The Jakarta Post
ASEAN should undergo changes on different levels to stay relevant in its first year as a community and ahead of its golden jubilee next year.
The view was expressed by various experts during a seminar held to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Thursday.
There was special emphasis on both the political-security and socio-cultural pillars of ASEAN, considering the region’s heavy focus on the economic pillar in recent years.
With regard to the political-security pillar of the ASEAN Community, former foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda urged ASEAN leaders to return to the basics by developing strong cohesiveness among member states, which has been set out in the ASEAN Charter.
Hassan said the group members should do their homework in fostering a better understanding of one another and drop the business-as-usual approach when it comes to more sensitive issues.
“In ASEAN, we should learn from our setback in 2012, when ASEAN failed to agree on a final communiqué [among foreign ministers on] the question of cohesion and unity,” he said in the first panel discussion.
“We cannot simply claim that ASEAN plays a central role in our engagement with other powers outside the region.”
He was referring to the 2012 ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Cambodia, when the underlying interests of ASEAN member states with external powers got in the way of consensus.
Hassan also championed a balanced process of community-building and integration, urging ASEAN to revitalize the East Asia Summit forum to enforce a much needed regional order.
Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affair (SIIA), suggested that ASEAN chairs for the next three consecutive terms should work together to align the agenda toward the ASEAN 2025 Roadmap to prevent the regional agenda from changing every year.
For the community’s socio-cultural pillar, Carolina G. Hernandez from the Philippines-based Institute for Strategic and Development Studies (ISDS) urged ASEAN leaders to take the concerns of their peoples seriously.
“I think there is a disconnect between what the elites in ASEAN think about and what the peoples of ASEAN would like to see happen,” she said.
She championed the role of Track II diplomacy — engagement between non-state actors like the private sector or think tanks — and the need to revisit the roadmap to determine whether the mechanisms therein are effective in promoting a “people-centered ASEAN”.
During the second panel discussion, Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS), saw the need for more honest discussions between ASEAN leaders regarding the challenges faced by the bloc.
Mahbubani did, however, urge ASEAN leaders not to undersell the organization, which despite its many shortcomings has worked to maintain regional peace and security in an era full of uncertainty.
“We should try to understand ASEAN better; it is actually the behavior within ASEAN, the level of trust [it inspires that keeps it together],” he said.
Former CSIS executive director Rizal Sukma, who now serves as Indonesian Ambassador to UK, emphasized the need to revise the ASEAN Charter, “to adapt to the strategic environment”, citing points like the decision-making process, which has proven to be more of a hurdle for ASEAN in recent times.
The panel discussions were followed up by a lively dinner reception attended by Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who congratulated the CSIS for its continued contributions to regional and national development.
Next week, ASEAN leaders will convene in Vientiane for the 48th and 49th Summits and related meetings, the first time since the community was established at the end of last year.
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