The Khmer Times, 26 April 2017
The 30th Asean Summit kicks off today in Manila, under the theme “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World”. The South China Sea issue and the tensions on the Korean peninsula are expected to dominate the discussion.
Last month, Asean issued a statement urging North Korea to comply with the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, reiterating its full support for the denuclearisation of the peninsula in a peaceful manner.
The Philippine chair is pushing for the adoption of the framework agreement of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and a regional agreement to protect migrant workers. The Philippines is the main source of migrant workers in the region.
The chair has set out six thematic issues, including a people-oriented and people-centred Asean, peace and security in the region, maritime security cooperation, inclusive and innovation-led growth, a resilient Asean, and the regional grouping as a model of regionalism and a global player.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of Asean. Over the past fifty years, Asean has played significant role in maintaining peace and stability, increasing opportunities for the people by promoting regional cooperation and integration, and leveraging its regional and global role through earning trust and building partnerships with dialogue partners.
Internal strength defines Asean’s future. Its combined population of 629 million is the third largest in the world after China and India.
Also with an accumulated GDP of $2.43 trillion, Asean is the seventh largest economy in the world and third largest economy in Asia. Indeed, Asean is a relevant global actor.
Asean’s role also depends on multilateral diplomacy.
Currently, Asean has 10 dialogue partners, Australia, Canada, China, European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States.
In addition, there are four main Asean-led multilateral institutions, Asean Plus Three, the Asean Regional Forum, the Asean Defence Ministers Meeting Plus, and the East Asia Summit.
These regional mechanisms are vital to building trust and confidence, socializing the Asean way of consultation and consensus, promoting rules-based regional and international order, generating economic opportunities, improving people’s wellbeing, and enhancing unity within diversity.
To stay relevant and play a more significant role on the global stage, Asean must adjust and reform itself, particularly amid increasing security and economic uncertainties deriving from major powers’ competition and rivalry, re-emergence of nationalism and protectionism, global economic slowdown, and rising inequality.
To further strengthen Asean’s role, this regional body needs to be a role model in advocating for and advancing rules-based international order, which refers to the international norms, laws and institutions that shape, influence and regulate relations between states.
The Asean Charter provides core principles in guiding intra-regional and extra-regional relations. Those principles include the adherence to the rule of law, good governance, democracy, fundamental freedom, human rights and social justice.
It also emphasizes on the centrality of Asean in external relations while remaining actively engaged – outward-looking, inclusive and non-discriminatory.
The Asean Community Vision 2025 highlights “the resolve of the consolidate Asean community, building upon and deepening the integration process to realize a rules-based, people-oriented, and people-centred Asean.”
However, there is no definition and elaboration on what constitutes a rules-based community.
In the Asean Political Security Community 2025, a rules-based community is a community that “fully adheres to Asean fundamental principles, shared values and norms as well as principles of international law governing the peaceful conduct of relations among states.”
A rules-based community refers to the effective implementation of the Asean Charter and other regional legal instruments such as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone and the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality Declaration.
There is unprecedented external pressure on Asean to strengthen a rules-based international system to manage and resolve conflicts based on political and legal processes.
The full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct is a case in point. The concerned parties need to respect and adhere to international laws.
Measures to enforce effective rules, institutional capacity and an increased Asean institutional presence at the national, regional and international levels are the prerequisites to realize a rules-based Asean.