount for the ASEAN Six to economically assist CLMV, or else the latter follows the political-economic strategies and orientations of outside powers.

Although consensus building within ASEAN comes more naturally by focusing on similarities and recurring patterns, the ASEAN approach needs to address, rather than ignore, their gap and strive to meet their differences through similarities.

To overcome weak leadership, a tandem leadership is needed. As chair of ASEAN in 2011, Indonesia had to deal with numerous issues that could have divided ASEAN. Upon leaving the position, Indonesia took the moral responsibility to ensure that its successor, Cambodia, safeguarded any ASEAN regional interests developed during its chairmanship.

Therefore, Indonesia should have carried out extensive leadership in tandem with and overlapping with Cambodia. Indonesia’s assertive action in proposing the ASEAN Six-Point Principles in the absence of the Joint Communiqué might have been partly motivated by its shared responsibility.

Eventually, ASEAN members must develop and learn about how to gain independent leadership, or else other powers might infiltrate and manipulate ASEAN’s leadership to their own wishes.

To tackle its structural ineffectiveness, ASEAN needs to focus its efforts on the results as much as the process. There should be a supervising body within ASEAN to keep track of what has been achieved so far.

This body needs to function not just to record the level of policy implementation but also enforce what is left behind. In other words, ASEAN needs to manifest not just normative but also pragmatic actions. If ASEAN is able to create an abundance of mechanisms for reaching a consensus, why is it so hard to design ones to enforce an implementation of the consensus?

Lastly, to end its penchant for mimicking a Western approach, ASEAN should adapt and localize the values it borrows from the West to better fit its own values, needs and interests. If it continues to purely adopt free trade agreements under capitalism and an inter-dependent economy, ASEAN should fall how the West falls.

Instead, ASEAN needs to design creative systems that anticipate the fall, enduring independently, creating a market economy and producing economy at the same time, not just a competing economy but also a complementary one.

To sum up, the ASEAN approach is still raw and untested, thus it needs to be challenged and criticized in order to survive, improve and endure. Most importantly, if this approach is set in motion as the model to be implemented in neighboring regions, the values and problems ASEAN possesses will travel along with it.

Applying the ASEAN approach is expected to solve some problems beyond its region, but leaving the drawbacks unresolved could aggravate glitches in neighboring areas.

Arguably, this Southeast Asian approach may offer an alternative model for international relations but only if it is developed to survive an ever-changing world where powers tend to be both dynamic and manipulative.

The writer, an alumnus of Leiden University, is an Indonesian diplomat. The views expressed are his own.

Source:

The Jakarta Post

ASEAN Leaders Summit to Take Place Amid South China Sea Concerns


By Ankit Panda

Leaders from the ten member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will meet in in Napyidaw, Myanmar this weekend. The meeting is historic due to its venue: Myanmar is hosting an ASEAN summit for the first time. However, the meeting unfortunately coincides with two major maritime disputes between two ASEAN states and China. Vietnam’s tryst with China over an oil rig near the disputed Paracel Islands and the Philippines detention of a  Chinese fishing boat in the disputed waters of the Second Thomas Shoal will ensure that managing maritime disputes with China will top the agenda as the leaders meet in Napyidaw.

The timing of the summit could encourage both the Philippines and Vietnam, and the remaining ASEAN countries, to revisit the regional organization’s bid to develop effective multilateral means to manage the various disputes in the South China Sea. It is highly unlikely that the leaders would convene in Napyidaw and issue any sort of joint condemnation of Chinese behavior (not in the least owing to the host country’s complicated relationship with China). Instead, ASEAN leaders are likely to do what they have done in the past: emphasize international law, encourage restraint, and call for diplomacy.

More specifically, the timing of the summit with these two acute flare-ups in the South China Sea should be a rude reminder that ASEAN should double-down on its efforts to set in stone a binding code of conduct for the South China Sea. Without any such concerted effort, China is unlikely to reconsider its behavior in the South China Sea. As Flashpoints blogger Carl Thayer told the South China Morning Post, ”Asean protestations will not move China one inch.”

The prospects for this summit leading to a breakthrough on a code of conduct are slim. The watershed document in this area, the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, signed between all the ASEAN states and China, is proving insufficient in managing contemporary tensions. As Malcolm Cook notes for the Lowy Interpreter, the 2014 summit will really test the mettle and conviction of ASEAN states to make good on their intention to enforce the 2002 Declaration. Chinese action in recent weeks, both against Vietnam and the Philippines, violates the declaration.

One of the worse potential outcomes of this weekend’s summit is that ASEAN leaders will leave Napyidaw having said or done nothing about Chinese behavior in the South China Sea or a code of conduct. Implicitly, such a result would expose the diplomatic fault-lines present within the 10-member association. Both Manila and Hanoi will be vocal in their pursuit of at least a joint statement on the South China Sea. Filipino Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles C. Jose told The Wall Street Journal that he expects ASEAN to reiterate its “grave concern over the recent developments in the South China Sea, as well as Asean’s strong resolve to uphold the rule of law.”

ASEAN leaders themselves remain divided over the urgency they ascribe to the China issue and the policies they would like to pursue to resolve South China Sea disputes. In particular, given that China is a major trade partner for each state in the region, the countries without disputes with China are not eager to participate in an inflammatory statement against China given the risk of damaging their political and economic relationships with Beijing. China’s approach of avoiding multilateral forums for addressing maritime disputes has worked to the extent that it has paralyzed ASEAN’s ability to respond in unison to China’s assertion of its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Indeed the July 2012 ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Cambodia offers a stark reminder of what disunity can look like within the association.

For Myanmar, the historic occasion of hosting its first ASEAN Summit and joining the comity of Southeast Asian nations as a state in transition will likely be overshadowed by a fixation on China. Although Myanmar’s reforms under the leadership of Thein Sein has reduced its dependence on China, it maintains cordial relations with Beijing and is unlikely to risk this over South China Sea maritime disputes.

Source :

The Diplomat

Presidential candidates unclear on ASEAN


By Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar

Recent developments in the 2014 general elections have seen an absence of ASEAN debate from both legislative and presidential candidates. From the legislative campaign to current coalition talks, we have not heard any serious discussion on Indonesia’s position toward ASEAN.

While there have been slogans that glorified Indonesia in global politics — such as “Asian Tiger” — there has been no clear vision on how Indonesia’s foreign policy will be managed, particularly in the regional environment.

This is ironic; as the ASEAN Community will be established next year, our president’s vision on ASEAN will determine Indonesia’s position in the upcoming era. It makes this year’s general elections important, not only for the Indonesian people, but also for ASEAN.

The most interesting part of this year’s election is the rise of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Gerindra Party, two parties with populist-nationalist rhetoric that have been in opposition to the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over the last five years. Quick-count results from the legislative election have so far placed these parties among the top three positions, along with the Golkar Party.

The PDI-P is renowned for its populist and pro-poor approach to gaining voters, including the use of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno’s slogans, as well as criticism of Yudhoyono’s “neoliberal” government, while Gerindra uses populist economics and readapts nationalist symbolism to gain middle-class voters.

Both of these parties have utilized nationalist rhetoric as a main part of their political programs. Their approaches — such as nationalization or pro-poor programs — are different to the more pragmatic approach of the ruling Democratic Party.

