East Asia (2015) 32:421–440 DOI 10.1007/s12140-015-9238-2
Advancing Community Building for ASEAN Michael S. H. Heng 1,2
Received: 11 October 2014 / Accepted: 12 May 2015 / Published online: 9 June 2015 # Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015
Abstract This is a policy paper supporting the vision of ASEAN leaders in the project of ASEAN Community building. However, it goes beyond their declarations to argue for a more thorough going adoption of the norms of the United Nations and to promote more people-to-people activities and ASEAN consciousness among the people. ASEA N was established in 1967 with the aim to strengthen regional cooperation to deal with the geopolitical challenges of the Cold War. It has scored successes in the realm of economy. Driven by the dynamics of globalization, ASEAN has aspired to become a full-fledged community of nations. It aims to widen its scope to include social and cultural dimensions, social justice, and human rights. The most progressive manifestation of this is the ASEAN Charter. To advance the project of the ASEAN Community, this paper makes suggestions at two levels, namely the level of ideas and the level of activities, with some reflections on nation building. A nation at peace with itself based on social justice and human rights contributes to regional community building. If and when it does come about, the ASEAN Community will represent a new ASEAN identity, with a new moral and political order, and it will be able to articulate global issues in international forums with moral authority and moral coherence. Keywords Regionalism . Community building . ASEAN Charter . Nation building
Introduction A first-order description of Southeast Asia from the viewpoint of geography is to see it as landmass Southeast Asia and maritime Southeast Asia. The former consists of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam with strong historical influence
Center for Ethnic Studies and Development, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Institute of Malaysian and International Studies, National University of Malaysia, Bangi Selangor, Malaysia
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from China and India; the main religion is Buddhism with Christians and Muslims as religious minorities. The latter consists of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore; in the first three countries the main religion is Islam with Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and Taoists as religious minorities. In the Philippines, Roman Catholicism is the main religion and Muslim the religious minority; Singapore has a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries have differences in several aspects—historical background, language, religion, population, geographical size, economic development, political system, and natural resource. A broad historical sweep of looking at the region is that history has been kind to the ASEAN countries. They do not have a record of fighting each other frequently over the centuries. In the modern period, most of the major conflicts in the region had their causes outside the region, with rivalries among European colonial powers and the Indochina War being examples. Having said that, it must be added that the region do have a track record of ugly deeds of their own making—genocide, military dictatorship, environmental degradations, corruption, and racial, religious and gender discriminations. Luckily, such ugly deeds have not been transformed into longstanding conflicts between the member states. Moving fast forward to the contemporary period, Southeast Asian countries have established one of the most stable regional organizations in the world. The ASEAN was founded in 1967 with the goal to preserve long-term peace in region when the First Indochina War was raging , though its explicitly stated goals were economic growth, social progress, and cultural development [9, 41]. One guiding principle is to abide strictly by the modern international system of sovereign states where countries do not interfere in each other’s internal affairs. Their leaders have chosen to take decision by consensus and to avoid airing their differences in the public. It has scored significant success as an economic community, due largely to the activities of global production networks in the region. In the assessment of a senior Chinese official speaking at a workshop in 2009, ASEAN is the healthiest and most integrated regional organization in Asia and ASEAN should be the center and platform to promote Asia’s economic integration . However, one cannot ignore the failure of ASEAN to resolve significant intraASEAN problems such as Thai-Cambodian border dispute, the annual haze originating from Indonesia, and the blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar [18, 25]. Such problems cannot be resolved within ASEAN because of strict non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. Moreover, the conditions in the international arena today are pretty different from those of the time when ASEAN was formed several decades ago. Environmental pollution, climate change, epidemics, terrorism, and international organized crimes cannot be solved without close international cooperation. In the event of large-scale violations of human rights, sovereignty cannot be used as a cover for the state concerned to fan off interference by the international community. With the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, the concept of state sovereignty has acquired subtle but important new interpretations over the past few decades. ASEAN’s strict insistence on non-interference in each other’s internal affairs under all conditions appears rigid and is getting out of sync with prevailing international norms. In the 1990s before the outbreak of Asian financial crisis in 1997, the Western countries were focused on gaining market access and investment in Southeast Asia. In
