The Jakarta Post
Former foreign minister suggests East Asia Summit could be more than just ‘hello-goodbye’ forum ASEAN fails to take advantage of Hague ruling on South China Sea
In its 50th year, ASEAN needs to take stock of its mechanisms to seek alternative ways to better manage regional crises, a discussion in Jakarta has concluded.
The 50th anniversary of the bloc is a good time for ASEAN “to identify challenges and opportunities. We should take stock of what we have,” said former foreign minister Marty Natalegawa on Monday.
Marty and Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a foreign policy expert who is also the Vice President’s political affairs assistant, said the various instruments of ASEAN should be further empowered to enable the regional association to face today’s global uncertainties.
Marty and Dewi were among the speakers participating in a one day discussion on “middle power possibilities at a moment of turbulence in the Asia-Pacific,” held by the Habibie Center think tank and the Canadian embassy, in conjunction with 40 years of relations between Canada and ASEAN. Last year, Canada appointed its first Ambassador to ASEAN, Marie-Louise Hannan, who opened the forum.
The speakers acknowledged the difficulties in reaching consensus among ASEAN members.
“One area that I would have been looking for is an increase in ASEAN’s capacity in regards to the East Asia Summit [EAS] to be able to manage the potential for crisis in our region,” Marty told the discussion.
Stressing the importance of the forum in addressing regional issues, he said the EAS could have more of an impact.
“How can ASEAN make the East Asia Summit more than a simply a hello and goodbye forum, because as of now, we have an annual summit at the end of the year and then there’s a vacuum of footprint, a vacuum of, dare I say, relevance, during the first nine months. And then we have a chair that comes, that welcomes and then bids goodbye,” he said.
In response to suggestions that ASEAN could be among the “middle powers” in the face of world powers such as the United States and China, Dewi said ASEAN had always shown middle power behavior in its need for survival. ASEAN has always been preoccupied with “ensuring living space and strategic autonomy” since the Cold War, she said.
Paul Evans, a professor at the Institute of Asian Research and the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, urged countries in the region to maintain ASEAN centrality amid what he said was a period of global turbulence following the election of US President Donald Trump and also uncertainties emanating from China’s leadership.
President Xi Jinping hailed the virtues of globalization in a speech last month in Davos, Switzerland, widely seen as a contrast to the protectionist instincts of the new US president.
In the face of “elephants, tigers, bears and sharks,” Evans said many countries now faced uncertainty in, for instance, trade arrangements in the absence of the US.
The speakers said ASEAN in recent years had failed to deliver any “breakthroughs” in the face of regional and global challenges.
Rene Pattirajawane, an associate fellow at the Habibie Center and a Kompas journalist, cited the ruling on the South China Sea from the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Netherlands. ASEAN did not show any initiative in following up on the ruling that favored the Philippines.
Dewi urged ASEAN to revive a more expansive view of the region and avoid getting bogged down in red-tape. ASEAN indeed faces challenges because of its diversity, consisting as it does of 10 members and 10 dialogue partners, she added.
“However, not investing in ASEAN is not an option” for Indonesia, she said.
Marty said ASEAN was most effective in its “transformative contribution” to raising the status of Southeast Asian nations. What were once pawns in the rivalries between great powers are now independent shapers of the region, he said.
Speakers added that ASEAN should try to use the 1976 Tretay of Amity and Cooperation to ensure regional stability.