This nationalist rhetoric is also accompanied by the tendency to strengthen the state’s role in managing the economy. Several campaigns from the PDI-P and Gerindra have raised “sovereignty” and “nationalization” as items on the political agenda, in contrast to the policies of the government.

Although the commitment to nationalization by presidential candidates Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto is still in question, their statements and programs reflect intentions to raise nationalism as a main topic of discourse.

The rhetoric campaigned by the PDI-P and Gerindra has two prominent characteristics.

First, the rhetoric glorifies Indonesia’s greatness and its decadence under a neoliberal regime. The parties reject neoliberal capitalism and excessive foreign investment and exploitation, and they call for the nationalization of strategic industrial assets, particularly those related to mining.

However, the PDI-P and Gerindra do not fully reject capitalism and the parties have been supported by several domestic businesspeople.

Second, the rhetoric strongly calls for “national sovereignty” and a strong state role in the economy. Both the PDI-P and Gerindra have described nationalism as a “state-led economy” in which the government stands strong in the face of the global economy. It shares some similarities with the early New Order government, which put an emphasis on state-led planning and industry, but with the full support of foreign aid, as described by scholars Vedi Hadiz and Richard Robison.

State-led capitalism differs from neoliberal capitalism in terms of who regulates the market and the role of the state, but is similar in terms of capital accumulation. State-led capitalism only transfers the locus of capitalist accumulation within the state; it has nothing to do with the bigger capitalist accumulation process.

Thus, within state capitalism, the capitalist accumulation will be preserved. With its strong position in the economy, the state will be able to control any industry or investment in the country (for example, through a licensing policy) and thus create a new form of oligarchy with businesspeople. It makes the state relatively autonomous in the process of capitalist accumulation in Indonesia.

The nationalist rhetoric is merely a redundant form of the “state-led capitalism” practiced in the early New Order era. As long as capitalists’ interests can be preserved by the new government, there will be no radical change in the next regime.

So, what would this mean for ASEAN regionalism?

This year’s election will have at least two implications for regional integration in South East Asia. First, the election will determine Indonesia’s position toward ASEAN. Nationalist candidates will favor a strong position based on “national interest”, while candidates from centrist parties (the Democratic Party or Golkar Party) will favor a more regionalist approach in their foreign policy.

Parties with nationalist tendencies are likely to be skeptical toward ASEAN integration. Gerindra seems to consider ASEAN and cooperation in other regional and international frameworks as an obstacle for national sovereignty. Gerindra’s position is clearer than that of other parties — Indonesia’s foreign policy should be based on state-defined national interest. Parties with religious tendencies, such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), aim to bring Indonesia’s foreign policy closer to the so-called interests of the Muslim community.

However since ASEAN has been completely institutionalized since 2003, such nationalist and religious tendencies will have to adapt its norms.

Second, the election result will determine debates and negotiations related to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Nationalists will favor higher state control of the economy, but “centrists” seem to accommodate ideas of “free trade” or a “competitive economy” embedded in the AEC Blueprint. However, their position toward capital will not be different to that of the current government.

The absence of clear foreign policy including regional and international cooperation from presidential candidates will lead to a lack of preparedness for facing the regional and global challenges ahead.

The writer is a staff member at the ASEAN Studies Center, Gadjah Mada University.

Source :

The Jakarta Post

Will US-Philippines pact sideline ASEAN’s normative order?


By Rizal Sukma

The recent visit by US President Barack Obama to the Philippines ended in an agreement aimed at reinvigorating bilateral defense ties and cooperation between the two allies. With the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the US military has greater access to Philippine bases for the next 10 years. The agreement will allow US troops and other military assets to be stationed in the Philippines on a temporary and rotational basis.

Even though Obama and US officials maintain that the EDCA is primarily meant to promote regional security and has nothing to do with China, one cannot miss the fact that the agreement clearly reinforces America’s “rebalancing” strategy in East Asia. Similar steps have been carried out by the US. During 2012-2013, it announced that it would deploy 2,500 marines to Australia; station four littoral combat ships (LCS) in Singapore; and deepen defense and security ties with Vietnam. The newest agreement with Manila will clearly boost America’s defense posture and military presence in Southeast Asia.

Of course, through the EDCA, the US expects to alleviate doubts in the region, especially among its allies, about America’s resolve and capacity to sustain its “pivot to Asia” strategy. However, it is not difficult to see that the “rebalancing” strategy is also meant to preserve American primacy in the face of China’s rise and growing influence in the region.

For American allies and partners in the region, it is also the rise of China — or the fear of it — that has prompted them to convince Washington to stay engaged in the region to preserve the balance of power. Regional countries are nervous about China’s growing assertiveness invoking its claims in the South China Sea.

Indeed, the strengthening of defense ties between the US and its allies and partners is taking place with the growing rivalry between the two great powers in the background. In this context, one wonders whether power politics has returned to Southeast Asia. In fact, many fear that the region is increasingly defined by the primacy of a realist order based on power politics and balance of power in classical sense.

These developments raise a critical question for the future of regional order in East Asia: Is ASEAN’s approach, which prefers norms and institution-building as a mechanism to ensure regional peace and stability, being sidelined?

Of course, it is too early to say that ASEAN’s approach has lost its relevance. From the outset, ASEAN realized that the region had always been characterized by the existence of three types of order that co-exist with each other. The first is the realist order based on the central role of power in inter-state relations. It would be naïve to believe that in an “anarchical” world of international politics, the pursuit of power should be abandoned.

Second, states also believe that international relations are guided by certain norms. In fact, norms — often demonstrated by states’ adherence to international laws — function to define the behavior of states. Even great powers like the US and China do see the need to abide by international norms. Hence, the existence of normative order in East Asia is a reality.

Third, interaction among states in East Asia has always been carried out within various institutions. This institution-based order in the region has been exemplified by the presence of various ASEAN-centered institutions such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

The challenge for ASEAN, therefore, is how to ensure that the realist order will not become a dominant feature of regional politics. ASEAN should ensure that the three types of order would reinforce, not undermine, each other. This is critical for peace and stability in the region. In order to do this, two prerequisites need to be fulfilled.

First, ASEAN and great powers need to recognize that the three types of order are interconnected. Normative and institution-based orders would not function properly without a stable balance of power among the great powers. However, a realist order based on balance of power will be fraught with risks of conflict if it is not moderated by a functioning normative and institution-based order. In the Southeast Asian context, therefore, it is in the interests of the great powers to support and strengthen ASEAN’s normative and institution-based order.

Second, it is imperative for the region to find a way to alleviate the fear of China’s rise. It is this fear that would push regional countries to adopt either “bandwagoning” or “balancing” strategies. Unfortunately, more and more countries in the region are choosing the strategy of balancing or hedging against China. China’s growing assertiveness, especially in the South China Sea, is often cited as the key factor in this regard.

Therefore, the fear of China could be mitigated if the South China Sea problem can be managed peacefully through an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (CoC) between China and ASEAN.

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.

Source :

The Jakarta Post

ASEAN and UN Peacekeeping


By Carl Thayer

ASEAN will slowly develop and evolve regional peacekeeping coordination capacity.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has set the objective of creating an ASEAN Community by the end of 2015. The ASEAN Community will be based on three pillars or communities: the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

After the ASEAN Political-Security Community is created, what role could ASEAN and the United Nations undertake in peace operations in Southeast Asia and globally? How would ASEAN’s existing capacity and structure have to change in order to deploy on peace operations?