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the wake of the crisis, they began to be disenchanted with the region’s failure to respond effectively to the crisis. Meanwhile, discussions of the financial meltdown revealed that the political leadership in most ASEAN member states was inept, divided, and corrupt. Moreover, there was the rise of China and India as new economic powers next door. Between them, these events questioned the relevance of ASEAN. To cope with the new situation, ASEAN’s leaders strive to deepen and widen their integration. And drawing inspiration from the European Union (EU), it sets its sight on becoming a community of nations. According to former ASEAN secretary general Rodolfo Severino, ASEAN can learn a lot from the EU, but it will not be its clone . For ASEAN to become a full-fledged community, it has to look beyond geopolitical and economic dimensions and to widen its scope to include social and cultural dimensions. Though some progresses have been made in this direction especially in agreeing to the terms of the ASEAN Charter, it remains to be seen whether the member states will be able to live up to the ideals as enshrined in this binding document. Even if they do so, they need to go further than this document in order to be in tune with prevailing international norms as adopted by the United Nations. There is a wide gap between realities on the ground as experienced by ASEAN citizens and the lofty ideals such as social justice, human rights, and democracy as declared in various ASEAN documents. The journey to being an ASEAN Community is therefore an arduous and long undertaking. However, if and when it comes about, the ASEAN Community will be an ASEAN with a new identity, with a new moral and political order. Matching its deeds with its words, it will be able to articulate global issues in international forums with moral authority and moral coherence. This paper is structured as follows. The next section, “Some Myths About ASEAN,” discusses a few important myths of ASEAN’s accomplishments. “Concepts That May Inspire ASEAN to Move Forward” section dwells on concepts that can help ASEAN move forward in the project of ASEAN Community. How these concepts can be realized at the level of activities is discussed in “Translating Concepts into Activities” section. This is followed by reflections on the ongoing historical process of nation building in Southeast Asia and its important implications for community building at regional level. “Concluding Remarks” section concludes the paper.
Some Myths About ASEAN There are three major myths about the capabilities, achievements, and claims of ASEAN. They are the following: (1) ASEAN is in the driver seat in ASEAN + 3, East Asian Summit, and ASEAN Regional Forum, (2) there is regional cooperation in security matters among ASEAN member states, and (3) ASEA N member states adhere to the rule of law, respect human rights, and promote social justice. ASEAN in the Driver’s Seat With remarkable economic growth in Southeast Asia while enjoying peace and stability amidst new geopolitical realities of the new century, ASEAN is attracting more attention from the big powers. It may thus be forgiven to feel
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rather euphoric, which has given birth to a grand and fanciful idea. ASEAN sees itself occupying the driving seat in dealings with its partners . If we look at who these partners are, then we can appreciate the fallacy of such ASEAN’s view of itself. These partners are China, Japan, and South Korea in ASEAN +3. Its partners in the Asian Regional Forum are China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, the USA, and 11 others. In terms of political power, economic strength, cultural or intellectual influence, military might, or population size, ASEAN would certainly not rank top. It has thus been noted rather unkindly that ASEAN’s frequent reiteration of its position in the driving seat is a testimony of its own sense of insecurities . Southeast Asia is fortunate to be a region where no single major power can exercise unrestrained influence. In other words, as none of the big powers can call the shot without vigorous protests from others, they are happy to let ASEAN have the pretension of playing a leading role. Regional Cooperation in Security Among ASEAN Members The aim of ASEAN to cooperate in security matters has appeared in its many public statements and documents, the one with high profile was in the ASEAN Charter. By modern interpretation, security means both traditional security issues (like border conflicts) and non-traditional security issues (like environmental issues). ASEAN projects the impression that it has been working hard and effective in resolving both traditional and non-traditional security matters. As to the traditional internal security issues, here are some past and existing major cases: the festering conflicts in southern Philippines, the Aceh separatist movement in Indonesia, the persecution of Muslim minorities in Myanmar, and the Thai-Cambodian border dispute. In territorial disputes, ASEAN members apparently prefer not to use the 1976 arrangements the member states laboriously set up.1 Perhaps the most important of all is the obvious lack of trust among ASEAN members, manifested in arms buildup. We shall return to this point later. Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Social Justice The following brief description of the ASEAN Charter found in the official website of ASEAN gives the impression that ASEAN member states adhere to the rule of law, respect human rights, and promote social justice : The ASEAN Charter serves as a firm foundation in achieving the ASEAN Community by providing legal status and institutional framework for ASEAN. It also codifies ASEAN norms, rules and values; sets clear targets for ASEAN; and presents accountability and compliance. The ASEAN Charter entered into force on 15 December 2008. A gathering of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers was held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta to mark this very historic occasion for ASEAN. With the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN will henceforth operate under a new legal framework and establish a number of new organs 1
The author thanks the first reviewer for pointing this out.
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to boost its community-building process. In effect, the ASEAN Charter has become a legally binding agreement among the 10 ASEAN Member States. Anyone with some political experience observing the behaviors of the government in the region can recognize this as nothing short of propaganda. The simple and ugly truth is that except for Indonesia, their political leaders do not like democracy. They cannot tolerate dissent and opposition. “One important aspect [why democracy is particularly weak in Southeast Asia] certainly is a general lack of acceptance by important groups within individual countries of basic constitutional democratic principles. Added to this is the weakness of the parties and party systems and the behavior of ‘informal’ groups such as the business elites, the military and political movements which have the ability to veto, even if they are not in a position to win an electoral majority” [15, p.139].
Concepts That May Inspire ASEAN to Move Forward By virtue of their different histories, cultures, political systems, and geographies, Southeast Asian countries represent indeed a showcase of diversity. These countries have shared interests as well as conflicting interests. Compared to other regions with similar colonial background, Southeast Asia has a remarkable record of peace and stability as well as economic growth. Countries have not gone to wars on religious ground or as a result of territorial disputes. The origins of major wars are to be found in factors outside the region. To forge a regional community out of such hotchpotch will certainly challenge the intellectual power, political wisdom, organizational skill, and quality of leadership and citizenry. However, we can perhaps take courage from the fact that this has been done before in history, with the European Union as the single most successful story. Below is a modest attempt to list out and discuss some of the concepts that can serve as ideational pillars to build an ASEAN Community. Suggested concepts are unity in diversity, social justice, security management, promoting knowledge about ASEAN member states, insights from the European Union, sharing of weal and woes, and adopting international norms. Such ideas are to be translated into actions and activities. Below, we shall go through the concepts one by one. A: Unity in Diversity Perhaps, it should come as no surprise that “unity in diversity” or in old Javanese Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is the motto of Indonesia. With its vast geographical spread and hundreds of distinct native ethnic and linguistic groups, Indonesia is itself a display of diversity. To adopt Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is thus a wise political move to unite the people. This principle is incorporated in the ASEAN Charter, though its role in community building is not clearly spelt out. According to the Charter, community building is to be intensified through enhanced regional cooperation and integration via the means of security community, economic community, and socio-cultural community . Unity in diversity is a concept of “unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation,” thereby moving and raising the focus from unity based on a mere
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tolerance of physical, cultural, linguistic, social, religious, political, ideological, and/or psychological differences towards a more complex unity based on an understanding that difference enriches human interactions . One should add that this understanding should go beyond the utilitarian aspect to one founded on the basis of appreciating and cherishing the differences. No wonder that unity in diversity is said to be the highest possible attainment of a civilization, a testimony to the noblest potential of the human race . It says a lot of the merit of this concept that in 2000, the European Union adopted “United in Diversity” (In Varietate Concordia in Latin) as its official motto, a reference to the many and diverse member states of the Union . B: Security Management It has been observed that