RE­VISIT THE

It blunts the ef­fec­tive­ness of Asean, es­pe­cially in mat­ters of se­cu­rity of the re­gion

New Straits Times - - Opinion - salle­hbuang@hot­mail.com The writer for­merly served the At­tor­ney-General’s Cham­bers be­fore he left for prac­tice, the cor­po­rate sec­tor and, then, the academia

ASEAN (the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions) was formed pur­suant to the Bangkok Dec­la­ra­tion on Aug 8, 1967 by Malaysia and four of her clos­est neigh­bours — In­done­sia, the Philip­pines, Sin­ga­pore, and Thai­land. The dec­la­ra­tion was signed by the five coun­tries’ for­eign min­is­ters — Adam Ma­lik of In­done­sia, Nar­ciso Ramos of the Philip­pines, (Tun) Ab­dul Razak Hus­sein of Malaysia, S. Ra­jarat­nam of Sin­ga­pore, and Thanat Khoman of Thai­land. They are re­garded as the as­so­ci­a­tion’s found­ing fa­thers.

In 1976, Pa­pua New Guinea was ac­corded ob­server sta­tus. On Jan 8, 1984, Brunei Darus­salam be­came the as­so­ci­a­tion’s sixth mem­ber, a week af­ter the coun­try at­tained its in­de­pen­dence. On July 28, 1995, Viet­nam be­came the sev­enth mem­ber state to join Asean.

Laos and Myan­mar be­came mem­bers of Asean on July 23, 1997. Cam­bo­dia orig­i­nally in­tended to join Asean to­gether with Laos and Myan­mar, but in­ter­nal is­sues de­layed the de­ci­sion. Fi­nally, af­ter sta­bil­ity was re­stored in the coun­try, Laos joined Asean on April 30, 1999.

For the last eight years, Asean membership has re­mained at 10. In five decades, Asean has dou­bled its orig­i­nal size. Soon, it will cel­e­brate its 50th an­niver­sary. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, there is al­ready a plan to make the as­so­ci­a­tion big­ger than be­fore. Clearly, as a liv­ing supra­na­tional or­gan, it is con­tin­u­ally grow­ing in size, but is it get­ting any more ef­fec­tive than be­fore in achiev­ing its stated pur­poses and goals? Has it been able to re­solve the is­sues it has been fac­ing for some time now?

Just over a year ago, on Dec 31, 2015, the Asean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity (AEC) was es­tab­lished. One of the stated ob­jec­tives of AEC is to stream­line the pro­cesses, rules and reg­u­la­tions of do­ing busi­ness in the re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank 2017 re­port on “Ease of Do­ing Busi­ness”, Sin­ga­pore is ranked sec­ond while Malaysia is ranked 23rd, Laos at 139 and Myan­mar at the low­est spot (170). The es­tab­lish­ment of the AEC is the cul­mi­na­tion of the AEC Blue­print adopted in 2007.

AEC is tasked with achiev­ing the fol­low­ing four ob­jec­tives — in­te­grat­ing the mar­ket and pro­duc­tion base, fa­cil­i­tat­ing eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion of the 10 economies in the Asean re­gion, of­fer­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses and in­vestors within and out­side the re­gion, and chang­ing the eco­nomic land­scape and the ap­proach and strat­egy to do busi­ness in the re­gion.

An im­por­tant doc­u­ment ti­tled “AEC Blue­print 2025” has been drawn up to foster an in­te­grated and con­nected global eco­nomic sys­tem, a busi­ness-friendly and mar­ket-driven en­vi­ron­ment, a dy­namic re­gion that in­spires in­no­va­tion where busi­nesses thrive and con­sumers’ rights are pro­tected, and a con­nected re­gion with im­proved con­nec­tiv­ity.

Col­lec­tively, Asean is the 7th largest econ­omy in the world. It now plans to grow even big­ger by es­tab­lish­ing smart part­ner­ships with China, Ja­pan, South Korea, In­dia, Aus­tralia and New Zealand through RCEP (Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship). Asean is cur­rently Amer­ica’s fourth largest trad­ing part­ner.