These questions and other questions were posed at an international conference on “The New Landscape of Peace Operations: A Dialogue with South East Asia and Vietnam.” The conference was convened in Hanoi from April 15-16 under the co-sponsorship of the Swedish International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the Frederick Ebert Stiftung (FES) based in Germany, and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University.

The conference was the last in a series of similar conferences held regionally by SIPRI in Europe, Middle East, Africa, South Asia, South America, Central Asia and Northeast Asia. The Hanoi conference was attended by delegates from the United Nations, Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia. It was conducted under Chatham House rules.

The conference was held in Hanoi because Vietnam will become the newest member of ASEAN to contribute to peace support operations under the UN. Seven other members of ASEAN have participated in UN peace operations. As of January 31, total Southeast Asian contributions (including police, military experts and troops) stood at: Brunei (26), Cambodia (342), Indonesia (1,697), Malaysia (909), Philippines (703), and Thailand (33). Singapore contributed 22 personnel in 2013.

The Dialogue with Southeast Asia and Vietnam was preceded by an invitation-only national seminar titled “Contributing to Peace Operations: Experiences, Challenges and Priorities.” There it was announced that Vietnam has approved the setting up of a Peacekeeping Center and Vietnam will make a modest contribution by deploying two military observers to the Sudan this year. At the same time, Vietnam will commence detailed planning for further commitments, including humanitarian missions involving mine clearance and medical assistance.

The national seminar delved deeply into the obstacles and challenges that Vietnam faced in reaching a decision to commit to UN peace operations. Vietnam, in fact, refrained from making its annual UN levy on peacekeeping from 1975 until 1994. Vietnam currently contributes $1 million annually.

At the national seminar it was revealed that, due to lack of consensus among policymakers, Vietnam’s Master Plan on contributions to UN peace operations, originally scheduled for release in 2013, has been postponed to 2015. A key factor in this decision was uncertainty about public support for sending Vietnamese military personnel abroad, especially if there were casualties.

Vietnamese participants highlighted other obstacles and challenges. One major impediment was legal in nature. In 2013, Vietnam amended Article 64 in its state constitution and inserted the clause “[the people’s armed forces] shall contribute to the protection of peace in the region and in the world” to provide sanction for its participation in UN peace operations.

This year, Vietnam’s National Assembly will give legal effect to the constitutional amendment by passing a resolution providing for the deployment of armed forces personnel abroad in the service of the UN. The National Assembly will follow up later by drafting a Law on Peacekeeping authorizing Vietnam to meet its international obligations.

ASEAN Peacekeeping Centers Network

In 2003, Indonesia proposed a Plan of Action to assist in the creation of the ASEAN Political-Security Community by 2020 (since brought forward to 2015). The ASEAN Political-Security Community was proposed as a mechanism for ASEAN states to settle disputes and security issues among themselves. It included a proposal to create an ASEAN peacekeeping network.

In 2004, Indonesia proposed at a meeting of ASEAN senior officials the creation of an ASEAN peacekeeping force that could be deployed to assist in the settlement of internal disputes such as the conflicts in Aceh and the southern Philippines.

According to Marty Natalegawa, then Acting Director General for ASEAN Cooperation (and now Indonesia’s Foreign Minister):

What we are saying is ASEAN countries should know one another better than anyone else and therefore we should have the option for ASEAN countries to take advantage of an ASEAN peacekeeping force to be deployed if they so wish.

Natalegawa’s proposal was quickly scotched by Thailand and Singapore.

Nevertheless, individual ASEAN members have welcomed the role of outside military observers in conflict settlement. For example, in 2003 Indonesia permitted unarmed military monitors from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand (as well as the European Union) to observe the ceasefire in Aceh. The following year, the Philippines invited Malaysian military personnel to Mindanao to observe Malaysian-mediated peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Four ASEAN members – Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – contributed troops and civilian police to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor. In 2006, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste sought assistance from Malaysia (as well as Portugal, Australia, and New Zealand) to provide assistance in restoring stability after a domestic crisis erupted into large-scale violence.

In 2011, in a set back for ASEAN efforts to play a mediating role in the border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia, Thailand declined Indonesia’s offer to send military personnel to observe a ceasefire. At that time, Indonesia was chair of the ASEAN Standing Committee.

In a more positive development, Indonesia’s 2003 proposal for a network of ASEAN national peacekeeping centers gradually took shape. The Three-Year Work Program (2008-2010) adopted by the 2nd ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting  (ADMM) in 2007 included a provision for establishing a network among ASEAN peacekeeping centers in order to conduct joint training and exchange of experiences.

In 2009, the proposal for creating a network of ASEAN peacekeeping centers was included in the ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint. The 5th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) in 2011 adopted the Concept Paper on the Establishment of ASEAN Peacekeeping Centers Network (APCN) and included a provision on networking in its second Three-Year Work Program (2011-2013).

The first meeting of the APCN was held in Kuala Lumpur in September 2012. It was co-hosted by Thailand and Indonesia and attended by Cambodia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. The second meeting was held in Bogor in September 2013 with the participation of all national peacekeeping centers as well as military representatives from Laos and Myanmar.

ASEAN and UN PKO

The international conference on “The New Landscape of Peace Operations: A Dialogue with South East Asia and Vietnam” did not adopt any formal recommendations. SIPRI, however, will prepare and publish a conference report offering a summary of the discussions.

In looking at the future, conference participants reached consensus that ASEAN, as a regional association, was unlikely to become involved in UN peace support operations outside Southeast Asia under the ASEAN flag.

The eight troop contributing countries were likely to continue to support traditional UN peace operations on an individual basis. They were less likely to support multi-dimensional or robust peacekeeping efforts.

Indonesia, which is currently ranked as the world’s seventeenth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, has set itself the objective of becoming one of the top ten troop contributing countries. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made this commitment when he opened the Indonesia Peace and Security Center in Sentul, West Java on April 7.

Participants found it difficult to identify realistic scenarios in which the United Nations would become involved in peacekeeping missions in Southeast Asia over the next five to ten years. Rather, ASEAN members preferred to operate through regional mechanisms, especially for peace-building missions. Participants also felt it unlikely that ASEAN would agree to assemble a standby force for regional contingencies in the near term.

Participants were generally in agreement that Southeast Asia’s norms upholding sovereignty and non-intervention, and the requirement of consent by the host state, would mitigate against any ASEAN-initiated intervention among its members. Participants from Southeast Asia also noted that these norms held stronger sway than the newer norms of the Responsibility to Protect and Protection of Civilians.

The most likely future development is expansion of the ASEAN Peacekeeping Centers Network to include all ten members. This was touted as an example of ASEAN connectivity. The APCN was also expected to promote specialist niches of expertise among its members.

The prospect of ASEAN interoperability and standby arrangements were viewed as long-term objectives. ASEAN, however, could be expected to take the lead in dealing with armed conflict between its members or the serious outbreak of domestic violence in a state.  But ASEAN would use primarily diplomatic and political tools such as those enumerated in Article 23 of the ASEAN Charter – good offices, consultation, mediation etc. – to meet its obligations. ASEAN and its members would resist the use of force.

Depending on the circumstances, individual ASEAN members might contribute to conflict resolution at the invitation of the host state or by the consent of the parties concerned.

