13 November 2014
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The 25th Asean Summit, which closed Thurday in Nay Pyi Taw, faced a key challenge: to realize the Asean Community by the end of 2015. Political commitment of the Member States is necessary while their institutional capacity is needed to put this commitment into practice.
At the opening address of the Summit, President Thein Sein stressed: “Asean needs to enhance institutional efficiency, procedural coherence, effective decision making and systematic monitoring, evaluating, reporting and follow up capacity.”
The Asean report assesses that roughly 80 percent of the Asean Community Blueprints has been achieved. The economic and social-cultural pillars earned higher scores than the political-security pillar. The remaining blueprints are more difficult to achieve. Hence, Asean needs to further accelerate its institutional reforms and strengthen the capacity of its member states.
Asean is still mainly driven by the elites, not the general people. The Asean poor are left behind or even marginalized. They become the victims of globalization and regional integration should there be a lack of appropriate social policy to help the poor to grow and benefit from the process.
The development gap remains wide although there is certain progress in implementing the Initiative of Asean Integration. Rural-urban divide is emerging and it is going to impact social harmony and political stability. Environmental degradation, in particular deforestation, is threatening the livelihood of the bottom millions as well as the whole regional ecosystem.
The democratic regress in Thailand has had an adverse impact on the democratization process and the respect of human rights in the whole region. It is a negative example for the region. Without quickly restoring democracy in the country, Thailand will potentially fall into long-term political turmoil, creating a wave of regional instability.
Under the Asean Economic Community pillar, trade and investment have been remarkably liberalized. Yet regional programs on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) only produced modest results. Most SMEs have not prepared themselves to compete in the regional market or join in the regional production network.
That is due to the lack of financing, information and technical support, and government’s support.
Increasing strategic competition between the major powers put Asean into a difficult position in balancing its external relations. No country wishes to be forced to choose sides.
Maintaining the central role of Asean in shaping the evolving regional architecture and institutions is the core interest of the Asean Member States. In reality, Asean is facing tremendous challenges in maintaining such a role.
The South China Sea dispute is a case in point. Without cautiously approaching and managing the dispute, Asean unity will be seriously tested. It thus needs to determine acceptable mechanisms and a comfortable speed to deal with the dispute. Working towards the early realization of the Code of Conduct is the best option, generating a win-win cooperation between China and Asean.
Looking ahead, Asean needs to continue focusing on the four Cs: Community, Consensus, Connectivity, and Centrality.