ASEAN Today: Dead or Alive?

An article by หางนกยูง (Hangnokyoong)*

With the familiar cross-body handshake of the ten Southeast Asian leaders, the ASEAN Summit held at Hua Hin, Thailand, was concluded two weeks ago. The leaders expressed optimism in the future of ASEAN, lauding the theme: “ASEAN Charter for ASEAN People.” Prime Minister Abhisit, the host of the summit, emphasized the need to “make ASEAN more people-centric” and that the “protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms is a key feature of our community.” The leaders also expressed hope to create an “ASEAN Economic Community” by 2015 and called for advanced economies not to use protectionist measures amid the global economic crisis.

Given all the smiling pictures and wonderfully crafted speeches at the summit, it is easy for a random observer to see ASEAN as entering a new, brighter era in which the association evolves into a rule-based legal entity while its member countries become increasingly integrated. However, I disagree with this optimistic view. As will be argued in this article, the future of ASEAN, very much like its past, lies in its struggle to maintain regional security. Despite the rhetoric, the grouping’s ambitions related to human rights promotion or economic integration are dreams that will not be achieved in the foreseeable future. In fact, ASEAN today faces a number of key challenges that compel the association to struggle hard just to stay “relevant” in international affairs.

The birth of ASEAN

One cannot comprehend ASEAN’s present or predict its future without an understanding of its 42-year history. Turning the clock back to the mid-1960s, all Southeast Asian countries – except for Thailand – were newly independent states that were just embarking on an uphill task of nation building. Not unlike today’s Middle East, Southeast Asia was a region full of conflicts. Malaysia and Philippines were engaging in a territorial dispute over Sabah. The North Vietnamese were fighting the Americans in Indochina. Indonesia, under President Sukarno, launched a “crush Malaysia” military campaign in what was called konfrontasi II (“confrontation II”). In addition, the communist threat was increasing while the Americans and the British were withdrawing their troops from Southeast Asia.

Against this conflict-ridden context, ASEAN was formed in 1967 by five countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The primary reason for the establishment of ASEAN was not to promote economic integration, but rather to stop conflicts, counter communist threat and promote peace in the region so as to enable the weak Southeast Asian states to focus on economic development and nation building. ASEAN members agreed that they would try to form a conflict-free zone based on the principles of consensus, non-use of force and non-interference in internal affairs of other states. These principles, together with minimal institutionalism, are often referred to as the “ASEAN Way”.

The goal of conflict prevention was translated into a 1971 Declaration on an ASEAN Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), with one of its components being the establishment of Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ). As such, the primary function of ASEAN in its early stage was managing diversity of national interests and conflict so that its member states can foster economic growth and consolidate their key domestic institutions. However, it is important to remember that most outside observers of Southeast Asia at the time were largely skeptical about ASEAN’s prospect. That skepticism would begin to change in 1979.

ASEAN and the Cambodian conflict: the golden age of ASEAN

In December 1978, Soviet-backed Vietnam invaded Cambodia and easily overthrew the Khmer Rouge government. A new Vietnamese-backed government was installed in Phnom Penh. ASEAN states, which had been hoping for a peaceful coexistence between non-communist Southeast Asia and communist Indochina, were stunned. Thailand, in particular, became very alarmed that its sovereignty was now under threat from the Vietnamese, who were now right next to the Thai-Cambodian border. Vietnam, at that time, had the strongest army in the region.

ASEAN, whose member states were alarmed by the threat posed by Vietnam and the Soviet Union, responded swiftly to the invasion, denouncing the Vietnamese action and calling for immediate withdrawal of the Vietnamese troops from Cambodia. ASEAN also launched successful diplomatic efforts at the U.N. to get the international community to deny the legitimacy of the Vietnamese-installed government in Cambodia and to impose trade sanctions on Vietnam. As a result, Vietnam was isolated from much of the noncommunist world. Meanwhile, ASEAN also worked closely with China and the U.S. to channel military and financial support to the Khmer Rouge insurgents who were fighting against the Vietnamese in Cambodia throughout the 1980s.

Eventually, the Cambodian conflict was settled in 1991 at the Paris Peace International Conference. Vietnam withdrew its troops and a U.N. peacekeeping force was dispatched to administer Cambodia’s transition to democracy. For the first time since World War II, Southeast Asia was without interstate conflicts, while ASEAN was widely praised for its achievement and touted as probably the most successful regional grouping in the developing world. This positive view on ASEAN, however, would begin to change after the end of the Cold War.

ASEAN as a political, not economic, grouping

From 1967 to 1991, it is clear that ASEAN member states were bound together by their common political/security interests, not by the desire to integrate their economies. In the early stages, ASEAN states wanted regional stability that would allow them to deal with domestic problems. During the Cambodian conflict, ASEAN states needed to counter the perceived Vietnamese threat. Moreover, a remarkable success of ASEAN is the fact that its members have not fought a war with one another since its formation in 1967. ASEAN has been successful in preventing bilateral conflicts in the region from escalating into military clashes. It should be noted though that bilateral conflicts among ASEAN member states are rarely resolved; ASEAN is a mechanism for conflict avoidance rather than conflict resolution.

Indeed, it is obvious that ASEAN’s success has always been political and security in nature, whether in fostering a response to a shared external threat or in preventing the escalation of bilateral conflicts among its member states. ASEAN has always been a diplomatic tool that its member states use to pursue their own national interests. It has never been a force for economic integration, let alone human rights promotion. When the national interests of ASEAN states clash, ASEAN has been much less successful in putting its act together. For example, bilateral tensions between Malaysia and Singapore and between Thailand and Cambodia occasionally arise.

Moreover, ASEAN has largely failed on several occasions to react effectively to nontraditional threats, such as its failure to collectively deal with the “Haze” caused by uncontrolled forest fires or the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. The grouping was also silent following Indonesia’s gross human rights violation in East Timor in 1999, and it has not been able to induce a more moderate policy stance in Myanmar. Even today, although ASEAN states have called upon advanced economies not to use protectionist measures, some ASEAN countries, particularly Indonesia, have actually become more protectionist themselves. All the above instances reinforce the view that when the national interests of ASEAN member states are at odd with the collective interests of ASEAN, national interests will always be accorded higher priority. In other words, ASEAN is effective only when national interests of its members converge.

ASEAN’s key challenges

Since the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has faced at least three key challenges. First and foremost, there has been an absence of a common purpose. The old political cement, particularly the perceived Vietnamese and Soviet communist threat that glued ASEAN states together during the later stage of the Cold War, no longer exists. The end of the Cold War has thus left ASEAN without a clear focus. With this lack of a clear political/security focus, ASEAN states have found it more difficult to foster consensus because of their naturally diverse national interests. Without an obvious external threat, why would Thailand, or any other ASEAN state, need ASEAN in its pursue of national interests? In this regard, ASEAN, to some extent, faces the problem of relevance.