Source :

The Diplomat

Winners and losers in ASEAN 2015


A number of ASEAN firms are taking steps towards grabbing opportunities that ASEAN 2015 could bring but some sectors also stand to lose out

By Ronald U. Mendoza and Charles Siriban

Economic integration in the form of free(er) movement of goods, capital and people will typically yield what economists call “efficiency gains” for a country – benefits derived through specialization, competition and better allocation of resources in production.

This is the fundamental bedrock of free trade; and this process can serve as an engine of high and sustained growth. Yet is this growth necessarily inclusive?

Critics are right to point out that these macro-level gains are not necessarily a guarantee that everyone shares in these benefits – Yes, the pie will grow, but who gets to share? Inclusiveness depends on whether most sectors are able to compete, and ultimately, whether competition brings out better products and services for most consumers.

Observations of strategic adjustments by ASEAN firms in a database being constructed by the AIM Policy Center suggest that some of the most competitive firms in the region are already taking decisive steps to take advantage of the opportunities that ASEAN 2015 could bring. Yet there are also sectors that may stand to lose out; and that is where public sector intervention is critical in order to make the integration process a fair one.

Banking

The banking industry is a key sector to watch as consolidation and network externalities (more branches and more customers spell lower costs on the margin and higher profits) take place. As expected, several regional giants are seeking to gain a foothold and expand in relatively underdeveloped markets.

In the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam which together account for approximately 167 million of 617 million people in ASEAN), Thai banks like Bangkok Bank, Krungthai Bank and Siam Commercial Bank, are pursuing expansionary strategies. Many of these same banks join DBS Holdings (a Singaporean bank trying to acquire Indonesian PT Bank Danamon) and Affin Holdings Bhd (a Malaysian banking group trying to acquire a majority share of Indonesian PT Bank Ina Perdana) in expanding in Indonesia, the largest ASEAN member country (population of about 250 million or about 40% of ASEAN).

The top 2 Malaysian banks (Maybank and CIMB) have also started penetrating the Philippine banking market, with Maybank planning to increase its branches in the Philippines to 100 in 2014 and 200 by 2018.

Manufacturing

Various manufacturing firms are now also trying to break into (or expand existing facilities in) CLMV. For instance, Universal Robina Corporation (Philippines) plans to spend US$20-30 million to set up food manufacturing facilities in Myanmar. Asiawide Refreshments Corporation (exclusive manufacturer and distributor of RC Cola in the Philippines) will similarly set up manufacturing facilities in Myanmar and Thailand. Also, Singha Corporation (Thai manufacturer of beer products) plans to set up a brewery in Myanmar (to tap potential markets in Myanmar and Southern China) and also aims to tap Cambodian and Vietnamese markets.

In addition, Thai Beverage Company together with its sister company, TCC Assets, acquired a majority ownership of Fraser and Neave Ltd., a major player in the Singaporean and Malaysian softdrinks market.

Air transport

Lion Group ordered 230 Boeing 737 jets in a deal worth $22.4 billion in 2011, and 234 Airbus medium haul aircrafts in a deal worth $23.8 billion in 2013. Air Asia Group purchased an additional 100 Airbus planes (worth $9.4 billion) in line with its expansion goals in ASEAN. Cebu Pacific acquired a 40% stake in TigerAir Philippines, while Air Asia Philippines acquired a 49% stake in Zest Air (creating Air Asia Zest).

Utilities and infrastructure

San Miguel Corporation acquired 65% of Esso Malaysia (from Exxon Mobil) for M$1.8 billion in 2011 (in this case, all Esso stations in Malaysia are now rebranded to Petron), and established a consortium with Citra group whose projects include construction of tollways and other road infrastructure projects in Philippines and Indonesia.

Further, Manila Water, which has a 49% stake in one of the main suppliers of water in the northern part of Ho Chi Minh City, has acquired 51% equity share of the water concessionaire in charge of the Western Zone of Jakarta. In addition, Meralco engaged in a joint venture with First Pacific Co acquiring 70% stake on an 800 MW Liquefied Natural Gas project on Jurong Island in Singapore from the GMR Group (a Singaporean firm).

Sugar

Nevertheless, not all firms or sectors will end up winners in the integration project. Some will undoubtedly be affected by increased competition (even as consumers end up benefiting from lower prices and better products). Turning to the Philippines, the sugar industry is an example. It is expected to contract with the onset of increased competition from ASEAN.

Through Executive Order 892, the country committed to gradually reduce its sugar tariff from 38% in 2011, to 28% in 2012, to 18% in 2013, to 10% in 2014 and finally to 5% starting 2015.

Separate simulation studies by Caesar Corporaton (International Food Policy Research Institute) and Randy Tuaño (Ateneo de Manila) predict that the reduction of protection in this sector (e.g. tariff reduction and elimination of quotas) could produce welfare gains for Philippine consumers and industries that use sugar as an input.

Hence even as the sugar industry itself may suffer a contraction, the gains in other sectors, according to these studies, could more than make up for these expected losses. (Remember that with free trade, the cost of some imported goods like sugar is expected to go down, leading to cheaper inputs in producing other goods.) In fact, about 70,000 people on net could move out of poverty as a result of liberalizing this sector. Other sectors’ competitiveness will be unleashed; and consumers will be better off.

These studies bring us to the crux of the issue as regards international economic integration. Many countries have been able to use more economic openness as a means to boost their industrialization and job creation, thus reducing poverty much more aggressively. This is the story of China, the ASEAN tiger economies and virtually any other developing country that made significant inroads in development in the past several decades.

Government support in these countries appears to have been applied with some discipline. Industries and companies receiving support were guided by clear targets on penetrating international markets, acquiring new technologies and generating competitive products – all leading to more robust employment generation.

Economic openness more or less guarantees efficiency gains so that the entire country ends up growing more (a net gain); but more integrated markets do not guarantee that all sectors will end up winning. The most competitive sectors will likely corner the lion’s share of gains, though it might help if some of these sectors are labor-intensive so more could people participate in the gains.

This is, of course, the case for manufacturing; and this is why efforts are now underway in the Philippines to boost these sectors through the government’s “new industrial policy.”

Yet for those sectors that will contract, it is only fair to consider adjustment and compensation mechanisms so that the overall result of integration is acceptable to the entire population. And this is where the tricky part is – support must not prolong inefficiency. Here there is much to be learned from how effective social protection support for the poor is provided. The latter is disciplined and evidence-based – providing temporary support, conditioned on measurable outcomes and impact.

Accordingly, the support provided to firms and sectors should have clear objectives – either they take adequate steps to boost productivity and/or employ more people, or slowly ease out of that industry if they are unable to do so. If we can expect poor families under the Philippines’ Pamilyang Pantawid Program (4Ps) to abide by the discipline of child-outcomes-based government support, then we should also be able to extend and enforce similar outcomes-focused programs for the firms and sectors that the country supports for the sake of the general welfare.

The authors belong to the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center.

Source :

Rappler.com

The failure of ASEAN leadership?


by Maria A. Ressa

It was a packed auditorium – a surprisingly gentle and curious audience at the Australian National University (ANU) looking for reasons to be excited about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member grouping of more than 630 million people that represents Australia’s 2nd largest trading partner.

