RI Leads ASEAN to More Peaceful, Prosperous Future

17 November, 2011 | Source: The Jakarta Post

The year 2011 will be remembered as a turning point in ASEAN maturity as an integrated grouping of countries while boosting its standing as a prominent voice in helping resolve regional and global problems.

In showing its leadership, Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, decided last year that it should seize the momentum to take the ASEAN chairmanship this year rather than wait for its turn by rotation in 2013.

“So much will happen in two years. We don’t want to lose the momentum to shape the region and show our leadership,” Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said just after taking the chairmanship from Vietnam in December last year.

Marty’s prediction proved to be correct as just several months into the year, Thailand and Cambodia became embroiled in a military conflict, shooting each other over an unfinished border issue and attracting global attention, with even the UN issuing a decision to give ASEAN and Indonesia a prominent role in mediating the conflict.

Tireless efforts from Indonesia and ASEAN coupled with the election of Yinluck Shinawatra as the new Thai premier have temporarily halted the conflict.

Meanwhile, four ASEAN countries — Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines — are getting tired of China in the South China Sea, and are creating a push for a quick way out.

As early as January this year, Indonesia has insisted that talks on guidelines on the declaration of a code of conduct on the South China Sea issue, with Marty stating an urgent need for a breakthrough and a start of talks on a more legally binding code of conduct (COC) for the disputed areas.

Myanmar, at the same time, has kept its promise to other ASEAN countries that it could change albeit at a slower that expected pace. The general election that has created a civilian government and the release of the country’s democracy icon Aun San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in 2011 has showed that the patience of Indonesia, which has persistently supported a ”constructive engagement” with Myanmar, has paid off.

Myanmar, which is scheduled to chair ASEAN in 2016, is now proposing to lead ASEAN in 2014, swapping its turn with Laos.

While ASEAN countries have vowed to move toward a full political and security community by 2015, closer defense and military cooperation among the members is viewed as ”dangerous” because it could be interpreted as building up a security pact, a fear inherited from the Cold War era.

Against this backdrop, ASEAN countries are still suspicious toward one another with military expenditure and equipment not disclosed transparently while a budget boost of one country pushes another to in turn boost its defense expenditure.

Under Indonesia’s leadership, ASEAN defense chiefs are now talking about pooling military resources and building better networking to cope with natural disasters and develop united peace keeping operations.

Realizing the need to be independent from outside sources, the ASEAN members are also trying to join forces to create the grouping military industries.

“This is just the beginning to build full trust among ASEAN military forces. We would like to have a more formal regulation to prevent mistrust and conflicts in our region,” Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said recently.

The ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua on Wednesday and Thursday represents the culmination of Indonesia’s efforts to create a more peaceful and democratic region.

In regard to the grouping’s economic integration, 2011 saw for the first time a jump in intratrade among ASEAN countries. The trade among ASEAN members reached over 30 percent of their total trade, a significantly jump after remaining stuck at 23 percent in the last several years.

With the Eurozone crumbling and a global crisis is very much on the horizon, Asia has been left to energize global economic growth. ASEAN, having placed itself as the driving force in East Asia and the
Pacific, is becoming central to assuring cooperation instead of conflict will prevail in the region.

For years, ASEAN has been able to play a mediatory role for China, Japan and South Korea in the ASEAN Plus 3 and later with Australia, India and New Zealand in the ASEAN Plus 6, or East Asia Summit (EAS).

In a show that the regional architecture has been extremely successful, the US and Russia have applied to join the EAS, with leaders from both countries joining the summit of 18 countries on Friday and Saturday.

Indonesia and ASEAN will be tested in trying to mediate relations between major powers, notably between the U.S. and China, to focus on tackling the global crisis rather than fighting among themselves.

Next year, Cambodia will replace Indonesia as ASEAN chair. Many have expressed doubt that many of the achievements will be left without follow up. But many others denied such claims.

“Whether it is chair or not, because of its default size and capacities Indonesia will continue exerting its leadership in making sure the group in on the right track to progress,” a diplomat reassured Indonesia’s stance.

 

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