Second, ASEAN today lacks effective and responsible leadership. This is mainly a product of the dramatic political change that has taken place in Indonesia since 1998. Until 1998, President Suharto provided ASEAN with strong and responsible leadership. Suharto was the firm believer in ASEAN and on several occasions he played an important role in mediating bilateral conflicts among other ASEAN states. Thus, since the end of Suharto’s 33-year authoritarian rule in 1998, there was a vacuum in ASEAN’s leadership as Suharto’s successors were more preoccupied with solving domestic economic problems and political unrest. Because Indonesia is the largest and most influential country in ASEAN, without her leadership, it is difficult for ASEAN to progress or even to stay relevant. In recent years, however, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been relatively successful in consolidating democracy and fostering economic growth in Indonesia, and this should be a positive sign to ASEAN. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN today is less predictable than in the past.

Third, the enlargement of ASEAN, with its new CLMV members (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam), has generated even greater challenges for ASEAN. For one thing, these new members are some way behind the ASEAN original members in terms of economic development. More importantly, however, is the huge difference between the political regimes of the new and the original members. The political systems in CLMV countries are much more narrow and closed, with the political elites holding tightly to their power. In the eyes of these political elites, regime survival is synonymous to state survival, and they will definitely not allow ASEAN to interfere with their business and threaten their power.

Thus, it should not be a surprise when some human rights activists were barred from talks at the recent ASEAN Summit after Myanmar and Cambodia threatened to walk out. The idea of establishing a meaningful human rights body in ASEAN is still a dream that will not be realized any time soon. Furthermore, ASEAN enlargement, particularly the inclusion of Myanmar, has also made it more difficult for ASEAN to work with Western countries. The U.S. has at times been frustrated with ASEAN’s slow pace while European countries have been annoyed by ASEAN’s recognition of Myanmar. In addition, the CLMV countries’ involvement in ASEAN, with countless meetings one after another, has put a lot of strains on the bureaucratic capacity of these countries.

Because of the above three factors, an enlarged ASEAN with more diverse interests but without effective leadership has found it more difficult to derive at any kind of consensus and to move forward beyond nice talks. ASEAN’s struggle to stay relevant can be seen from its attempt to establish the ASEAN Charter, which supposedly would make ASEAN a more rule-based legal entity with some dispute settlement mechanism in place. However, despite the rhetoric, one only need to read the Charter to find out that consensus and non-interference still remain the ultimate principles of ASEAN. Some kind of dispute settlement mechanism will be established but it will be used only when the parties concerned agreed to do so. In essence, the Charter should be seen as an attempt to make ASEAN “look good”, albeit only on the surface, and to stay relevant in international affairs following years of declining relevance and underachievement.

The future of ASEAN: dead or alive?

So, given all the challenges it face, is ASEAN still alive? My short answer would be yes, ASEAN is still alive, but it is apparently less lively than before. Despite the lack of an obvious common goal among ASEAN members, there is at least one important but less visible common interest to be pursued: the need to ensure regional stability and peace at the time when China is rising as a major regional and global player. Despite the relatively peaceful rise of China thus far, there are uncertainties about China’s long-term regional intentions. Indeed, a recent CSIS survey found that in the view of foreign policy elites in East Asia, China represents the greatest security threat in East Asia today.

China’s potential threat to Southeast Asian nations can be seen in two forms. First, China does have territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. For decades, China and several Southeast Asian nations have had disputed claims on sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly Islands, where potentially large oil and gas reserves could be found. Despite ASEAN’s attempt to engage China and peacefully preserve the status quo of the territorial claims in the South China Sea, China on occasions have acted unilaterally by sending its armed forces to occupy some islands. The dispute over the South China Sea thus remains probably the most contentious dispute between China and Southeast Asian states. ASEAN states involved have found that ASEAN is an important diplomatic tool that they can use to engage China to settle these disputes peacefully. The second form of China’s threat is the fear of Chinese intervention in domestic affairs of ASEAN states. This is a concern for basically all ASEAN states, regardless of whether they share borders with China. Myanmar does not want to be seen as a client regime of China, just like Singapore does not want its own affairs to be interfered by China.

Given the concern over China’s long-term intentions in the region, ASEAN does have a role to play. Southeast Asian states have tried, bilaterally and regionally through ASEAN, to engage with external powers that could balance the rising Chinese power and guard against any potential hegemonic behavior of China. The most important source of this countervailing force is, of course, the United States. Following the termination of American bases in the Philippines in the early 1990s, ASEAN has tried very hard to keep the American presence in the region. In particular, ASEAN has tried to put itself in the “driver’s seat” in organizing various multilateral dialogue forum that involve outside powers. These forum are the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN+3, and the East Asia Summit.

Although these forum are sometimes referred to as “talk shops” that do not produce anything concrete, ASEAN members hope that multilateral engagement with the big powers – the U.S., China, Japan and India – will be able to ensure regional peace and stability. However, given ASEAN’s challenges described above, Southeast Asian countries will not put its faith totally in ASEAN to do its job. Singapore, for example, has pursued its national interests by allowing American forces to use the military facilities in Singapore, thereby ensuring continued U.S. presence in the region.

To conclude, ASEAN has always been a tool that its members use to pursue their own diverse national interests. ASEAN has been most successful in arriving at a consensus when the national interests of ASEAN members coincide with one another. The grouping has often failed to act collectively when these national interests diverge. Thus, given an enlarged ASEAN, national interests of the ten member states have become more diverse and currently do not appear to converge on the issues of increased economic integration or human rights promotion. As such, ASEAN is unlikely to see substantial progress in economic integration or in inducing a policy change in Myanmar in the near future.

Indeed, ASEAN’s present and future, just like its past, lie in its members’ struggle to maintain regional peace and stability. Securing regional peace through diplomatic efforts geared toward sustaining the involvement of all relevant external powers has been the most important function of ASEAN, and this looks likely to remain true in the many years to come.

*The writer is currently a graduate student studying Southeast Asian affairs.

11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Harmonybear on March 20, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Hi!