Yet, Vietnamese career diplomat Le Luong Minh, who took over the leadership of ASEAN last year, couldn’t help but disappoint them because in many ways he represents much of what’s wrong with ASEAN today.

ASEAN Secretary-General Minh opened with a speech that did little to excite the audience. He focused on ASEAN’s 6 pillars when it was formed in 1967 and its most ambitious project since then – creating one regional economic grouping, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) slated to come together by December 2015.

Someone asked about tensions between Australia and Indonesia, ASEAN’s largest member, over asylum seekers and recent wiretapping charges from NSA classified documents.

“I hope these bilateral issues can be resolved amicably,” said ASEAN’s leader. “We have not seen any negative impact of that bilateral relationship on the ASEAN-Australian partnership.”

On ASEAN’s most contentious issue – the conflict between China and many ASEAN member countries in the South China Sea, Minh said, “ASEAN is of the view that it needs to be resolved, but it can only be resolved, and it should only be resolved, between the parties concerned.”

Minh was safe, uninspiring and bureaucratic. ASEAN insiders say it’s the luck of the draw, and that the rotating head of ASEAN moves from a politician like former Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan, who can inspire outside interest, to a bureaucrat who can set the ASEAN house in order like Minh, who was Vietnam’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs before leading ASEAN. From 2004-2011, Minh was Vietnam’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Unfortunately, he’s also ASEAN’s least likely salesman.

Dynamic time

Yet, it’s an exciting and dynamic time when a single, liberalized ASEAN could boost investments significantly. There’s also an opportunity for ASEAN to provide much needed leadership at a time of shifting geo-political power.

ASEAN is at a crossroads. Created at a time of global dominance by the United States, times have changed – with economic power shifting to China. Instead of taking leadership, ASEAN is in danger of becoming a low-intensity proxy battlefield.

Nations like the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are unprepared for open conflict with China or even for negotiating with China over the South China Sea. Many ASEAN nations turn to the United States for defense support. At the same time, ASEAN’s poorer nations, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, have become so dependent on China that analysts call them “client states of Beijing.”

This leaves an opening for Australia, ASEAN’s 1st dialogue partner.

“ASEAN does have an identity in Australian diplomacy, and it’s a positive one,” said Senator Brett Mason, the Parliament Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who acknowledged the changing global power structures and Australia’s shifting focus to Asia. “It’s a forum that could be used more creatively and more fully, but I don’t think it’s ineffective.”

I’ve been reporting on ASEAN since 1987. I was there in the late 1990s when Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar were admitted in the grouping, creating a three-tiered system because these economies lagged far behind original members Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and even more affluent Brunei and Singapore.

Like many Asians, I hoped constructive engagement would be a different way to push reforms, more effective than the confrontational push from the West, but decades later, constructive engagement remains an excuse – a failure of leadership. Reforms in Myanmar, which was the main focus of constructive engagement, were fueled by an internal process – with little help from ASEAN.

During the financial crisis of 1997, which started in Thailand and spread to Indonesia, the nations turned, not to ASEAN, but to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). When smog and haze from forest fires in Indonesia that same year engulfed cities in Malaysia and Singapore, ASEAN proved incapable of working together to prevent this near-annual event that continues to plague the region today.

In 1999, ASEAN was criticized for failing to hold Indonesia accountable for what was effectively a scorched earth policy in East Timor. Leadership then came from Australia, which led INTERFET, an international non-UN peacekeeping force.

In the late 2000s under pressure from some members, ASEAN formed a human rights body that’s stayed largely silent on ongoing human rights violations within ASEAN, like in Vietnam or the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

Fissures over China

Dealing with China clearly shows the fissures inside ASEAN. At the July, 2012 meeting in Cambodia, conflict erupted openly. For the first time ever, the foreign ministers failed to agree on a joint statement – with Filipino officials storming out of the meeting. Other ASEAN states accused host Cambodia of working against ASEAN interests by protecting China, Cambodia’s largest trading partner. Two months later, Cambodia announced $500 million in new assistance from China.

While largest nation and founding member Indonesia tried to use shuttle diplomacy for a satisfactory agreement, ASEAN again fell short of leadership.

Still, Australian officials seem optimistic.

On March 19, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hosted ASEAN’s Secretary-General Minh for the 40th anniversary of a partnership she says now prioritizes trade, investment, regional security and education.

40 YEARS. ASEAN Sec Gen Le Luong Minh with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop 40 YEARS. ASEAN Sec Gen Le Luong Minh with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

“The extent of government contact – economic, financial – really is at a much higher level now than a decade before that,” a senior foreign affairs official told me. “Building ties just below the political level, senior level official contact, over the last decade has given our relationship a lot more ballast than ever before.”

The problem lies in two areas: ASEAN makes decisions based on consensus, unwieldy in today’s fast-moving world and in an organization that spans a wealth gap from Singapore to Laos; and that wealth gap leads to differences in leadership experience and style.

Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar tend to have fewer officials capable of participating fully in meetings held in English. The most progressive of these nations, Vietnam, used government money to train a new generation of foreign service diplomats like Minh.

Consensus not enough

Still, the skills needed for consensus building are not enough to inspire faith in the ASEAN way, and senior officials who have led ASEAN, with few exceptions, have not had the charisma or status to demand necessary meetings with heads of states.

In order to effectively push forward an ambitious ASEAN agenda of one market, ASEAN must move faster, and its leader must lead – not just within ASEAN but among its dialogue partners and potential investors.

“While there’s so much criticism about ASEAN in terms of leadership, ASEAN is all we have to work with,” said Deakin University’s Dr. Sally Wood. “I don’t know if they ever really expected that they would reach this level of centrality. There are so many contending national interests in the region. So that makes it very challenging for ASEAN to be able to speak with one voice.”

ASEAN Sec-Gen Minh is trying to fill a tall order, and insiders say his experience is helping build the organization behind the scenes. At ANU, he said he’s optimistic that the economic integration of ASEAN, which promises a single market and a highly competitive region, will happen as scheduled on December, 2015.

“ASEAN has implemented about 80% of all the measures,” he told the audience at ANU.

Not all agree.

“We’ve got to be realistic. I cannot see that this is going to happen,” said Professor Andrew Walker, Acting Dean of ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

“It looks unlikely that AEC 2015 will be met,” added Wood. “Perhaps it doesn’t matter that it won’t be realized in 2015, but that ASEAN is working on it.”

Source :

Rappler.com

An ASEAN Intra-Energy Market?


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


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?


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


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.


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


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


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

ASEAN caught in the middle of Asia’s issues


By Kavi Chongkittavorn

At the beginning of the 21st Century, the much heralded “Asian Century” was the compass for global policymakers to set their future directions. They know the region will dominate the next 100 years.

After the end of World War II, the Asian region was peaceful enabling all countries to pursue economic and social agendas diligently. Key economic powers could concentrate on increasing productivity and improving standards of living for their populations.
China, Japan and South Korea have been the three economic giants in East Asia. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Japan was the main driving force in the region until it was overtaken by China as the world’s No. 2 economic power. South Korea has become a bigger economy with high-tech industries following economic turbulence in 1997. At this juncture, the combined economic strength of China, Japan and South Korea is formidable. They are the engine of growth for ASEAN and the rest of the world, especially after the financial crisis in the West in 2008. But ASEAN leaders are concerned that if territorial disputes remain unresolved, the much heralded ASEAN Community in 2015, which envisions ASEAN as a single production base with 600 million citizens, would be hampered.