ASEAN has achieved one notable success in security matters . Its members signed the Treaty on the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in 1995, and the Treaty came into force two years later. Besides not developing or acquiring nuclear weapons, the member states will not allow other countries to test or station nuclear weapons on their territories. But security matters cover more than nuclear-free zone. Though the member states have not gone to war as a result of territorial disputes or for domestic reasons, there remains tension between the members. The border flare ups between Cambodia and Thailand are a simple example. As a concrete step at regional security cooperation among the members, ASEAN has organized regular meetings of Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM). Moreover, there are the potential challenges in non-traditional security matters like human trafficking, drug trafficking, and terrorism. C: Insights from the European Union Given the European Union’s democratic deficit, unduly interventionist bureaucracy, and current economic problem, it is easy to downplay its great achievements [29, 33]. For starters, we may recall at least two important accomplishments. First, it has reached a situation where there is very low or no probability of military conflicts among member states. In other words, it has become what is known as mature security community . Second, the European Union played a crucial role in stabilizing the situation in East Europe after the end of the Cold War. No doubt, as a political innovation of epochal proportion, the EU has some flaws which have attracted a lot of criticisms. Nonetheless, its great achievements should prompt other regional bodies to study it as a source of inspiration, especially those regions coping with the disruptive forces of nationalism.2 It is important to note that one crucial difference between the EU and ASEAN is that the former has been willing to surrender part of national sovereignty in the interests of building the community. This point deserves careful reflections on the part of ASEAN and the rest of East Asia. Suggestion for ASEAN to learn from the EU attracts easily the objection that the two regional bodies have very different histories. Europe shares the common heritage of 2
For example, the Secretary General of ASEAN, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, has referred to the European Union as a source of inspiration for ASEAN.
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Greek philosophy, Judea-Christian cultural heritage, and Roman structure, which helps the formation of European identity. The predecessor of the EU—the European Economic Community—was established to avoid repeating the horrors of two World Wars . But ASEAN was formed by newly independent countries without such experiences and without similar cultural-intellectual heritage. To counter this objection, one can quote the case of democracy which is a product of Western historical development. Yet, democracy both as an institution and a concept has been adopted by many nonwestern countries to different degrees of success. D: Knowledge About ASEAN Neighbors Though the ASEAN Charter and other documents talk about the need to promote greater awareness of an ASEAN identity, it is rather vague on what the ASEAN identity is and how this is to be done. But one thing is quite clear, citizens of ASEAN countries do not know very much about their neighboring countries—the people, culture, history, language, economy, and geography. It is very rare to find a Malaysian who is fluent in Thai and Vietnamese. Senior government officials did recognize the problem when they complained at an ASEAN workshop about the lack of “ASEAN-ness” in the grouping . As a first step towards nurturing and promoting the ASEAN identity, a very important step is for people in ASEAN countries to know more about each other. This is also very much in the spirit of ASEAN connectivity . E: Sharing of Weal and Woes The notion of community implies some form of shared destiny. Looking at the different levels of development, the frequent onslaughts of natural disasters, and the emergent threat of non-traditional issues related to food, water, energy, climate change, and transnational epidemics, ASEAN will do well to see themselves in the same boat, whether they like it or not. By sheer necessity, they have to learn to share their weal and woe. They have expressed as much in words, and this can be found in their declarations, public statements, etc. To its credit, ASEAN has set up the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance. More should be done in the spirit of solidarity by the richer members to help the poorest members through developmental aids, scholarship, and training. F: Social Justice and Human Rights Just like unity in diversity, the concept of social justice is found in many ASEAN documents. For example, its “ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint” document of 2009 claims that “ASEAN is committed to promoting social justice and mainstreaming people’s rights into its policies and all spheres of life, including the rights and welfare of disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalized groups such as women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and migrant workers” . The realities in all ASEAN countries show clearly that there is a wide mismatch between the lofty statements and what the people experience.