    Thanks so much for your article na ka. I just have a few comments and will do it in the form of ‘a’ = article and ‘c’ = comment laew gun na.

    a: ASEAN’s success has always been political and security in nature.
    c: What about the success in increasing ASEAN’s exports to external countries thanks to ASEAN’s international leverage as an economic grouping? As for successes in the political and security sphere, yes, we have been successful, but, as you noted later on, there’s the problem of political repression in Myanmar, problem of political dissidents fleeing their country, human trafficking and drug trafficking.

    a: ASEAN has never been a force for economic integration.
    c: It has increasingly become a force for economic integration following the end of the Cold War, with plans to realize an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), to cooperate with the East Asian economic power houses through the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) process with China, Japan and South Korea.

    a: Notes ASEAN’s failure to deal with non-traditional security issues, such as the regional haze and the Asian Financial Crisis.
    c: After the haze, ASEAN did come up with a Regional Haze Action Plan to prepare for any future recurrences. With regard to the Asian Financial Crisis, moves to mitigate the resultant problems include the establishment of the APT and the Chiangmai Initiative and swap arrangements.

    a: ASEAN failed to induce a more moderate policy in Myanmar
    c: At least it managed to get a 7 point road map to democracy out of Myanmar and is continually encouraging political reform. Given the ‘ASEAN Way’, this is the most that can be done.

    a: Since the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has lacked a common purpose.
    c: It has aimed to consolidate the association by establishing and consolidating a regional free trade area, a regional community and regional identity.

    a: There is the problem of ASEAN relevance.
    c: ASEAN is relevant in many aspects, especially as a strong grouping, which has significant international leverage vis-a-vis external countries.

    a: ASEAN lacks effective and responsible leadership. Refers to previous Indonesian leadership.
    c: Would you like to see a continuation of Indonesia’s leadership? On the issue of leadership, it should be pointed out that we’ve always had very competent ASEAN Secretary-Generals.

    a: Problem with new member countries – CLMV – economic gap and different political systems
    c: There are attempts to bridge the economic gap through developmental aid. As for different political systems, it is more likely that change can be encouraged from fellow regional member states than external states, i.e., we’re in a better position to encourage change by having these countries in ASEAN.

    a: The ASEAN Charter is just an attempt to make ASEAN look good.
    c: It just came into force last December, so it may be too soon to judge that. Besides, the ASEAN Charter has given the association a legal personality and it would be in member states’ interest to abide by and practice the principles within it in order to make it and the association credible.

    a: Notes ASEAN’s declining relevance and underachievement.
    c: ASEAN remains relevant, especially now with moves to construct an ASEAN Community. As for underachievement, one could debate against that by referring to disaster relief during the tsunami and the fact that we were able to send international relief to victims of Cyclone Nargis, among many other issues.

    a: Problem with promotion of human rights.
    c: Yes, but, to look on the bright side, four ASEAN countries have national human rights commissions: the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Moreover, ASEAN countries have ratified many major human rights conventions and covenants (see Johan Saravanamuttu, ‘Wither the ASEAN Security Community? Some Reflections’ in the International Journal of Asia-Pacific Studies) and some are also members of international human rights networks, such as the Human Security Network (HSN). Thailand is actually one of the founding members of this.

    That’s all I can think of now na ka…Hope it’s useful🙂

    Reply

  2. Posted by หางนกยูง on March 20, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Dear Khun Harmonybear,

    Thank you so much for your comments krab. It’s good to hear different viewpoints from someone who has been following ASEAN closely. Before I respond to your comments, let me make one general comment na krab. That is: my evaluation of ASEAN is based on the actual impact that ASEAN has had on whatever issue is at hand. I do not regard “action plans” or “agreements” that are just words without real action as success. Here are my specific responses krab.

    a: ASEAN’s success has always been political and security in nature.
    c: What about the success in increasing ASEAN’s exports to external countries thanks to ASEAN’s international leverage as an economic grouping? As for successes in the political and security sphere, yes, we have been successful, but, as you noted later on, there’s the problem of political repression in Myanmar, problem of political dissidents fleeing their country, human trafficking and drug trafficking.

    Response: What is the specific evidence or incidence that ASEAN’s exports to external countries have increased because of ASEAN’s leverage krab? Each ASEAN country increases its exports by opening itself up and promote exports. As for the success of ASEAN being political in nature, I mean political success as a grouping krab, not political success within each member country because domestic politics is not something that ASEAN can interfere with (although there is one exception which I will explain below). The major political success of ASEAN was the diplomatic efforts to get the international community, China and the US against Vietnam during the Third Indochina War.

    As for the exception to non-interference, I refer to ASEAN’s decision, against its noninterference principle, to interfere in Cambodia’s domestic politics following the July 1997 coup staged by Hun Sen. Following the coup, Cambodia was on the brink of another civil war. ASEAN applied diplomatic pressure on Hun Sen to accept ASEAN-monitored elections in which opposition parties could participate. This ASEAN interference was in sharp contrast to ASEAN’s position to Myanmar as ASEAN never really interferes with Myanmar’s affairs. The reason is simple. A Cambodia plagued with yet another civil unrest is a strategic/security concern for Thailand. Thailand, through ASEAN, thus pursued its national interests by convincing ASEAN members to intervene in Cambodia’s domestic affairs. Again, ASEAN’s success in this case is political/security in nature and it was made possible only because national interests of ASEAN members did not clash (no other ASEAN countries had reasons to reject Thailand’s national interest).

    a: ASEAN has never been a force for economic integration.
    c: It has increasingly become a force for economic integration following the end of the Cold War, with plans to realize an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), to cooperate with the East Asian economic power houses through the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) process with China, Japan and South Korea.

    Response: AFTA was signed in 1992 with the goal of creating an ASEAN Free Trade Area within 15 years. However, the pace of trade liberalization in ASEAN has been slow. “AFTA and related initiatives have not produced a noticeable increase in intra-ASEAN trade” and “even with AFTA, the commitment of ASEAN members to economic regionalism can be overstated” (Acharya, 2001: 143).* Intra-ASEAN trade as a share of total ASEAN trade has not increased significantly. By some estimate, however, the share actually falls. What have all the ASEAN FTAs or ASEAN+3 achieved in terms of trade liberation that involves a broad range of products, seriously?

    I agree that ASEAN trade with East Asian countries have increased, but to my knowledge there has been no evidence that account this trade increase with ASEAN initiatives. Rather, it seems that this increase in ASEAN-East Asia trade is a natural response to China’s economic growth and its role as the production hub in the region. The fact remains that intra-ASEAN integration remains slow, and the very fact that we are now hearing the idea of “ASEAN Economic Community by 2015” reflects the failure of AFTA to foster economic integration in the region. My prediction is that by 2015, ASEAN may become only a little bit more but not substantially more integrated economically.

    a: Notes ASEAN’s failure to deal with non-traditional security issues, such as the regional haze and the Asian Financial Crisis.
    c: After the haze, ASEAN did come up with a Regional Haze Action Plan to prepare for any future recurrences. With regard to the Asian Financial Crisis, moves to mitigate the resultant problems include the establishment of the APT and the Chiangmai Initiative and swap arrangements.