China, Japan and South Korea are ASEAN’s dialogue partners. Their close cooperation is pivotal to the economic integration in the region vis-a-vis new economic frameworks designed to facilitate free trade and investment. In addition, ASEAN also has to manage its territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea — a highly sensitive issue. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and non-ASEAN member Taiwan, are in dispute with China over the vast maritime zone. The three-set of maritime conflicts — in Northeast Asia (China/Japan and Japan/South Korea) and the South China Sea — are interlinked due to the nature of extensive relations among conflicting and concerned parties. As such, ASEAN is caught in a huge dilemma to balance its relations with the three economic powers.

Territorial Claims in East Asia

Growing tension from maritime territorial claims among China, Japan and South Korea is worrisome as they have impacted on the overall collective. For the first time in the post-World War II era, major Asian countries are confronting one another with the threat of war. The overlapping claims between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands between Japan and South Korea are not new due to a contentious history. In the past, these disputes remained dormant without serious repercussions on bilateral relations. However, recent developments among these three countries have caused concerns that if this trend continues it would further destabilize the whole region as each devises security and strategic policies to protect their sovereignty. These measures would heighten the level of tension and could cause further misunderstanding.

The overlapping claims indicate the unyielding attitude of conflicting parties towards the rich resources lying underneath the disputed maritime zones. With the growing scarcity of natural resources and energy worldwide, each country will not let up on its claims.
China and Japan for nearly four decades cooperated excellently on economic and social developments. Both have benefited from cooperation especially through direct investment and technological transfer. Japan was able to access the world’s biggest market.
However, from time to time, World War II hostilities resurface, denting bilateral ties. But they have been able to quickly overcome the hostility and mitigate the negative effects on burgeoning economic relations. In other words, increased economic interdependence used to restrain these countries from worsening their conflicts.
But as events unfolded in the last three years, changes in leadership, rise of nationalism, new security alignments as well shifting strategic landscapes have contributed to increasing uncertainties in East Asia. Public opinion polls and changes in national outlook have now become key variables affecting foreign relations and economic cooperation.

Balancing Act

ASEAN has to walk a tight rope on its relations with China and Japan. The leaders are mindful of potential negative implications on their countries both collectively and individually if they choose sides between the two. ASEAN does not want to be drawn into the conflict involving its three most prominent dialogue partners but as the tension escalates, it is getting more difficult to maintain that balance.
Japan continues to be the region’s largest investor but China is catching up with a bigger market access.
At the recent ASEAN-Japan summit in Tokyo to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their diplomatic relations, ASEAN’s rebalancing effort was put to the test. Japan tried to persuade ASEAN to adopt a common position over the newly declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) of China. ASEAN refused outright to do so, knowing fully well such a position would antagonize China and undermine relations. Whereas Japan, South Korea and the United States strongly rejected the ADIZ, ASEAN has not made any common position.
The earlier version of a joint statement specified China’s action but some ASEAN countries strongly objected and wanted a watered-down version. Before the ASEAN-Japan summit, the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo reacted critically to the widely reported planned joint statement that would touch on the ADIZ. In the end, Japan and ASEAN senior officials agreed on the term “freedom of overflight,” a general reference to free navigation of airspace without necessarily referring to China.

This is the first time that ASEAN as a group mentioned the freedom of air travel. The joint statement says both sides will “enhance cooperation in ensuring the freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law” and standards and practices of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Deep down, ASEAN is also very anxious about China and its future plan with its ADIZ. ASEAN members engaged in disputes in the South China Sea fear that China would declare a similar zone over those areas as it did over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. Viewed from that perspective, the joint ASEAN-Japan statement is aimed at sending a united massage to Beijing. ASEAN hopes that it will preempt China’s future actions.
Meantime, it is interesting to note that the territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands has not yet entered ASEAN’s agenda. Japan-South Korea relations have deteriorated ever since both sides renewed their claims. In the past months, although there was a marked increase in public relations aimed at the ASEAN media, both countries appear to have no desire to engage ASEAN besides using it as a platform to air their views. It would further complicate ASEAN+3 relations if ASEAN takes into account South Korea’s outward rejection of the ADIZ considering that in the past two decades, Beijing and Seoul have developed very close economic cooperation.
Faced with emerging strategic rivalries and conflicts, ASEAN needs to maintain its neutrality and unity over the overlapping disputes among the three dialogue partners. Any bias, real or imagined, can quickly damage overall cooperation between them and ASEAN.

New Dynamics

After the new administration in Beijing under President Xi Jinjping took office in March 2013, there have been some positive responses on the code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea from the new foreign minister, Wang Yi. Wang is considered an old ASEAN hand due to his 10-odd years working with the grouping in various capacities. He was instrumental in coming up with the draft on the 2002 Declarations of Conduct of Concerned Parties in the South China Sea. Compared with his predecessor, Yang Jiechi, Wang is friendlier and has a better rapport with ASEAN leaders.

Fresh from his appointment in early April, Wang met with ASEAN senior officials in Beijing to reaffirm China’s desire to settle the South China Sea disputes through peaceful means. It was clear that China would go for joint development and leave the disputed territorial issues to be settled later. He also compared the much-heralded Chinese dream with the ASEAN dream on community-building. He said both countries have similar aspirations to build peace and prosperity for their peoples.

After the failure to issue a joint communique in July 2012 after the annual meeting in Phnom Penh, ASEAN’s reputation was greatly damaged. It was the first time in its 46-year-history that the member countries were unable to compromise over the text describing a regional situation — in this case, the disputes in the South China Sea. The ASEAN chair’s inability to work with all conflicting and non-conflicting members coupling with the lack of perseverance in seeking compromise gave a valuable lesson for Brunei. During the second week of its chair, Brunei declared succinctly that one of its key objectives was to reduce tension in the South China Sea and increase trust between ASEAN and China. Throughout its chairmanship, Brunei has successfully carried out its mission.

A year has elapsed since ASEAN-China ties hit the lowest ebb. Now both sides are increasing their engagement. All top Chinese leaders have visited key ASEAN members. Wang himself stopped over at all 10 members. At their meetings, their foreign ministers have given strong signals to begin negotiations along with the implementation of the COC.
The improved ASEAN-China atmosphere was also attributed to the new coordinating country, Thailand, which has close ties with China and is not a claimant. Bangkok has taken its role seriously, seeing itself as a neutral party to ascertain the COC process would progress as much as possible. A series of working groups and senior official meetings have been planned by Thailand next year.

ASEAN’s Future Role

As far as ASEAN’s relations with China and Japan are concerned, ASEAN needs to progress over the COC in the next 18 months while Thailand is still the coordinating country. So far, Bangkok has performed its role quite satisfactorily, encouraging increased consultation and engagement on both sides. New joint development programs have been initiated and future funding would be forthcoming. Thailand has already proposed a maritime conservation project and studies on tuna stock in South China.
China’s relations with ASEAN, especially among the new members, are strongly tied to economic-centered approaches. This trend will continue as China’s growing political clout is matched with being the No. 2 global economic power. ASEAN must rebalance itself with major dialogue partners. This is easier said than done. At the moment, China has been the largest trading partner with ASEAN. Beijing is no longer shying away from providing economic and technical assistance to ASEAN members. Against this backdrop, Japan, which used to be the main donor and key provider of technology transfer, has revitalized its diplomacy toward ASEAN with additional elements concerning security and strategic relations. This is a big shift from its previous approach of focusing on economic cooperation.
ASEAN’s world view is quite simple: a multipolar world with ASEAN serving as the pivot in the region.

