Can Asean Community Be Realized This Year?

26 April 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The two-day 26th Asean Summit kicked off in Kuala Lumpur amid high expectations as well as mounting challenges and pressures. The core question is whether Asean can achieve its community by the end of this year. 
Some regional observers of Asean affairs have argued that the Asean Community is just an aspiration. It cannot be realized by the end of this year due to the implementation gap of the Asean Community Blueprints and the lack of people’s participation.
So far, the implementation of the Asean economic community blueprint has gained more momentum and achieved more than the other two blueprints: the Asean political security community and Asean socio-cultural blueprints. 
Asean for People
Asean remains far from its people.  The majority of the Asean peoples cannot relate Asean to their lives given Asean has been mainly driven by the elites. It is therefore necessary to promote a “Social Asean” in which human rights, social justice, people empowerment and economic inclusiveness are respected.
The South China Sea dispute remains a thorny and complex issue confronting the whole region. The dispute potentially threatens the unity of Asean, so it has to be managed cautiously and appropriately. 
Trust and confidence measures need to be sustained and enhanced.
Under the Malaysian chairmanship, it is striving to speed up dialogue and negotiation on the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea.  
However, there is no timeframe for COC, pending on consensus among the Asean member states and China. 
Observers are not optimistic about the early conclusion of the COC due to the lack of consensus between Asean member states on the issue and increasing Chinese influence in the region. 
Asean and China
Chinese assertive behavior and external intervention by some major powers in the issue further complicate the prospect of having a breakthrough in managing the disputes and tensions in the South China Sea.
However, all Asean member countries share a firm consensus that the South China Sea dispute should not forestall other areas of cooperation and regional community process. More importantly, it should not disrupt a hard-earned strategic partnership between Asean and China.
In other areas of cooperation, Malaysian chair focuses on eight areas: Establishing the Asean Community, developing the Asean Community’s Post-2015 Vision, steering Asean closer to the peoples, strengthening the development of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), expanding intra-Asean trade and investment, strengthening Asean’s institutions, promoting regional peace and security through moderation, and enhancing Asean’s role as a global player. 
The Asean leaders are expected to adopt three documents at the 26th Asean Summit: the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on People-Oriented and People-Centered Asean, the Langkawi Declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates, and Asean Declaration On Institutionalising the Resilience of Asean and Its Communities and People to Disasters and Climate Change.
The Race is On
Asean is running a marathon without an end. Asean must keep improving its institutions and engaging external actors should it remain a driving force in shaping the evolving regional architecture and play relevant role on the global stage. 
Looking ahead, Asean needs to accelerate comprehensive implementation of the Asean blueprints and the post-2015 Asean vision through strengthening multi-partnership, multi-stakeholdership, and multi-ownership. 
The Asean leaders need to find the ways and means to bring about positive change to the livelihood and wellbeing of their 625 million people. The Asean civil society groups and youth associations should be further empowered to pursue a course of “Social Asean.”

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