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G: Adopting International Norms Since its formation in 1967, ASEAN leaders have preferred interactions and cooperation based on discreteness, informality, consensus building, and non-confrontational bargaining styles. This mode of working has been known as the ASEAN Way. This style is given legal character when ASEAN signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia in 1976. It is an important ASEAN document containing the following principles: & & & & & &
Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations The right of every state to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion, or coercion Non-interference in internal affairs Settlement of differences or disputes in a peaceful manner Renunciation of the threat or use of force Effective regional cooperation
In the course of time, some of these principles are impeding the progress of ASEAN from advancing to become a forward-looking and respectable international organization. It has failed repeatedly to prevent its member states from violating the high sounding norms stipulated in its official documents . For example, ASEAN remained pretty silent when the junta in Myanmar blatantly used violence against peaceful demonstrators. Cynics may be forgiven to think that silence implies consent! Following the ASEAN Way, ASEAN leaders look out for the lowest denominator or the least contentious issues to discuss and work on. That means that the more urgent and important issues are swept under the carpet just because one party disagrees. This sounds like the tyranny of the minority or even one member. It has certainly not enhanced the international standing of ASEAN that the Aceh problem in Indonesia and the Moro problem in the Philippines involved active assistance from Sweden and Japan (two “outsiders”) respectively. The reluctance of ASEA N members to be involved in such matters is justified by citing the clause on respecting each other’s sovereignty and observing the principle of non-interference in member country’s internal affairs. It sounds rather strange, to put it rather mildly, for two reasons. Reason one: why Sweden and Japan, but not ASEAN neighbors? Reason two: the clause is outdated in the light of current world situation, where free trade and capital flow have much more profound impact on a country’s sovereignty. Are not human lives more important than dollars and cents?
Translating Concepts into Activities A close reading of the ASEAN Charter will reveal that it has directly or indirectly touched on most of the points raised in the previous section, except the one on noninterference and sovereignty. Indeed, the Charter has some high sounding concepts. For example, ASEAN and its member states shall act in accordance with, among others, the principle of “adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of
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democracy and constitutional government” . This sounds certainly very hollow and hypocritical when its member states undermine the independence of their judiciary, show little tolerance for a free press, allow corruption to run wild, pay scant attention to protect their environment, show no tolerance for their critical civil society, indulge in gerrymandering, and harass political opposition. It can be argued that what ASEAN leaders really need is the resolve and sincerity to carry out what they say. The harsh political reality in ASEAN is that the political leaders are more concerned with their continuing hold on power rather than carrying out their proclaimed ideals. This being the reality, the challenge is to propose a list of activities that are more likely to be carried out. The list is thus modest in its scope and goals. Some of these activities may find sympathy with some elements of the political and economic elites, in which case their cooperation and assistance should be sought. Below are suggested activities to be carried out as part of the project to build the ASEAN community. Each activity or set of activities is so organized as to correspond with the ideas proposed in the previous section, i.e., sub-heading A here corresponds with sub-heading A in the previous section. A: Same Journey with Different Speeds It has been observed in many discussions on ASEAN that one of its past achievements was its ability to group together ten member states with different political system, population size, geographical size, language, religion, historical background, and stage of economic development, in other words, a fine example of unity in diversity. But to strive towards the goal of a community of nations, they must live up to the goals and aspirations as written in their own official declarations. One way to do so is to emulate the best among them in a given area. For example, Indonesia has made significant progress in democratic transformations and can fairly be said to be the most democratic of the ten. While Indonesia should continue to make progress, all the other nine should be inspired by the success of Indonesia and follow its example. Similarly, Singapore’s achievement in economic development and clean government should spur the other nine to do the same. It is of special importance that Indonesia can carry out democratic reforms, and Singapore can practice clean government. It means that these institutions and practices are not alien to Southeast Asia or, in a wider context, to the nonWestern world. Unity in diversity here may take on an additional meaning: united to arrive at the goal of social justice, economic prosperity, clean government, human rights, democracy, etc. but with different member nations proceeding at different speeds. Those moving ahead should nudge and help those trailing behind. B1: Security Management ASEAN has been seen as a force for stability and cooperation in Southeast Asia and Asia for the past four and half decades . While it focused during the first two decades on a limited range of issues, its mandate has expanded to include a range of non-traditional security issues. Speaking as secretary general of ASEAN, Surin Pitsuwan observed in 2011 that “ASEAN has emerged as the fulcrum of geopolitical stability in Asia” .