Source :

The China Post

Those ASEAN countries that have embraced the language stand to benefit in the coming years.


By Luke Hunt

In Manila the Filipinos are blushing. A columnist in Japan has singled out the Philippine attitude in learning and teaching the English language for high praise, urging the authorities in Tokyo to take note and adopt a more pragmatic approach to bolstering standards of English across the country.

Under the headline: “The Japanese should take English lessons from Philippines” columnist Amy Chavez pointed out that more than a quarter of Filipinos failed to attend or finish high school yet nearly the entire population had learned English to the point of being fluent in it as a second language.

The English language in the Philippines is everywhere and taught in a practical way. From street signs to cooking books, students are exposed to the pragmatic side of the language. This type of teaching is now attracting foreign fee-paying students from the Middle East and creating a lucrative industry.

It’s a point the rest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) desperately needs to note. English will become the language of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) once it is introduced towards the end of 2015, yet few members of the 10-nation bloc have ever embraced the language.

The Philippines have the Americans to thank for English proficiency. In Myanmar, English has only just survived, because of that country’s colonial history. Singapore still has English listed as one of four official languages and Cambodia has made enormous strides in learning the language, sparked by the intervention there by the United Nations in the early 1990s and the hundreds of NGOs that followed and stayed.

Elsewhere, English is still struggling.

This was always on the cards given the likes of former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, who relished overseeing the removal of English as an official language from the Malaysian school curriculum. Consequently, standards there have wallowed for decades. Mahathir’s colonial hang-ups have cost his country dearly in the intellectual stakes.

English skills have not fared much better in Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos or Vietnam, although there are no shortage of government statistics and schools that would beg to differ. The pro-Mahathir faction is trying to re-invent itself by arguing that English is now the language of science and commerce and thus is acceptable for teaching in their precious government schools. At the same time, however, they still justify the relegation of English as just another subject to be taught for ethnic minorities.

It’s a nonsensical argument but one that finds fertile ground across ASEAN among nationalists who like to blame outsiders for their low rankings on the international stage. Radical Buddhists in Myanmar, Muslim firebrands in Malaysia, communist hardliners in Vietnam – all have taken turns at blaming outsiders and the language they teach for their problems at home.

However, the AEC will change long-standing prejudices over time. Perhaps more interestingly it will also shake up the older order and cause a power shift within the trading bloc that will upset the traditional powers like Kuala Lumpur.

If Cambodians, for example, can speak English much more fluently than the Thais and Malays can it will find itself a popular destination for foreign investors. Given the potential reach of the AEC, it might also emerge as a future regional hub for trade and investment – something that would have been barely conceivable less than a decade ago.

Source :

The Diplomat

Japan Doubles Down on ASEAN


By J. Berkshire Miller

Tokyo has had a busy year reaching out to ASEAN countries. Will the effort continue in 2014?

This month, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finished up a busy year of diplomatic overtures in Asia with a summit hosting leaders from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Tokyo. The Japan-ASEAN summit seemed a capstone moment aimed at cementing the ties made through Abe’s visit to all ten ASEAN countries this year. During the meeting, Abe pledged an additional $1.65 billion in overseas development assistance and investment loans to the region.

Tokyo also secured a lukewarm joint statement with ASEAN that praised Japan’s role and its “efforts in contributing constructively to peace, stability, and development in the region.” Despite a significant diplomatic effort however, Abe failed to get a more coveted rebuke from ASEAN on China’s recent imposition of a unilateral Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea. Instead, Japan settled for some platitudes about the freedom of navigation both in the air and in the seas. The lack of an ADIZ condemnation is not surprising as ASEAN remains divided on how much – if at all – it should prod China on its increasing assertiveness towards its regional neighbors.

Notwithstanding this divergence, Japan’s efforts to woo ASEAN have been accruing benefits for Tokyo as it looks for partners in Asia to check Beijing’s influence. This past year has seen several mini-victories for Tokyo in its attempts to reinvigorate its presence and influence in Southeast Asia. Ironically, two of these significant “wins” were achieved through a combination of Chinese miscalculation and opportunism by Japan. The first example was Typhoon Haiyan, which ravaged the Philippines in early November. While Beijing looked miserly and disingenuous in its response, Tokyo reacted with vigor and purpose, pledging more $50 million in assistance and deploying 1000 members of its Self Defense Forces to the area.

The second turning point was largely a self-inflicted wound created by Beijing’s garbled decision on the ADIZ in the East China Sea. The ADIZ reaction was timid in ASEAN compared to retorts from Japan, the U.S., Korea and Australia. But the lack of a unified statement on the ADIZ should not be seen as acquiescence of China’s move. Indeed, several countries in ASEAN – Vietnam and the Philippines in particular – remained deeply concerned the ADIZ in the East China Sea will be a precursor to the imposition of an ADIZ covering Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. And ASEAN is not only watching the calculations and response from China. The newly diplomatic U.S. Vice President Joe Biden did little to reassure countries with a stake in the South China Sea row that Washington would take a firm stand on a SCS ADIZ.

On the geopolitical stage, these two events last month have served to catapult Japan’s image in the region as a positive actor. But fortune and opportunism does not complete this narrative. Abe has placed a significant focus on targeting within ASEAN in order to strengthen Japan’s access to new market opportunities. Of course, simultaneously curtailing Beijing’s political sway is an added benefit. One prime example of this is the vast emerging partnership between Japan and Myanmar. During this month’s ASEAN summit in Tokyo, Abe pledged an additional $600 million in loans to Myanmar which brings the total of Japan’s investment loans to Naypyidaw this year to nearly $1.5 billion. Japan’s courtship of Myanmar is designed to help construct infrastructure and railway networks connecting the country’s biggest city, Yangon, with the rest of the nation.

Myanmar remains a critical part of Japan’s engagement with ASEAN for other reasons too. After a frustrating year of Cambodia’s ASEAN chairmanship, several member states and dialogue partners are sanguine in their predictions that Myanmar, which will be the new chair in 2014, could be less divisive. Naypyidaw is also important because is seen as drifting from its traditional heavy dependence on Beijing. Japan, along with the United States, Australia and the European Union, are anxious to fill any openings left after decades of Chinese suzerainty and compete for influence in the geostrategic country.

Japan has also targeted two other traditional partners of China – Laos and Cambodia. While Tokyo has maintained strong ties with other ASEAN members with larger economies, relations with Vientiane and Phnom Penh have lagged in recent years because of the deference these countries pay to Beijing. Abe seems intent on changing this dynamic, as demonstrated by his three day tour of the Mekong in November where he pledged increase maritime security cooperation with Cambodia and create a framework for holistic engagement with Laos on a range of development, defense and security issues.