As a body, Asean in­ter­acts with China, Ja­pan and South Korea in the “Asean Plus Three”, with five other states (Aus­tralia, In­dia, New Zealand, Rus­sia and United States) in East Asia Sum­mit, and has an in­for­mal mul­ti­lat­eral dia­logue with 27 mem­ber states in the Asean Re­gional Fo­rum.

En­larg­ing Asean means hav­ing more mem­ber states join­ing the as­so­ci­a­tion. This has been done in the past five decades and there is no rea­son to be­lieve it will stop here.

An­other al­ter­na­tive for Asean is to go “deeper”, not just “wider” — in other words, in­ten­si­fy­ing the ex­ist­ing re­la­tions (eco­nomic, so­cio-cul­tural and politico-se­cu­rity) and tak­ing them to the next level. The eco­nomic and trade is­sues have been taken care of in the AEC Blue­print 2025, but what of the other is­sues, es­pe­cially the politico-se­cu­rity mat­ters?

Asean faces, for the mo­ment, two ex­tremely com­plex pub­lic law is­sues — the eth­nic cleans­ing of the Ro­hingya in Myan­mar and the over­lap­ping claims of ju­ris­dic­tion in the South China Sea. Pos­ing the big­gest hur­dle to their so­lu­tion is the “con­sen­sus rule”, which binds all Asean mem­ber states.

Noth­ing can be done by Asean coun­tries at re­solv­ing any im­por­tant or crit­i­cal is­sue on the global arena un­til all the Asean mem­ber coun­tries agree to it.

De­scrib­ing this con­sen­sus rule as blunt­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of Asean, Le Hong Hiep (fel­low at ISEAS-Yu­soff Ishak In­sti­tute, Sin­ga­pore) said the rule had pre­vented the as­so­ci­a­tion from deal­ing ef­fec­tively with the Chi­nese ter­ri­to­rial claim in the South China Sea, as well as the Ro­hingya is­sue in Myan­mar. He sug­gested that the con­sen­sus rule should be re­served (ap­plied) only to mat­ters which have ob­vi­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the sovereignty, ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and do­mes­tic au­ton­omy of a mem­ber state, not when the is­sues con­cern the se­cu­rity of Asean as a re­gion (“Con­senus rule blunts Asean’s ef­fec­tive­ness”, Ja­pan Times, Nov 6, 2016).

It is due to this in­abil­ity by Asean as a re­gional body to deal with the Chi­nese ter­ri­to­rial claim that the Philip­pines was forced to re­fer the mat­ter to in­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tra­tion at the Hague.

Un­der the Asean Char­ter, which was adopted in Novem­ber 2007, Ar­ti­cle 20 states that: “(1) As a ba­sic prin­ci­ple, de­ci­sion­mak­ing in Asean shall be based on con­sul­ta­tion and con­sen­sus. (2) Where con­sen­sus can­not be achieved, the Asean Sum­mit may de­cide how a spe­cific de­ci­sion can be made”.

Asean lead­ers must re­visit this pro­vi­sion, if it wishes the ex­pand­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion to be re­ally ef­fec­tive in main­tain­ing and en­hanc­ing “peace, se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity” in the re­gion (as stated in Clause 1 of Ar­ti­cle 1, Pur­poses of the Char­ter).

Col­lec­tively, Asean is the 7th largest econ­omy in the world. It now plans to grow even big­ger by es­tab­lish­ing smart part­ner­ships with China, Ja­pan, South Korea, In­dia, Aus­tralia and New Zealand through RCEP (Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship).

FILE PIC

Asean faces two ex­tremely com­plex pub­lic law is­sues — the eth­nic cleans­ing of the Ro­hingya in Myan­mar and the over­lap­ping claims of ju­ris­dic­tion in the South China Sea. Pos­ing the big­gest hur­dle to their so­lu­tion is the ‘con­sen­sus rule’, which binds all Asean mem­ber states.

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