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In 1971, ASEAN has declared itself to be a zone of neutrality and peace by signing the Treaty of Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality. Though Thailand and the Philippines were close military alliances of the USA then, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia kept a distance from the US military. After the end of the Indochina War in 1975, US military influence in the region has declined significantly. With this background, ASEAN has managed to maintain its neutrality. Seen as non-partisan, this allows ASEAN to play a mediating role among the contending powers in East Asia. “ASEAN has been seeking to moderate these tension [between China and Japan over territorial disputes] while giving both Japan and China greater room to maneuver so that they feel less victimized by each other” . It includes reducing tension in the South China Sea. Such role is not easy given that the USA is reasserting its role in Asia, China is claiming a role to match its new-found economic power, Japan is expressing its wish to be a “normal” state, …—all signs pointing to the ever greater need for ASEAN to do a skilful job at peace maintenance. What has this to do with the ASEAN Community project? Plenty, for without a peaceful geopolitical environment, it would be very difficult to do anything substantial for the project. B2: Disarmament Southeast Asia is one of the regions with the fastest growing defense budgets in the world, according to an article in The Economist . Military analysts report that the countries in the region saw their defense budget increased by 13.5 % in 2011 to reach $24.5 billion. This figure is projected to reach $40 billion by 2016. Leading the pack is Singapore which spent $9.7 billion on defense or 24 % of its national budget in 2011. The country accounts for 4 % of the world’s total spending on arms imports. The same article also reveals that Malaysia’s arms imports increased eightfold from 2005 to 2009. Given that the ASEAN member states have not gone to war with each other, it does not make sense for them to allocate so much money to arms acquisition and defense. Even Vietnam, which was invaded by China in 1979, could seek greater protection from its ASEAN members and outside powers rather than on its own defense capability. Except for Singapore, ASEAN countries are still lacking in infrastructure, such as ports, good roads, railways, running water, hospitals, and schools. For reasons of social stability and social justice, the money should be spent on improving the well being of the people. Even in Singapore, there has been more vocal demand for the government to spend more on medical care and for the old people. C: Learning from the EU: Nationalism and ASEAN Identity Nationalism is the ideology of nation-state [16, 20]. In its birthplace Europe, nationalism has a chequered history. It began as a democratic liberal force in the wake of the French Revolution in 1789. But it degenerated within a few decades into a conservative and parochial force [16, 20]. In its worst form, it functioned as the ideology fueling the Armenian genocide, the two World Wars in Europe, the holocaust, and the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
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A similar pattern of change happened to nationalism in Southeast Asia, a change from being a progressive force to a retrogressive force. As a progressive force, nationalism united the colonized people to fight for political independence. Soon after achieving this goal, nationalism has degenerated into an ideology in oppressing the minorities in the country and in fanning various kinds of quarrels with other countries. It is here that the history of the Europe Union is perhaps most relevant and useful. In spite of its shortcomings (mentioned in the previous section), the EU has changed the fate of Europe as a killing field of nationalism. It is by kissing goodbye to nationalism as an ideology that Europe was able to successfully embark on the civilizational journey of building the European community. As a footnote, it may be observed here that sadly, Southeast Asia is not alone in Asia in suffering from the venom of parochial nationalism. The continuing tension in East Asia over territorial claims will slowly vanish into history if the countries involved can learn to benefit from the bitter lessons of Europe. There can be no stability and tranquility in Southeast Asia without peace in the South China Sea, in the Straits of Taiwan, and elsewhere in Northeast Asia. Besides the issue of nationalism, there are other areas for ASEAN to draw on from the European experience. One area is mainly in practical matters like product standards, customs coordination, and environmental regulations, but more generally in the creation and evolution of its institutions and processes . To nurture an ASEAN identity is a much more difficult task as Southeast Asia lacks a common cultural and ideational