The Jakarta Post
As leaders of the 10 ASEAN countries meet their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India, the US and Russia for a summit in Brunei Darussalam on Wednesday and Thursday, the question has arisen of whether the grouping can achieve its 2015 target of becoming a single community.
With 26 months to go before the deadline, the ASEAN Secretariat has claimed that the regional grouping had made significant progress in implementing a roadmap for forming an ASEAN Community and was poised to meet all 2015 targets.
'We are very pleased to note that we have seen a more concerted effort to assess and prioritize our work. For 2014, we will remain focused on expediting the implementation of the remaining 2015 targets and ensuring greater convergence of the three ASEAN Community pillars ' where peace, stability and development are one another's conditions and driving force,' ASEAN Secretary-General Le Luong Minh said in a statement on Tuesday.
The main agenda of the 23rd ASEAN Summit is to review the grouping's progress toward realizing its big dream of forming an economically integrated, politically cohesive and socially responsible ASEAN Community by 2015 that is supported by three pillars: the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-cultural Community.
The 10-member grouping will also seek to elevate its role in the greater region and to develop an ASEAN Vision Beyond 2015.
However, analysts have expressed skepticism over these claims.
First, ASEAN has already pushed back the date for the formation of the community from the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2015.
At present, most ASEAN officials are saying that the year 2015 would not be the end but the beginning of a long process to form the ASEAN Community, given various differences in development, infrastructure, political systems, education, healthcare and so on.
ASEAN member states are already making plans to draft new rules and non-tariff barriers to dilute the impact of forming an ASEAN Economic Community, which is supposed to be based on four tenets: a single market and production base; a highly competitive economic region; a region of equitable economic development, and a region fully integrated into the global economy.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies' (CSIS) executive director Rizal Sukma said that ASEAN was a loose organization with no rigid mechanism for implementing decisions.
'All ASEAN decisions are not mandatory but voluntary in nature. The adoption of the rules-based ASEAN Charter in 2007 has not helped much,' Rizal said.
Therefore, he has urged member states to include a sanctions mechanism in the ASEAN Charter. 'Then and only then will ASEAN progress.'
ASEAN has also been grappling to resolve a lack of funding for the ASEAN Secretariat, which does not have resources or the mandate to implement ASEAN decisions. ASEAN now needs an executive arm, such as the European Commission or the African Union Commission and an ASEAN foreign service to implement ASEAN decisions.
A total of 2,000 delegates from 18 Asia-Pacific countries and the United Nations are expected to attend the 23rd ASEAN Summit to discuss a wide range of issues affecting ASEAN.
Leaders will also discuss the ASEAN post-2015 vision as an outline for ASEAN's future direction in maintaining stable development and promoting centrality, a crucial element in the region's current geopolitics.
The summit comes as ASEAN deals with increased tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The ASEAN Summit will be followed by the East Asia Summit.