    Response: ASEAN did come up with the Haze Action Plan following the 1997 Haze but as one analyst of ASEAN’s response to the Haze problem concluded, ASEAN effortss have led to a “proliferation of meetings and plans have produced little of consequence” (Weatherbee, 2009: 282). In 1999, for example, ASEAN ministers announced their consensus on a region-wide zero burn policy – but without enforcement measures. In 2002, an ASEAN agreement on Haze Pollution was signed, but Indonesia – the country most responsible for the Haze – failed to ratify the agreement!

    ASEAN’s failure to deal with the Haze problem since 1997 is clearly evident when the big episode of Haze occurred again in 2006. Although there were talks after talks and all the agreements, ASEAN failed to prevent the big haze episode again. Indonesia still has not ratified the ASEAN Haze agreement to date. In fact, when Singapore brought up the haze issue at the UN General Assembly, the Indonesian president was angered and refused to shake hand with Singaporean PM. All these just show you that ASEAN is much less effective when it comes to cooperation in nontraditional security areas and that it is the individual state behavior, not the ASEAN Way or the sense of being ASEAN community, that ultimately determines outcomes.

    a: ASEAN failed to induce a more moderate policy in Myanmar
    c: At least it managed to get a 7 point road map to democracy out of Myanmar and is continually encouraging political reform. Given the ‘ASEAN Way’, this is the most that can be done.

    Response: Exactly – ASEAN, despite the 7-point road map and all the encouragement for political reform, has not been able to foster any moderate policy change in Myanmar. And I would argue that ASEAN will not be able to do anything on this internal policy of Myanmar in the near future. Thailand’s main national interest in Myanmar is natural gas. Thus, it is against Thailand’s national interest to do anything to annoy the junta in Myanmar. So, despite PM Abhisit’s nice talk about human rights, it’s just not going to happen.

    a: Since the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has lacked a common purpose.
    c: It has aimed to consolidate the association by establishing and consolidating a regional free trade area, a regional community and regional identity.

    Response: Is economic integration a real common purpose? If every ASEAN state really wants free trade area, then we should have seen a substantial increase in intra-ASEAN economic integration by now. That has not happened. The reason is simple: not all ASEAN member states are very interested in economic integration! Economic integration is not a real common purpose here. The call for an ASEAN community and identity is, in itself, a reflection of the fact that ASEAN has lacked that sense of community and identity. ASEAN has been a tool that member states use, whenever possible, to pursue their own diverse national interests, and like it or not, these national interests do not coincide on the issues of regional integration or human rights promotion.

    a: There is the problem of ASEAN relevance.
    c: ASEAN is relevant in many aspects, especially as a strong grouping, which has significant international leverage vis-a-vis external countries.

    Response: I disagree with calling ASEAN a “strong grouping”. ASEAN is not strong in the cohesive sense. ASEAN lacks a clear political cement that glues the member states together. But as I mentioned in my article, I believe that ASEAN member states do share a less obvious general interest in making sure that China’s rise is peaceful. But even this is not shared equally among ASEAN states. The CSIS survey that I mentioned found that Thai foreign policy elites seem to view China more favorably than their counterparts in other countries. (http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/090217_gill_stratviews_web.pdf).

    I would also disagree that ASEAN has “significant” international leverage vis-à-vis external countries. ASEAN does not have much leverage. ASEAN knows that it needs to engage the big powers especially the U.S. and stay relevant in international affairs. So, ASEAN has tried hard to do so by setting up all these regional or multilateral initiatives (ARF, APEC, ASEAN+1 or +3, EAS).
    Yet, until very recently, the U.S. largely ignored Southeast Asia despite ASEAN’s attempt to engage it.

    Another evidence of ASEAN’s insignificance is the fact that China has not adhered to the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. “The history of China’s diplomacy in South China Sea competition is one of declarations of cooperation followed by unilateral acts revising the status quo followed by new declarations of cooperation. Despite China’s promise to respect the status quo as promised in 2002 Declaration, Chinese research vessels and warships continued to intrude into Philippine waters, laying down markers on unmarked reefs”. Apparently, ASEAN does not have any significant leverage against China.

    a: ASEAN lacks effective and responsible leadership. Refers to previous Indonesian leadership.
    c: Would you like to see a continuation of Indonesia’s leadership? On the issue of leadership, it should be pointed out that we’ve always had very competent ASEAN Secretary-Generals.

    Response: I did not in any way suggest that I would like to see a continuation of Suharto’s rule. I am just pointing the fact that a democratic Indonesia has provided a less reliable and less effective leadership for ASEAN (Suharto would never refuse to shake hands with the Singaporean PM, for example).

    Also, I would argue that ASEAN Secretary-Generals have been weak. Dr.Surin is an exception though; he is indeed a competent and a born political leader. But his predecessors have been weak and have not been active enough in international affairs (really, I doubt if the international community can cite the names of some of the previous ASEAN Sec-Gens).

    That said, I would also add that the role of Sec-Gen should not be overstated. It is ultimately the leaders of ASEAN states who determine, based on their own perceived national interests, the outcomes of the grouping.

    a: Problem with new member countries – CLMV – economic gap and different political systems
    c: There are attempts to bridge the economic gap through developmental aid. As for different political systems, it is more likely that change can be encouraged from fellow regional member states than external states, i.e., we’re in a better position to encourage change by having these countries in ASEAN.

    Response: Again, as I said, unless the issue is a security or strategic concern of some ASEAN members, ASEAN will not interfere in domestic politics of these CLMV countries. The Vietnamese, Cambodian and Burmese governments’ violation of human rights have not been addressed at ASEAN and will not be so in the foreseeable future simply because it is not in the national interest of other ASEAN states to encourage change in domestic politics of these new members. In fact, for these CLMV countries, the survival of the state is seen by their political leaders as the survival of the regime itself. Any attempt by ASEAN to threaten their regime will not be tolerated.

    a: The ASEAN Charter is just an attempt to make ASEAN look good.
    c: It just came into force last December, so it may be too soon to judge that. Besides, the ASEAN Charter has given the association a legal personality and it would be in member states’ interest to abide by and practice the principles within it in order to make it and the association credible.
    Response: Again, I would contend that some ASEAN states would not want to adhere to the rules without their consent. The Charter itself still reaffirms the principles of non-interference in internal affairs of other states (article 2.2 of the Charter: http://www.aseansec.org/ASEAN-Charter.pdf). The dispute mechanism put in place will rarely be effecitve.

    a: Notes ASEAN’s declining relevance and underachievement.
    c: ASEAN remains relevant, especially now with moves to construct an ASEAN Community. As for underachievement, one could debate against that by referring to disaster relief during the tsunami and the fact that we were able to send international relief to victims of Cyclone Nargis, among many other issues.