heritage. An ASEAN identity has thus to emerge out of shared interest and destiny, which again requires the rejection of narrow nationalism. A fruitful way to nurture a collective identity is through solidarity in the struggle for social justice and human rights and environmental protection across the region. Of particular importance is to expose school children to knowledge about Southeast Asia. They have to learn it as part of school curriculum and the knowledge would be tested in exams. The content of the teaching materials should be vetted by highly respected scholars in the region well known for their learnings, integrity, and high moral standing. It should be devoid of bias, distortion of facts, and falsification of history. As for the general public, the mass media is a useful arena to use, e.g., with a few pages devoted daily to reporting news and discussing issues in the ASEAN countries. Newspapers can translate and serialize stories by authors of ASEAN neighbors. D: Associations of Professional Bodies, ASEAN Society, Cultural Exchanges, and Knowledge of ASEAN in Textbook These four items are grouped together for discussion because they all share one common goal, i.e., to promote more and better knowledge at people-to-people level among citizens of ASEAN. According to a recent study, the general public in cities in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore perceive the formation of ASEAN Community as beneficial, but they see the formation as elitist and state-centric as it did not involve the people . This is a disturbing finding. City residents are generally more well informed and involved in political life of their countries. If they do not feel involved in the formation of the ASEAN Community, one can imagine how low the sense of
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involvement can be in the rural areas. Much more must be done therefore to create and nurture a sense of participation by the citizens. Besides education and mass media as promising arenas (discussed earlier), there is a useful role to be played by ASEAN professional bodies, like ASEAN Association of Lawyers, Engineers, Doctors, Accountants, Architects, Journalists, Writers, Teachers, etc. Through their regular contacts and sharing, we have a new channel for evolving ASEAN style of landscaping, architecture, painting, music, and so on. The Association of Doctors could also be a good forum for them to develop a teaching program on traditional medicine based on research and as practiced by their ancestors here. In additional to the above are regular exchanges of cultural troupes. Their works should be featured on national televisions, and tickets should be subsidized by sponsors. For those more inclined to intellectual stuff, their interests can be served by ASEA N Society3 which hosts talks and seminars by public intellectuals and thinkers on topics concerning the broader and long-term future of the region. E1: Volunteer Work in ASEAN The diversity of ASEAN is also evident in the great disparity of skill levels among them. Singapore for example has provided quality training at its polytechnics and universities, turning out accountants, teachers, engineers, and doctors. The island state has engineering graduates selling ice creams or working as real estate agents. Given proper encouragement and incentive (not necessarily monetary), such talent pool can be diverted to help the less developed ASEAN countries. The richer countries should allocate some financial resources to promote voluntary work in the poor ASEAN countries. E2: Environmental Protection The haze that hangs over a vast part of Southeast Asia during the dry season almost every year says a lot about the failure of ASEAN. The haze originates in Indonesia and affects the neighboring countries. The core of the problem lies with not only Indonesia but also Malaysia and Singapore. Business groups from Singapore and Malaysia go over to Indonesia to invest in plantations. And forest is cleared and burnt to make way for plantation. Indonesia also complained that Singaporean and Malaysian business groups added to the problem by illegally exporting Indonesian timber . And authorities in Indonesia are bribed to ignore the problem even though there are laws enacted to stop the burning. There is the obvious obligation on Indonesia and on Malaysia and Singapore to do their part in solving the problem. Singapore, which suffers badly from the haze, has lots of cash. It should provide research grants to find workable ways of doing sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture, and help poor Indonesian farmers seek alternative forms of income. Together as a group with a population of 630 million, and with a vast geographical spread, there is much that they can do to protect the environment, ranging from issues of forestation, soil erosion, massive flooding, and impact of industrialization. 3
This can be very similar to the Asian Society in the USA which holds regular talks given by experts on Asia.
