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ASEAN Community Post 2015: Challenges to Move Forward

By I Gede Ngurah Swajaya


This year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will officially announce the establishment of the ASEAN Community, comprising of three mutually reinforcing pillars of Political-Security, Economic and Socio-Culture. Since then, citizens of 10 ASEAN Member States (AMS) are expected to experience a sense of caring and sharing Community and to continue enjoying sustained peace, security, stability, and the pursuit of prosperity for all. For ASEAN as an organization, it will continue deepening and broadening integration process and strengthening a more cohesive, inclusive, and resilient Community that could play an active role at the regional and global levels in line with the spirit of the ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations. 


As adopted by the 21st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 2012, the establishment of the ASEAN Community will not only mark as the official beginning ASEAN Community, but also serves a new start of a deeper and broadened integration. ASEAN will continue to implement the remaining Blueprint’s action lines and measures that are not yet implemented and to start charting for a new vision that will consolidate further Community building in the years to come. The adoption of the new vision at the same time with the establishment of the ASEAN Community will make a seamless phase of transition that will enable ASEAN to continuously and effectively attain its main goals and objectives.


Since its inception 48 years ago, ASEAN has been transformed from a loosely organized Association to a Rules-Based and Peoples-Centered Organization. After the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter at the end of 2008, integration process has been accelerated and ASEAN has strengthened its role as the driving force in many regional initiatives for maintaining peace and stability and promoting prosperity. Consequently, ASEAN has been considered as a model of regional integration and has attracted many external partners to develop cooperation on issues of common concerns. Currently, there are more than 70 countries accredited their Ambassadors to ASEAN, and mostly are located in Jakarta. 

ASEAN has also been confronted with challenges and utilized opportunities that emerged from internal and external dynamics. It has been able to effectively contribute as part of solutions on many issues, including the Cambodian internal conflict, democratization process in Myanmar, 1997 financial crisis, natural calamities such as Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, as well as the tensions that emerged from the unresolved territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea that are complex and complicated in nature. ASEAN remains resolute in resolving all of those challenges and steadfast in pursuing its community building process. 


ASEAN has also been effective in addressing non-traditional security issues that have posed as a critical challenge in its effort to maintain the regional peace and stability. It has strengthened cooperation in the past decades mainly on 8 priority issues and should also move beyond only cooperating to address those existing priority areas. To maintain its relevance and to address new and emerging challenges, ASEAN should expand its collaboration covering other essential areas that has been identified in the Political Security Community Blueprint, such as combating corruption and illegal fishing.


On the economic side, ASEAN should also continue to strive in strengthening its economic resilience so as to enable it to prevent and mitigate possible similar crisis in the future. Lessons that have been learned from the previous crisis have enabled it to develop and strengthen instruments and mechanisms to address similar challenges in the future. The establishment of the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization Plus as the bilateral swap agreement and the implementation of the ASEAN Master Plan on Connectivity, to name a just a few, are ASEAN's concrete efforts aimed at strengthening its economic resilience and improve its competitiveness. 


Based on the ASEAN Development Bank Institute study on RICH (Resilience, Innovative, Competitive and Harmonious) ASEAN 2030, the per-capita GDP of ASEAN is predicted to double or triple by 2030 provided that ASEAN remains resilience, innovative, competitive and harmonious. Thus, the strengthened integration of three mutually reinforcing pillars of the ASEAN Community remains the most important prerequisite for ASEAN to attain its goals and objectives. The establishment of the ASEAN Community by the end of December 2015 is not only symbolic in nature, but also serves as a significant impetus to continue pursuing its goals and objectives beyond 2015.


As the region is also prone to natural calamities, including the impacts of climate change and other environment disasters, strengthening ASEAN cooperation on those areas is critical. This includes, among others, strengthening its instruments and mechanisms on disaster management, such as the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre (AHA Centre) and in addressing trans-boundary health issues. Closer people-to-people interactions through many initiatives such as education, culture, sport, and youth exchange are also critical in this regards. 


From the internal dynamics, issues such as consolidating the implementation of democratic values, strengthening the human rights protection, and implementing good governance equally require stronger and meaningful resolve by all AMS. The adoption of the first ever ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights should be followed by concrete efforts to strengthen the ASEAN Human Right Mechanism through the review process that is due to be undertaken this year. Furthermore, raising awareness on ASEAN should remain the top priority since ASEAN awareness is very low among its citizens. 