    Response: I think ASEAN remains relevant, but much less so than before. ASEAN is also relevant in the sense that a clear common purpose/interest shared by all ASEAN states may arise in the future. When that time comes, ASEAN states will use ASEAN to pursue that common interest. For now, the closest thing to what constitutes a shared common interest of ASEAN states is securing regional peace during China’s rise to power by trying to keep the American interest in the region and engage with other regional powers. An ASEAN Community, to me, is just an attempt of ASEAN to make itself be seen as being relevant and important (because its relevance and the international interest in ASEAN has declined substantially since the end of the Cold War).

    I agree that ASEAN has been somewhat successful in heading the cyclone relief efforts in Burma. However, it is important to remember that it took ASEAN a few weeks before it was able to establish a tri-partite group (ASEAN, Burma, UN) that would coordinate relief efforts on the ground. ASEAN’s failure to act quickly enough contributed to higher losses of life and more suffering. Only when the junta had realized the extent of the cyclone impact (and so they realized that if they did not react properly, they would face increased opposition from the people) that they agreed to let ASEAN lead the relief efforts. So, ASEAN enjoyed some but limited success in the case of Cyclone Nargis response.

    As for the tsunami, it was a successful operation because it was in the national interests of ASEAN states to react quickly to the disaster. Even without ASEAN, these countries would really have to form some kind of mechanism to coordinate the relief efforts.

    a: Problem with promotion of human rights.
    c: Yes, but, to look on the bright side, four ASEAN countries have national human rights commissions: the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Moreover, ASEAN countries have ratified many major human rights conventions and covenants (see Johan Saravanamuttu, ‘Wither the ASEAN Security Community? Some Reflections’ in the International Journal of Asia-Pacific Studies) and some are also members of international human rights networks, such as the Human Security Network (HSN). Thailand is actually one of the founding members of this.

    Response: having HR commissions or ratification of human rights conventions do not always imply that the actual practice of human rights promotion is good. The fact that only 4 out of 10 ASEAN countries has HR commission is an indication that HR is not an ASEAN agenda. The 4 countries that have HR commissions do so because of their own internal reasons that have nothing to do with ASEAN. ASEAN countries’ national interests diverge significantly in this area of human rights and so I don’t see that ASEAN will produce any substantial progress in human rights in the many years to come.

    Overall response: I would like to make it clear that I am not suggesting that ASEAN has no reason to exist and should be abolished. Certainly not. ASEAN has come a long way and it is difficult to imagine a Southeast Asia without ASEAN. ASEAN states know that, when some real, obvious and common concern surfaces, each state is often too small and too weak to exert any influence in international affairs and would need ASEAN to help them respond to that concern. But since the end of the Cold War and until now, that obvious common concern that would glue ASEAN states together has not surfaced (China’s potential threat is the closest to this common concern).
    As a result, it has become more difficult for ASEAN member states to stick together and progress as a grouping in the areas of economic integration and other kinds of regional cooperation. This is because ASEAN member states, old and new alike, have diverse national interests that often do not coincide with one another (not in economic integration or human rights or environmental issues). Thus, ASEAN rhetoric about “ASEAN Community” and “ASEAN Charter” and so on only reflects the grouping’s lack of political cohesiveness and its struggle to stay relevant in international affairs. Lastly, when we predict whether ASEAN would be successful or not in dealing with any problem, we need to look at whether national interests of ASEAN member states clash or converse.

    This has been a long response. Clearly we see ASEAN quite differently but I think it’s good to see differing views. Hopefully my response was not too boring na krab🙂

    Reply

  3. Posted by Harmonybear on March 24, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Dear Khun Peacock’s Tail,

    I’m so happy that you replied na ka. It’s always a very stimulating mental exercise to bounce ideas back and forth with fellow postgraduates🙂 I don’t know what happened because when I posted my reply to your piece, I ticked the box at the bottom, saying that I wanted to be notified of any further comments, but then never heard back😦

    Luckily, I just came on to PoV to put in a post about a lecture on Buddhist manuscripts and saw your comment🙂 Will go have dinner first though because it’s been a long day, then I’ll respond🙂

    By the way, I wonder if we actually know each other? This is actually a shot in the dark, but are you someone I know, whose initials are P.B. and who’s studying in Australia right now?

    Best.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Harmonybear on March 24, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Dear Khun Peacock’s Tail,

    I. I agree that ASEAN has a problem with implementing regional agreements and action plans na ka, which have led to the jokes on ASEAN’s AFTA (agree first, talk after) and NATO (no action, talk only) style of working. I also agree that there’s a problem with regard to cooperation in the non-traditional sphere since the issues here tend to receive less attention, and hence less time and resources, from national governments. However, to look on the bright side, they have been taken up by other actors such as civil society. Whether or not these other actors have succeeded in raising awareness of non-traditional security issues and in pushing forward policies and action on them is of course another matter.

    Below is part of the piece I wrote on this na ka.

    Questions:

    1) What are the fundamental obstacles to implementation?
    2) Assuming that these obstacles originate from the state, what factors explain the emergence of securitization and action by non-state actors, namely civil society organizations (CSOs)? The concept of securitization is used because one adopts the broad framework of non-traditional security issues, or non-military issues, for all the existing agreements which have not yet been ratified and/or implemented.
    3) Assuming the prominence of non-state actors on these issues, what factors best explain their strategies for implementation?

    The anticipated answers for these questions are elaborated in the four tables below.

    (I tried copying and pasting these tables, but they just came out as jumbled texts and were not in the table format😦 so guess I’ll just have to type in the different tables manually).

    Table 1: Stages in promoting implementation of regional agreements

    Identification of obstacles in implementation
    – What is the source of the obstacle? Lack of political will or lack of resources (human and financial) or internalization/habitualization of signing agreements/declarations after each meeting, but no fixed commitment, future follow up on implementation or enforcement.
    – Anticipated observed outcome: underlying national obstacles

    Assuming that obstacles arise from factors at the state level, the shift to non-state actors i.e. CSOs
    – What factors best explain securitization and action by non-state actors rather than the state? Lack of political red tape (e.g. bureaucratic paper work and approval by parliament) or assymetrical access to information and resources (e.g. more personal access to local communities and information from counterpart non-state actors in other countries in the region about best practice).
    – Anticipated observed outcome: the role of non-state actors in raising awareness and initiating action

    Choice of strategy for promoting implementation
    – What factors best explain strategies for implementation? Interaction with related national ministries and government officials at the domestic level, or gathering of domestic non-state actors for discussion and cooperation in order to form a more cohesive, effective and stronger group, or interaction with external actors to exert pressure on the government.
    – Anticipated observed outcome: engagement with the state and/or non-state actors at both the domestic and international level.

