Alifah Zainuddin Thursday, December 22, 2016
The Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) will be 50 years old next year. But the 10-member regional grouping must do more to evolve with the changing global landscape.
While the regional pact was forged on the principle of respect and non-interference, moves to make Asean a social and economic powerhouse have been anything but successful.
Asean’s modest progression has been criticised despite the progress made over the years.
Centre for Public Policies Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said the recent protest over the sufferings of the Myanmar’s Muslim ethnic minority in Rakhine showed the old mould of diplomacy does not work on certain issues.
“It is a sign that you cannot stick to old policies in the rapidly changing international environment especially in the field of diplomacy.
“Changes are happening everywhere. (This year alone) we saw the Philippines, Brexit and Donald Trump winning the US election. It is a reflection of changing times,” Ramon told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
About 7,000 Malaysians protested against the atrocities in Myanmar, the first in the recent memory for any country in the Asean pact. Malaysia, one of Asean’s founding members, said the regional grouping ensured the protection of human rights under its charter.
The Institute of South-East Asian Studies (ISEAS) Yusof-Ishak Institute head of Asean Studies Centre Dr Tang Siew Mun said Malaysia’s criticism of Myanmar’s handling of the Rohingya issue appears to pave the way for Asean to be more responsive toward threats to regional stability.
However, he said that Asean does not have the wherewithal nor the political will to “interfere” in any meaningful way to readdress the Rohingya issue.
“Megaphone diplomacy does not blend well with Asean’s diplomatic culture,” Tang said in an emailed reply to TMR.
He said the “Asean way” remained deeply entrenched in the grouping.
“While the Asean way will continue to hold sway, it will not provide a blanket cover to block regional discussions on the member states’ internal matters that have spillover regional effects,” Tang said.
Asean is the third-largest market in the world, after China and India, with about 622 million population. It has a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$2.6 trillion (RM11.65 trillion), bigger than India and France’s GDP.
But much of the Asean economic potential remained muted.
Tang said despite Asean’s vast economic prospect, the grouping’s potential is relatively untapped.
“The fact that intra-Asean trade remains less than 30% suggests ample room for Asean member states to use the Asean Economic Community to develop closer economic and trade ties among themselves,” Tang said.
Ramon said if the regional group can have greater consensus on addressing domestic issues that have international implications, then it can have a greater and brighter future.
“We may be the few areas in the world with greater potential as we are at a relatively lower base compared to Europe, the US and Japan.
“We also have a younger population and have adapted to new technology so we have greater potential to move forward rapidly,” Ramon said.