Tokyo is hopeful that this nascent engagement with Naypyidaw, Vientiane and Phnom Penh could pave the way for increased market access and – eventually – new free trade deals. Japan already has a stack of Economic Partnerships Agreements in the region, including a deal with ASEAN and bilateral agreements with Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines. Japan is also negotiating with many of these same countries in the huge U.S.-led regional trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Indeed, more than half of Japan’s total EPAs are in Southeast Asia. The only outliers remaining are Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

But as warm as the Japan-ASEAN embrace has been in 2013, some questions remain. First, the Abe administration was only able to focus its energies so deeply on Southeast Asia because of frigid relations with its Northeast Asian neighbors, South Korea and China. The absence of engagement between Tokyo and its counterparts in Seoul and Beijing has given Abe the diplomatic space in which to launch a charm offensive at ASEAN. The attention lavished on Southeast Asia could wane in the coming year if relations improve between Japan and its closest neighbors, refocusing Tokyo’s attention closer to home. On the other hand, Tokyo’s fixation with ASEAN may be tested at a political and security level if relations with China remain in freefall.

Second, both Japan and ASEAN are susceptible to other distractions at home. ASEAN continues to ramp up for its ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 and will need to calibrate its ties with Japan carefully to avoid overtly provoking China. Meanwhile, Tokyo may find itself awash in a host of other priorities including, but not limited to, the debate on its nuclear reactors going back online, political battles on national security and constitutional reforms, and unforeseen hurdles with Abenomics. Still, both sides can leverage obstacles for mutual gain. For example, the SDF deployment to the Philippines helped promote the Abe administration’s argument for a new “proactive pacifism” while simultaneously giving some shelter to ASEAN countries taking sides against China. Such smart diplomacy, along with sustained face time between leaders, will be essential in the coming year to nurture and enhance this relationship.

Source :

The Diplomat

Time for ASEAN Peacekeeping Force


By Fuadi Pitsuwan

The latest clash between Cambodia and Thailand has underscored the need for a regional peacekeeping force. Indonesia should push for one now.

The latest clash between Thai and Cambodian troops over a disputed area surrounding the ancient Preah Vihear temple along the two countries’ border should be a wake-up call for ASEAN.

Years of negotiations have proved ineffective in resolving the crisis as Thailand’s insistence that the issue is a bilateral one has been sharply rejected by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Hun Sen’s response has been to call for UN peacekeepers to be deployed to the area, a call that raises an interesting question—is it time for ASEAN to seriously consider a peacekeeping force?

Ad hoc ceasefire agreements reached after each clash have been too fragile and prone to being breached by both sides—every time a skirmish has broken out, each side has been quick to blame the other.

Political efforts to find a solution, meanwhile, have been complicated by the domestic politics of both countries. Hun Sen has been accused by his political opponents of exploiting the border dispute to maintain his tight grip over his country, while Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is expected to dissolve the Thai parliament in early May, is loathe to appear weak heading into an election. All this is complicated by the close relationship between Hun Sen and the de facto leader of the Thai opposition, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Indonesia, as chair of ASEAN, has played an outstanding role in trying to broker a resolution to the dispute, but it can only do so much. For example, it put proffered the suggestion of dispatching a team of Indonesian observers to monitor the disputed area to avoid further clashes. This proposal was reportedly actually agreed on by the political leaders of both sides in the dispute, but there have been suggestions that objections from the Thai military, which feels uneasy with the idea of having a third party present in the conflict zone, have meant the idea is still on hold.

The latest clash started late last month, and many observers believe it is the most serious so far. At the time of writing, the official death toll stood at 17, although this is expected to increase. A temporary, fragile ceasefire was reached between the two militaries last Thursday, but quickly broke down after only 10 hours, leaving a tense situation and the prospect of war looming over the border.

What can ASEAN do to prevent all-out conflict? It could start by pooling the resources of all member states—including Thailand and Cambodia—to establish and deploy a peacekeeping force at the first opportunity.

This wouldn’t be the first time such a force has been considered. Back in March 2004, Indonesia’s then-Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda moved to propose the establishment of a regional peacekeeping force. Indonesia’s current foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, voiced his support back then, saying: ‘ASEAN countries should know one another better than anyone else, and therefore we should have the option for ASEAN countries to take advantage of an ASEAN peacekeeping force to be deployed if they so wish.’ However, the idea was opposed by a number of other foreign ministers, who noted ASEAN’s stated principle of non-interference in countries’ domestic affairs.

The problem with Wirajuda’s proposal at the time is that it was akin to planting a seed without soil and water—there was really no immediate benefit that ASEAN member states could see from engaging in such cooperation, meaning the environment just wasn’t right.

But with the ASEAN Charter, a legally-binding document signed in 2007, calling for ASEAN to become an economic, socio-cultural and political-security community, the time has come for the idea of an ASEAN peacekeeping force to be put back on the table.

The inaugural ASEAN Defense Ministerial Meeting, along with eight other dialogue partners (ADMM+) in October last year, has provided an excellent foundation for a bolder form of security cooperation among ASEAN member states. Indeed, the ASEAN Political and Security Blue Print, which supplements the Charter, already has language backing peacekeeping cooperation. It eyes: ‘(Establishment of) a network among existing ASEAN Member States’ peacekeeping centres to conduct joint planning, training, and sharing of experiences, with a view to establishing an ASEAN arrangement for the maintenance of peace and stability, in accordance with the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) 3-Year Work Programme.’

The African Union, which in many ways looks to ASEAN for inspiration as a successful regional bloc, has already formed the African Standby Force (ASF), to be deployed as a preventive measure aimed at averting conflict. Although still a work in process, it’s designed to consist of five brigades with 4,500 personnel, 350 vehicles and four helicopters per brigade.

The ASF has engaged in exercises with significant assistance from the EU and the United States. ASEAN member states currently have deployed 5,000 personnel worldwide as part of various UN Peacekeeping operations, yet these forces have no presence in their own backyard.

The benefits of an ASEAN peacekeeping force would go beyond resolution of the Thai-Cambodian border conflict. Any region must have its own processes and mechanisms for ensuring confidence and stability to maintain economic growth and sustainable development. ASEAN has made a remarkable transition into a formidable player in Asia and beyond, and a regional peacekeeping force would build on this progress and contribute to a greater sense that the region can take care of itself in times of crises—manmade or natural.

Of course, there’s bound to be opposition to any such development. Back in 2004, Singaporean Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar was quick to dismiss the idea, arguing that: ‘ASEAN is not a security or defence organization…Perhaps sometime in the future there may be scope for such an organization.’

Yet it should be clear that that future has now arrived, and as chair of ASEAN this year, Indonesia should again explore the possibility.

If it is to have legitimacy in the current spat, any force would clearly need to consist of an equal number of Thai and Cambodian troops, stripped of their respective national military uniforms in favour of one bearing the ASEAN flag. To ensure neutrality, an Indonesian four-star general could serve as commander. If Indonesia was somehow to make such a peacekeeping force happen, it could well be the country’s single most important contribution to the future of ASEAN during its chairmanship.

It will, of course, inevitably have to keep pushing to bring the idea to fruition and overcome opposition from some of its neighbours. But the country is the only member of ASEAN with sufficient political capital and respect to put forward a proposal for such a paradigm shift in ASEAN’s security cooperation.

The ASEAN Summit to be held this weekend in Jakarta presents a timely opportunity for Jakarta to really step up.

Fuadi Pitsuwan is an associate at The Cohen Group, a strategic advisory firm headed by former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and an adjunct research scholar at Georgetown University’s Asian Studies Department.

Source :

The Diplomat