    Table 2: Obstacles to implementation

    Lack of political will
    – Variation across issues: positions vary according to domestic and international geopolitical context
    – Key actors: national governments and state leaders

    Domestic instability and uncertainty
    – Variation across issues: more impact on issues connected to political development. May result in attempts to shift focus away from high politics and politicians to other parts of society, such as youth and civil society.
    – Key actors: state leaders, pro-government and anti-government protesters, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as actor which proposes policy.

    Lack of resources
    – Variation across issues: allocation and commitment of resources depends on domestic and international pressure as well as perceived benefits
    – Key actors: national governments, state leaders and related national ministries

    Internalized signing of agreements after each meeting, with no fixed commitment, future follow up or enforcement
    – Variation across issues: future follow up or enforcement similarly depends on domestic and international pressure
    – Key actors: national governments and state leaders

    Table 3: The shift to non-state actors, i.e. CSOs, in pushing for implementation

    Lack of political red tape
    – Timing of shift to non-state actors: follows identification of obstacle, or problem, which may occur after state shows incompetence on a particular issue area or external actor exerts pressure on this issue.
    – Variation across issues: Depends on nature of issue, and domestic and international political sensitivities. ‘High politics’ issues such as reform of the political system, political and civil rights will understandably meet with more resistance from the state than ‘low politics’ issues of economic development, and socio-economic rights.
    – Key actors: domestic and transnational CSOs

    Assymetrical access to information and resources
    – Timing of shift to non-state actors: follows identification of obstacle, or problem, which may occur after state shows incompetence on a particular issue area or external actor exerts pressure on the issue.
    – Variation across issues: depends on the quality and quantity of non-state actors involved: 1) the more contacts non-state actors have, who deal with a particular issue area, the more information they have on the actual problem and the better idea of how it can be improved by pushing for the implementation of an existing regional agreement, 2) the more access to resources, the higher the likelihood of mobilizing social groups to push for implementation.
    – Key actors: domestic and transnational CSOs.

    Table 4: Choice of strategy for promoting implementation

    Interaction with national ministries and government officials at the domestic level
    – Variation across issues: depends on past, if any, interaction and on whether national ministries and government officials are open to interaction. If past interaction was successful, it will likely be reiterated.
    – Key actors: state leaders, national ministries, domestic and transnational CSOs, external dialogue partners.

    Gathering of domestic non-state actors
    – Variation across issues: depends on cohesion of non-state actors working on particular issue: the more cohesive they are, the higher the likelihood of a general meeting for joint discussion and planning of action.
    – Key actors: state leaders, national ministries, domestic and transnational CSOs, external dialogue partners.

    Interaction with external actors
    – Variation across issues: depends on whether there are external counterparts and whether access to them is restricted or blocked.
    – Key actors: state leaders, national ministries, domestic and transnational CSOs, external dialogue partners.

    **********************************************************************

    II. I confess that I do not have the answer to the following questions, or comments on the following problems, at the top of my head or at hand right now, and would be most grateful if you could kindly share them with me:

    – What is the specific evidence or incidence that ASEAN’s exports to external countries have increased because of ASEAN’s leverage? (Do you have evidence at hand, or can you recommend sources which demonstrate that they have stayed the same or decreased?)
    – Process of trade liberalization in ASEAN has been slow. (I’ve read about this before and was wondering if you have any policy recommendations to mitigate this)
    – What have all the ASEAN FTAs or ASEAN+3 achieved in terms of trade liberalization that involves a broad range of products, seriously? (I haven’t got a clue)
    – Is economic integration a real common purpose? (Well, there you have the gap between paper work-commitment-implemetation again, because all the ASEAN member states have signed related agreements and action plans, but whether or not they want to and/or are willing to go the distance at this time is of course another matter)

    ************************************************************

    III. I agree that there’s a shared common interest of ASEAN states to secure regional peace during China’s rise to power by trying to maintain American interest in the region and to engage with other regional powers.

    My co-supervisor, Evelyn Goh, has summarized Southeast Asia’s regional security strategies as follows:

    ‘ The Southeast Asian states’ post-Cold War strategy of involving in regional security affairs all the major powers that have a stake in East Asian security has helped to facilitate a hierachical regional order that approximates the following preferred power distribution: (1) superpower overlay: United States; (2) regional great power: China; (3) major regional powers: Japan and India; and (4) major regional players: ASEAN, Australia and South Korea’ (Goh 2007/8: 149).

    *****************************************************************

    IV: Re: your comment ‘An ASEAN Community is just an attempt of ASEAN to make itself seen as relevant and important.’

    Can’t you put that in a more positive way?

    Like…

    Many regional organizations worldwide, including ASEAN, engage in community building to consolidate their purpose as a port of call for activities which build, promote and maintain a sense of collective identity among their member states. One of the reasons for the construction of regional communities is to strengthen a grouping of similar minded states by giving them a platform to conceive and to pursue their political and economic interests. There are many ways in which regional communities can be constructed. First of all, member states can express themselves as being part of and acting on behalf of a community of states. They can use terms which refer to their being part of a community and refer to other members as fellow members of this community. Moreover, they can also maintain, discuss and promote further research on the community’s past, present and future. These activities can be done at a formal level, in regional agreements and statements, and at an informal level in discussions within and between member states’ societies and peoples…(sorry, I have a tendency to get carried away :P)

    *****************************************

    V. Guess I’ll just end by saying that I agree that the convergence and divergence of national interests needs to be taken into account, given our ASEAN Way of consensus.

    Best.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Harmonybear on March 24, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Dear Khun Peacock’s Tail,

    After reading your article, I confess that I was curious to your identity and, looking on the bright side, thought that you might be someone I know🙂 Well, after some reflection, I don’t think you are, because he doesn’t talk like that.

    No, after some reflection, I think you’re someone I don’t know, who did a BA in economics in Thailand, and who’s now doing an MA in the US.

    Best.

    Reply

  6. Posted by หางนกยูง on March 25, 2009 at 1:25 am

    Dear Khun Harmonybear,

    Thanks a lot for your response krab! You have such a great opportunity indeed to have Evelyn Goh as your PhD supervisor. I listened to her talk once when she was speaking at my school some months ago and she was top notch (although I disagree with her ideas in general haha).

    I am busy these few days so I won’t have time to properly read and respond to you yet. Just one point I’d to make is that the idea of a community or security community. Noone has been able to convince me to believe that ASEAN states would be able to form some kind of a security community. That is because when I look at ASEAN countries, they have so many diverse interests. And I don’t see ASEAN countries seeing themselves as being ASEAN. Thais see themselves as Thais. Malaysians see themselves as Malaysians, and so on.

