ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations

17 November, 2011 | Source: The Jakarta Post

Since its establishment in 1967, ASEAN has been the cornerstone of Indonesia’s foreign policy. From day one to until now, Indonesia never stopped its efforts in putting forward new initiatives to strengthen the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Among those initiatives, giving a legal entity to the regional grouping in 2008, expansion of East Asia Summit (EAS) and building an ASEAN community by 2015 are the most important ones.

“A strong ASEAN, an ASEAN marked by all the visions that we have in terms of the community, is also in the vital interests of Indonesia,” Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said recently.

While assuming the ASEAN Chair for 2011, Indonesia, the home to the world’s largest Muslim population, had set a clear agenda with priority goals — to ensure progress in the implementation of the blueprints for building the ASEAN Community by 2015, based on three main pillars of ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, and to elevate ASEAN’s role in the regional architecture as well as to develop an ASEAN Vision Beyond 2015 in a global community of nations.

In an effort to take ASEAN to new heights, Indonesia unveiled its new baby: the “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations” as its theme for its ASEAN chairmanship in 2011. This raised the eyebrows of experts in not only ASEAN countries but also other countries.

Why ASEAN should assume the role of global game-changer now?

In the realm of 21st century international relations, especially with the rise of China and India, the epicenter of the global economic, political and security gravity has been moving toward East Asia while the world’s lonely super power and the so-called old powers in Europe are on a losing streak, thanks to the mountains of debt, aging population and sky-rocketing unemployment rates.

The fast-changing dynamics of this power shift have made existing challenges, in the words of Foreign Ministry’s director for dialog-partners and inter-regional cooperation Jose Antonio Morato, “complex, multi-faceted and transnational”.

“Now global issues are interdependent and interlinked, as a solution to one affects others,” Jose said.

In order to meet these complex challenges, Indonesia considers that ASEAN, which is aiming to becoming a community four years from now, should not wait until 2015 to engage the global community because the situation is changing very fast.

With its strategic location, abundant natural resources, quality human resources and growing economies, ASEAN has gained strategic weight and drawn the attention of global players. More countries are knocking on the doors of ASEAN either to join the East Asia Summit or to become dialog partners. The US and Japan had appointed their first ever resident ambassadors to ASEAN. So far 55 countries across the globe have appointed their envoys to the regional grouping and this number is growing every month.

All these indicators point toward a newly evolving regional architecture. As a responsible regional power, ASEAN, according to Indonesia, must be in the driving seat. This was also strongly supported by the ASEAN chief executive.

“ASEAN is the fulcrum of the evolving regional architecture. The centrality of the ASEAN is very important,” ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said during the recent “Moving ASEAN Community Forward into 2015 and Beyond” symposium, jointly organized by the government of Indonesia, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and Harvard University, in Jakarta.

In order to maintain its centrality in the evolving regional architecture, ASEAN should set its agenda now for beyond 2015 and design a roadmap for a global role.

Indonesia put forward a new concept called “dynamic equilibrium” in the region by extending the membership to the U.S. and Russia in the East Asia Summit. For the first time leaders of these two major powers will attend the next week’s East Summit. Earlier also it brought in another Asian powerhouse India, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Though ASEAN is poised to become a community, single market and production base by 2015, currently member states have been acting individually on global issues at international fora.

The main objective of Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship theme is to create a common political platform for member states to deal with global issues. This will boost ASEAN’s stature and bargaining position in international bodies like the United Nations and its related bodies, World Trade Organizations, G20, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and so on.

ASEAN, under the chairmanship of Indonesia, is also mulling a Strategic Partnership agreement, an early-harvest document, with the United Nations in Bali next week.

As a peace-loving nation, Indonesia has proposed a regional conflict resolution mechanism. It won kudos from the United Nations for playing an honest broker’s role in the recent spat between Thailand and Cambodia. There is also a plan to establish the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation.

In order to address the on going South China Sea dispute, in which China claims the whole area while ASEAN members like, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam have claims on certain parts of the resource rich sea area, Indonesia convinced China to have a code of conduct among the claimants. As a result all the claimants signed the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the recent guidelines to honor the agreement.

All these Indonesia’s peace efforts won the praise from none other than U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Within ASEAN, Indonesia has also played a leading role, Indonesia has initiated efforts to resolve the Thai-Cambodia border dispute, facilitated discussion on South China Sea issues, and supported genuine reform in Burma (also known as Myanmar),” Hillary told the Strategic Review journal, a Jakarta-based publication, in an interview.

With this background Indonesia unveiled the theme of “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations” during its chairmanship. Though this goal will be achieved in 2022, preparations will begin now. There will be a declaration at the 19th ASEAN Summit, which will be known as the Bali Concord III, in Bali next week.

The main strategic objectives of the theme will be to advance ASEAN’s common interests and concerns at the global level, have a greater role as part of solutions to common challenges, and establish ASEAN as a reliable regional player in the global community of nations.

But it will not be an easy task to pool together such diverse ASEAN countries and to have a common perspective on global issues. If they put side their national interests for the sake of ASEAN unity, the organization will certainly progress and prosper.

In the words of ERIA chief economist Fukunari Kimura, the vision for ASEAN beyond 2015 must be to create “a dynamic, resilient, competitive, and sustainable regional economy, a globally connected, influential, important and engaged ASEAN and a thriving, equitable, and harmonious regional community”.

But the question is how to realize this vision and put ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations. Indonesia. Unity, cooperation, people’s participation and broad-mindedness among ASEAN members are the keys for ASEAN’s success. ASEAN’s largest economy, democracy and populous nation, must continuously provide an intellectual leadership to ASEAN whether it chairs ASEAN or not in the coming years.


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