Despite the progress it has achieved in maintaining its relevance in almost 5 decades, ASEAN has to continue strengthening its resolve to address new and emerging challenges that may be equally complex and difficult. Creating conducive environment and ensuring effective progress to support peaceful settlement of all disputes, particularly the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, should remain the main focus and priority for the ASEAN. Concrete progress in effectively implementing the Declaration of the Conduct in the South China Sea (DOC) and in the process to develop the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) remains critical in the ASEAN Community Post-2015. Effectively managing the power rivalry that potentially emerged from the dynamics of the rise of China, the implementation of the United States Pivot to Asia, the Look East Policy of India and the Indivisible Security Concept of the Russian Federation requires ASEAN to effectively continue strengthening its centrality. 


In the past five years prior to the establishment of the ASEAN Community, ASEAN has established and strengthened various mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defense Ministerial. Meeting Plus and the ASEAN Maritime Forum and its Expanded Forum to serve as effective platforms for dialogues and cooperation. Such mechanisms have further strengthened ASEAN’s continuous undertakings to nurture the habit of constructive dialogues and to shape the culture of peace in the region and beyond. 


The official launching of the ASEAN Community at the end of this year should, therefore, not only provide a solid platform for the organization to reaffirm its commitment to strengthen the effective works of its mechanisms, but also serve a significant impetus to continue implementing actions and measures that have passed the target date and to steadfastly move forward in implementing its vision for the next decades. This will also mark the beginning of a deeper and broader integration process which will be guided by the Leaders’ Vision currently being developed by the ASEAN High Level Task force. 


The Leaders decision to develop their Vision on an ASEAN Community post-2015 exemplifies their common perception that future challenges remain complex and opportunities are still significant to be further utilized, and therefore require a stronger ASEAN determination. As the organization is located at the center of the most dynamic andvibrant region in geo-political and geo-economic terms, the roles of ASEAN as the regional fulcrum in the past decades remain essential. Its ability to successfully establish the ASEAN Community and strengthen further its commitment to be elaborated in the Post 2015 Vision, are essential to enhance its relevance in the region and beyond. 

In the past years, all ASEAN Chairs have underlined that ASEAN should be people-centered and people-oriented as stipulated in the ASEAN Charter.


Malaysia’s chairmanship also emphasizes this dimension. Therefore, one of the main priorities in the Post 2015 should be an effective engagement of ASEAN citizens in the works of ASEAN and a greater understanding of ASEAN initiatives and projects. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak emphasized that, “We also hope to steer ASEAN closer to the people of Southeast Asia: to make this institution part of people’s daily lives, by creating a truly people-centered ASEAN”. In this context, interface of the civil society organizations with the ASEAN Leaders during the Summit should become an annual agenda. Similarly, interactions should also be further strengthened at the Ministerial and Senior Officials levels.


The strengthening of ASEAN’s institutional mechanisms, including the ASEAN Secretariat has been the key priority in the past years. The recommendations of the High-Level Task Force on the Strengthening of the ASEAN Secretariat and Reviewing ASEAN Organs have been endorsed by the 24th Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. Key recommendations include strengthening the Secretariat’s capacity to facilitate concrete implementations and monitoring of ASEAN decisions and agreements. The ASEAN Secretariat should become the nerve and knowledge center of ASEAN works. In addition, ASEAN institutions should also work in a more coherence and coordinated manner in ensuring that all targets and goals are effectively attained. Strengthening institutional coordination through, among others, the strengthening the Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) in Jakarta and the National Secretariat in the respective AMS is also required.


Recommendation


ASEAN should ensure that the construction of a post-2015 ASEAN vision should emphasize the following. First, a continuation of an on-going process to develop an inclusive process which is open to engage ASEAN citizens, and not a closed process that remains solely in the domain of eminent people, experts and political leaders. The lack of dynamism in the exchanges among the stakeholders in ASEAN constrains the quality of policy initiatives and their ownership of these processes. Second, it should also enable ASEAN to address new and emerging challenges and continue to play its roles in a global community of nations on issues of common concerns and continues to strengthen its centrality in all initiatives it has created. Third, strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat and ensuring a better coordinated and coherence process of different mechanisms. Lastly, ASEAN should also strengthen the implementation of the three Community Blueprints in a mutually reinforcing manner, which means ASEAN should avoid advancing only one pillar while neglecting the others.


I Gede Ngurah Swajaya is the Indonesian Ambassador to ASEAN and Acting Head of ASEAN‐Indonesia National Secretariat  


This article was republished with the permission from ASEAN Insights: Monthly Commentary on ASEAN News, Vol. 11/2015. The original document could be found on:

 http://asean.mofa.go.kr/english/as/asean/multilateral/multilateral/index.jsp.

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