    Also, the notion of an ASEAN community looks very unlikely to come about in reality any time soon.. given the fact that ASEAN states still have a lot of disputes on several issues. Look at the bilateral tensions between Thailand vs Cambodia and Malaysia vs Singapore, for example, and I don’t see how these states will feel that they are all “ASEAN citizens”… especially when nationalist sentiments are strong here in SEA and especially when these nationalist sentiments often are used for domestic political gains. These things come first and foremost before any notion of an ASEAN community.

    So I’m quite skeptical about ASEAN states being “like-minded states” coming together to do some “community building”. It took two world wars before the Europeans realized that they should live peacefully with one another. I don’t think that is the case for Southeast Asian nations yet, not when I see deep-seated distrust/suspicion between Thailand and Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar, and Malaysia and Singapore.

    anyway, I gotta go back and write a paper. I’d respond properly later this week when I’m free na krab. And yes, I did econ at TU before coming to the US to do a MA krab🙂

    Reply

  7. Posted by Harmonybear on March 25, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Dear Khun Peacock’s Tail,

    I really should give you a chance to respond first, but I prefer to get things down when they come into my head, just in case I forget. Moreover, I hope it’s more than just the two of us who are reading this because we really need to raise ASEAN awareness within ASEAN, and so, some of the things I’m about to write are probably stuff you already know, but are directed at a wider audience for their information and consideration.

    I. First off, I’d like to elaborate on the perceived common regional concerns by referring to former ASEAN Secretary-General Rodolfo Severino. Some of these points have already been raised, others have not.

    – The rise of China and the US perception of it
    – The US military presence and defence alliances with Asia-Pacific partners and the Chinese perception of them
    – Japan’s relations with China and Tokyo’s confidence in its security treaty with Washington and in the US security umbrella
    – The nature of Sino-Indian relations
    – The motives behind North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons

    **********************************************

    II. Secondly, with regard to limited progress on political reform in Myanmar, if at all, I’d like to recommend Jurgen Haacke’s article on this in the journal Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Dec. 2008).

    Haacke notes that ASEAN’s diplomacy toward Myanmar consists of encouraging the capital Naypidaw to work closely with the UN Secretary General and his Special Advisor on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari. This policy has been consistent, but has resulted in little change in Myanmar.

    What can be derived from this is that ASEAN member states do not see a clearly defined, expanded role for ASEAN and/or they do not have any interest in putting in extra efforts to promote political reform in Myanmar. It might also mean that ASEAN member states cannot agree on expanded common action. Moreover, the scope for common action is also limited given the diverse perspectives on Myanmar within ASEAN.

    According to Haacke, ASEAN countries’ differences over Myanmar are largely shaped by four factors: (1) varying levels of commitment by governments to promote democracy and human rights; (2) a wide range of economic interactions with Myanmar, special interests, as well as geopolitical and security considerations; (3) different views about how ASEAN members should respond to international pressure over Myanmar’s political impasse; and (4) the possible political uses of the Myanmar issue at home and abroad, including image projection (pp.355-356).

    Just think that these are insightful points for those who are interested in the issue.

    ************************************************************

    III. I agree that an ASEAN Security Community cannot be realized in the near future, given diverse interests and continuing tensions and disputes among member states. However, it is a long term goal worth aiming for and one for which, small incremental steps have already been made at the bilateral and micro-regional levels.

    For example, in cases where interstate tensions remain politically sensitive, there have been attempts at reconciliation and the building of peaceful long-term relationships through the promotion of people-to-people contacts, a common cultural heritage and the provision of developmental aid. Yes, these activities were triggered and motivated by security concerns, rather than the spirit of belonging to a regional association, or the signing of ASEAN agreements which promote similar aims. As argued by Nicholas Khoo, ‘the development of ASEAN security cooperation during and after the Cold War is best explained as a reaction to threats rather than the development of any nascent sense of an ASEAN identity’ (2004: 145). This undermines the constructivist argument that regular ASEAN meetings have socialized ASEAN officials and leaders into the ‘ASEAN Way’ of accommodation, and demonstrates instead a continuation of the historical, threat and economic stimulation based, stop-start cycle of regional cooperation in ASEAN. Two cases support this argument: the establishment of the Thai-Lao Friendship Association and the Thai-Cambodian Joint Cultural Commission. Consideration of the first occurred in parallel to the Thai-Lao conflict in 1989 while the second occurred after the Thai-Cambodian conflict in 2003. They are part of the smaller non-political frameworks of cooperation which seek to improve bilateral relations. The main, and bigger, frameworks of non-political cooperation between Thailand and neighboring ASEAN countries are overseen by the Thailand International Cooperation Development Agency (TICA), which is a branch of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All have a common objective in promoting joint learning and joint development for better understanding and mutually beneficial economic growth.

    Bilateral associations/commissions

    Bilateral associations/commissions to restore and maintain peaceful relations are non-political, focussing on developmental assistance and cultural exchanges. For example, the Thai-Lao Friendship Association’s six aims are:

    1. To consolidate and enhance family spirit between the Thai and Lao people by building on government policy toward Thai-Lao relations on various aspects, especially on communications and the promotion of bilateral understanding.
    2. To promote cooperation on economic, social and academic affairs, as well as the exchange of cultures, customs and traditions.
    3. To promote Thai-Lao relations and understanding through education and research.
    4. To disseminate information on the politics, economics, academic research, society and culture of both countries.
    5. To promote the exchange of visits.
    6. To act as the Thai center for the coordination of joint activities, especially with counterparts or related organizations in Lao PDR.

    The association has been involved in a range of activities: the donation of money to aid flood vicitims, support for arts and cultural performances, organization of seminars on trade and investment, and on the role of the media, participation in Buddhhist religious ceremonies in Lao PDR, car and bicycle rallies, promotion of Lao language lessons and the Center of Information on Lao PDR at Khon Kaen University. As for the Thai-Cambodian Joint Cultural Commission, as the name suggests, it focuses on culture and has been working on joint historical writing on the shared cultural heritage, promotion of tourism along this shared cultural heritage route and promotion of Thai/Cambodian language learning. Thus, the objective of the Vientiane Action Programme to promote understanding and appreciation of ASEAN member countries need not take place within a wider regional, ASEAN framework, but can be just as, or even more, effective on the smaller scale through bilateral cooperation.

    The Thailand International Cooperation Development Agency (TICA) and Thailand’s Cooperation for International Development Strategy

    TICA has played a major role in the provison of developmental assistance to CLMV countries (Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Myanmar and Vietnam) and engagement in a partnership for development with Malaysia. Its cooperation for international development strategy helps build a strong foundation for the realization of an ASEAN Security Community by improving bilateral relations through increased contact and aid.

