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ASEAN’s success

 

1. Culture

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ASEAN is known
to have created a unique culture of consultation and consensus, which is an
ethos is now hailed by many as the “ASEAN way”. As well-respected
American University Professor Amitav Acharya puts it, the ASEAN way is
characterized by a high degree of discreteness, informality, pragmatism,
expediency, consensus building, and non-confrontational bargaining styles,
which are often contrasted with the adversarial posturing and legalistic
decision-making procedures in Western multilateral negotiation. By
persistently engaging regimes like Myanmar’s military junta economically and
politically, ASEAN prevented a hardening of its positions due to isolation.

 

2. Networking

ASEAN now organizes more than
1,000 meetings a year to discuss topics ranging from climate change to cultural
exchange. Consequently, thousands of invisible informal networks have evolved
in the region. For example, ASEAN actively engaged Myanmar and its
military junta despite harsh criticism, when Myanmar was shunned by the Western
leaders. Representatives from the junta attended numerous ASEAN meetings and
witnessed the developmental strides made by Member States through
liberalisation, inspiring Myanmar to become more open to international norms
and practices. Months after Myanmar was appointed as the ASEAN chair, Aung San
Suu Kyi was released from house arrest.

ASEAN organises
the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a multilateral platform which brings 27 nations
together – including North Korea.  As
there are no comparable regional organizations for the northeast Asian
countries, these countries’ meetings at ASEAN summits have been a major
contribution to the reigning culture of peace in Asia. The ASEAN Plus
meetings also facilitated early meetings between leaders of China, Japan and
South Korea, the three countries that have traditionally distrusted each other.
When Sino-Japanese relations were tense after Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto
visited the Yasukuni Shrine in the late 1990s, an ASEAN summit in 1999 in the
Philippines helped to ease the strained ties by facilitating face-saving meetings.

 

3. Policy of
Non-Intervention

The West has
often needled the ASEAN states to criticize one another when their human rights
records slipped. Yet, ASEAN countries have ignored this advice and
sedulously avoided meddling in each other’s domestic affairs to prevent
overreach of power and unhappiness. This has resulted in a lasting peace. This
approach has been highly effective in defusing potentially explosive
situations, such as the Thai-Cambodia border dispute, as well as the dispute
over Sabah between Malaysia and the Philippines. The resolution of these
disputes reflects ASEAN’s facility for conflict management and quiet diplomacy.

Challenges

 

1. Sino-American Relations

The rise of
China to join USA in the ranks of the world’s top powers is seen as the world’s
biggest shifts of geopolitical power that will continue to shift until China
grows to be larger than the United States. In theory, Sino-American relations
should hit a peak of rivalry in the next decade. Currently, the United
States and China are competing by cultivating their economic and diplomatic ties
in the ASEAN region. This is beneficial for the ASEAN countries, as they will
reap the benefits of American and Chinese trade and investment.

However, if the U.S.-China
relationship turns sour, which is predicted to occur in the new future, ASEAN
countries will actively seek to resist the geopolitical pressures to choose
sides. In the event of enhanced rivalry between the United States and
China, ASEAN faces the danger of devolving into a house divided against itself,
as historically, the ASEAN Member States have had varying levels of closeness
to these superpowers

 

2. Terrorism

The resurgence
of extremist groups in the region poses a worrying trend. The number of
Indonesians and Malaysians enrolling in the Islamic State of Iraq and the
Levant (ISIL) has alarmed their respective governments. Similarly, the
emergence of Buddhist extremist groups in Sri Lanka could lead to political
clones springing up in Myanmar. ASEAN must ensure that its hard-earned peace is
not disrupted by the emergence of such extremist elements. Therefore, the
ASEAN countries must work more closely together to ensure that religious
extremism does not rear its ugly head in the region

 

3. The AEC

The ASEAN
Economic Community (AeC) was implemented with the goal of integrating the
region by 2015, by reducing barriers to intra-regional trade and investment, so
that the ASEAN states can be more competitive in the global arena. Although
ASEAN has already made good progress in regional integration in many areas such
as the elimination of 99% of ASEAN total tariff lines in 2010, it seems
unlikely that all the goals of the AeC will be met by 2015. The biggest
obstacle to economic integration in the region is the schizophrenic attitude of
the ASEAN countries when it comes to the AEC. Though they are eager to reap the
benefits of integration, they do not want to open up their own markets to the
resultant competition. Non-tariff trade barriers have yet to be
eliminated and the process has been slow and arduous. If ASEAN does not become
more serious about implementing the AeC, its partners could lose trust in its
effectiveness, and trust is ASEAN’s main currency

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