The Khmer Times, 22 November 2015
ASEAN has gone a long way in its efforts to build a regional community. Established in 1967, ASEAN has successfully navigated Cold War politics and become an important regional actor in maintaining peace and stability, while facilitating regional cooperation for economic development and poverty reduction.
Last weekend’s ASEAN Summit and related summits in Kuala Lumpur were testimony of the achievements of regional cooperation and the pride of ASEAN.
Under the theme “Our People, Our Community, Our Vision,” ASEAN’s main focus this year is to promote a people-centered regional community. The summit marked a historic signing of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Community, and adopted the “Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together.”
“This is about how we build upon and deepen the integration process to realize a rules-based, people-oriented, people-centered ASEAN Community in which we seek to narrow the development gap. It is ambitious documents – but ambition is part of our heritage,” stated Prime Minister Najib Razak. ASEAN is “ready to take its place on the world stage as a new force in the Asia-Pacific and beyond.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen stressed that “from 2016 onwards, ASEAN will become an influential community in the regional and global arena, which is the result of decades of our collective aspiration and tireless efforts.”
However, there are huge challenges ahead. For ASEAN to stay relevant in fast-changing regional and global geopolitics, it needs to keep reforming and improving its political, economic and social institutions, and diplomatic competency.
ASEAN has set out ambitious blueprints to chart regional community building for the coming decade. The ASEAN 2025 aims to realize an inclusive, cohesive and resilient community in a peaceful, stable, sustainable, integrated and dynamic region, where the people enjoy higher quality of life and the benefits of community-building.
Political Security Pillar
This pillar envisages a rules-based, people-oriented, people-centered community, which is bounded by fundamental principles, shared values and norms, where people are entitled to human rights, fundamental freedoms and social justice, and embrace the values of tolerance and moderation.
The pillar aims to build an outward-looking community, while deepening cooperation with external partners, strengthening ASEAN centrality, and being a responsible and constructive global stakeholder.
This pillar aims to build a highly integrated and cohesive regional economy that sustains high economic growth, and a competitive, innovative and dynamic community that fosters robust productivity growth.
The pillar emphasizes a resilient, inclusive, people-oriented and people-centered community through the enhancement of connectivity and sectoral cooperation that engender quality growth, and promotes a global ASEAN that fosters a more systematic and coherent approach to external economic relations.
This pillar focuses on building a committed, participative and socially responsible community for the benefit of the people. Inclusive community is the principle that promotes high quality of life, equal access to opportunity, and the protection of human rights.
ASEAN aims to build a dynamic and harmonious community with an emphasis on common identity, sustainability, and a resilient community with the capacity and capability to adapt and respond to risks and vulnerabilities.
Challenges and Prospects
ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh said: “Implementation of the ASEAN community 2015 and the ASEAN community vision 2025 will see a much bigger workload. That is why strengthening the ASEAN institution is very important, so that it is capable of delivering commitments in the next phase of ASEAN community consolidation.”
The ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN member states need to strengthen institutional capacity and human resources in formulating and implementing the ASEAN blueprints, enhance coordination among different stakeholders at national and regional levels, and raise public awareness and support from stakeholders.
Development gaps between the member states remain a key issue in ASEAN community building. “We must accept that ASEAN is still facing a number of major challenges, which requires us to intensify and broaden our collective efforts to narrow the development gap between old and new member states,” stated Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Other challenges facing ASEAN are the integration of the regional community roadmap and blueprints into national development agenda. Member states, particularly the less developed countries, need to mobilize resources to implement the blueprints particularly in infrastructure development.
ASEAN’s external challenges primarily stem from China-US power competition and rivalry. The dispute in the South China Sea, which has become the strategic playground between China and the US, is testing and challenging ASEAN unity and capacity in managing the disputes.
However, Professor Amitav Acharya from the American University argues that “if unity holds and it scales back its ambitions, ASEAN can survive and play an effective role in managing great-power competition, at least in Southeast Asia.”
“Predictions of ASEAN’s marginalization have all proven to be exaggerated. It emerged stronger because it stepped up its act to cope with new strategic developments. Changing course now would compromise ASEAN’s inner strength,” he added.