    Summary of Thailand’s Cooperation for International Development Strategy

    Overview

    TICA initiated Thailand’s cooperation for international development strategy 2007-2011, which acts as a framework and means for cooperation for development, and for TICA and Thai agencies to work along the same lines in unison.

    While drafting the strategy, TICA organized brainstorming conferences with the state and private sector, as well as private development organizations, to exchange ideas about the draft strategy and to present ideas made by the working committee on the academic cooperation strategy. The draft strategy has been revised by taking comments and suggestions into consideration.

    Objectives

    The strategy’s objectives are to aid developing countries in alleviating poverty, to increase the capacity for and to promote sustainable development both at the subregional and regional level, to expand cooperation in the form of partnerships for development with important donors, and to promote Thailand as the centre for cooperation for international development in various areas.

    Have you all fallen asleep yet?😛 There are many TICA documents on their activities which demonstrate their achievements na, but I think I’ll leave it here for now🙂

    Reply

  8. Posted by หางนกยูง on April 5, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Dear Khun Harmonybear,

    I apologize for my very late response na krab. I have a few points to make in response to your previous comments as follows.

    First, to answer these questions:

    1. What is the specific evidence or incidence that ASEAN’s exports to external countries have increased because of ASEAN’s leverage? (Do you have evidence at hand, or can you recommend sources which demonstrate that they have stayed the same or decreased?)

    – I have read about this in many places. Indeed, ASEAN’s exports to external regional countries have been on the ups (until the global econ crisis began). The point is, there is no evidence that suggests that this increasing trend was a result of ASEAN’s leverage with these external countries.

    2. Process of trade liberalization in ASEAN has been slow. (I’ve read about this before and was wondering if you have any policy recommendations to mitigate this)

    – I do not have policy recommendations simply because not all of the ASEAN states agree on this goal of trade liberalization. Singapore of course is the number one proponent of greater and faster trade liberalization, but domestic interests in other countries like Indonesia, Malaysia or even Thailand have prevented that from happening. National interests are the key driver of ASEAN actions and since national interests of the ASEAN members do not converge on this issue, it’s hard to induce the change.

    3. What have all the ASEAN FTAs or ASEAN+3 achieved in terms of trade liberalization that involves a broad range of products, seriously? (I haven’t got a clue)

    – Not that much. Many of the ASEAN “FTAs” aren’t really FTAs to begin with. They should be called preferential trade agreements instead. ASEAN-China FTA, for example, is narrow in its coverage and Thai exporters still face some difficulties in exporting goods to China.

    4. Is economic integration a real common purpose? (Well, there you have the gap between paper work-commitment-implemetation again, because all the ASEAN member states have signed related agreements and action plans, but whether or not they want to and/or are willing to go the distance at this time is of course another matter)

    – We will see, but I would predict that ASEAN would not become substantially integrated when 2015 comes. Certainly nothing like NAFTA.

    Second, on the involvement of non-state actors or CSOs, I think they certainly should be given greater role in ASEAN affairs. But the truth is that they will probably be allowed to play important role only in areas that are of less significance in interstate affairs, like cultural, educational issues for example.

    Third, thanks for Haccke’s article. Indeed, he clearly shows that ASEAN members’ national interests with regard to Burma differ and thus, expanded ASEAN action toward Burma is unlikely to happen.😦

    Fourth, I appreciate all the bilateral/regional commissions like TICA that attempt to foster development or cultural ties. However, these initiatives focus on noncontentious issues. When it comes to security issues, national and domestic interests are the determinants of state actions.

    Fifth, there have been a few events that have occurred in the last few weeks:

    – ASEAN announced that it would sign investment pacts with China and Korea later this year (I don’t know the specifics of the pacts yet). ASEAN is urged to resume talks on FTA with EU.

    – Thailand and Cambodia exchanged gunfire, resulting the the death of a few soldiers. (This event again underlines the fact that any suggestion about security community is not based on reality)

    Reply

  9. Posted by Harmonybear on April 6, 2009 at 7:18 am

    Dear Khun Peacock’s Tail,

    Just wanted to say thank you for your comments na ka.

    The exchange of gunfire between Thailand and Cambodia is very upsetting news indeed. Internal politics is already tense enough, the whole world is facing an economic crisis, and the last thing we need is a border conflict to top it all off😦

    Anyway, hope you have a good Easter holiday and Songkran holiday na ka.

    Best.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Harmonybear on April 6, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Dear Khun Peacock’s Tail,

    Just some extracts from an article which I read today to satisfy my curiosity about the problems with AFTA. You probably know all this already, but thought I’d post it here anyway, just in case anyone else is interested.

    Extracts from John Ravenhill, ‘East Asian regionalism: Much Ado about Nothing?’ Review of International Studies 35, (2009): 215-235.

    Extracts from pp.226-227.

    ‘The lack of uniformity in treatment of individual products by various ASEAN countries caused traders to face in effect not a single free trade area but what Baldwin has characterised as 45 bilateral preferential agreements within the ASEAN market…

    By the end of 2006, only 65 per cent of the products in the Inclusion Lists of the original ASEAN members had zero tariffs – testimony to the continuing political influence of protectionist interests. Complete removal of all tariffs on goods was not scheduled to occur until 2010 for the original members and 2015 for the newer members, and even then there would be exceptions for goods classified as ‘Sensitive’ or ‘Highly Sensitive’…

    The preferential margins created by AFTA for the vast majority of intra-ASEAN trade were so low, following the unilateral trade liberalisation ASEAN states pursued in the 1980s and 1990s, that few companies found that their potential benefits offset the risk of delays and the costs of completing the paperwork required to comply with the treaty’s rules of origins. Scarcely suprising, therefore, that various studies have shown that only a tiny percentage of intra-ASEAN trade took advantage of the preferential tariffs created by AFTA – typically less than 5 per cent of overall trade, a much smaller percentage than for preferential arrangements in other parts of the world…

    In the services sector, little progress on liberalisation had occurred despite the signature in 1995 of an ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services. As a consequence, growth of services trade within ASEAN was slower than the world average – in marked contrast to trade in goods.’

    Well, that’s just a taster of the article…

    Reply

  11. Posted by หางนกยูง on April 7, 2009 at 7:41 am

    Dear Khun Harmonybear,

    Thank you for sharing the article krab. I didn’t know some of these figures before – they are pretty revealing.

    Happy Songkran and Easter to you too! And hopefully the internal rift within our country would be mitigated over time and justice and the rule of law could be re-installed sooner rather than later.

    Reply

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