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F1: Protection of Rights of Migrant Workers The poorer ASEAN countries like Myanmar, Indonesia, and the Philippines have been the sources of migrant workers to the richer countries like Malaysia and Singapore. The host countries have not done a remarkable job of treating their guest workers well, as one can glean from regular news reports of their ill treatments by their employers. The migrant workers deserve to be treated properly, in line with social justice and moral decency and in the interest of ASEAN’s harmony. It is thus gratifying to read that ASEAN documents talk about defending the rights of migrant workers. However, behind the beautiful words is a different story. Malaysia provides a sad example. The late Irene Fernandez was for decades at the forefront in Malaysia to champion the welfare of migrant workers. Instead of heaping praise and honor on her for such salutary work, the Malaysian government denounced her as a traitor and she was a target of state harassment and police persecution . F2: Solidarity Across ASEAN to Defend Democratic Rights ASEAN is officially committed to democracy. Key hallmarks of democracy are (a) free, open, and fair political elections held at regular intervals; (b) free press and freedom of beliefs, movement, and association; (c) independent judiciary; and (d) rights of minorities. This is endorsed by ASEAN members. Unfortunately, there is a wide gap between what the governments of ASEAN countries pledge and what they actually do. Over the past 10 years, there has been a general rollback from democracy in the region. While Indonesia and the Philippines have made progress, Malaysia and Thailand have experienced political regression . It is unrealistic for the citizens to hope that they will receive their democratic rights on a silver platter from their governments. Organizations defending democracy and human rights in ASEAN countries should thus forge a network to render support to each other. Besides those human rights NGOs, they can include student unions, trade unions, lawyer associations, women groups, teacher unions, journalist associations, and writer associations. For example, there are the Asian Network for Free Elections and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. In their struggle, they should make full use of the lofty commitments made by their governments in ASEAN documents. These are documents which were drafted and crafted by ASEAN officials and state leaders themselves. They are thus different from United Nations documents on human rights which ASEAN governments can claim to be biased, reflecting western values and unsuitable for Southeast Asia. G: Responsibility to Protect A danger that has a bearing on peace comes from the internal situations within the individual member states. The unrest in southern Thailand, in southern Philippines, and elsewhere can morph into a situation that threatens the stability in the region, not least in the form of mass outflow of refugees. Let us not forget that Southeast Asia was the scene of some of the worst domestic violence of the late twentieth century, e.g., the death of about 1.7 million (a quarter of the population) in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, the loss of
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about 400,000 lives in Indonesia during the transition from President Sukarno to Suharto. A shameful chapter in the history of ASEAN is how the organization responded to the killings by Indonesian troops in East Timor in 1999. When the Indonesian president allowed East Timorese to hold a referendum on independence, the vote was a resounding “yes” to leave Indonesia. The Indonesian military reacted by massive killings, which horrified the world. The killings were described as crimes against humanity in a report commissioned by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights . Yet, ASEAN did practically nothing. It was Australia which sent troops under the flag of the United Nations to stop the blood-letting. What is emphasized here is that ASEAN as a regional body has to assume an active role in helping and promoting amiable solutions to flash points and armed atrocities, even though the problems are legally speaking internal matters. This is a step away from the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. A concrete action for ASEAN to move closer to international norms is to adopt the principle of Responsibility to Protect. And it is certainly progressive for the former secretary general of ASEAN Surin Pitsuwan to form a High Level Advisory Panel on R2P in Southeast Asia tasked with making recommendations to its members. The core argument advanced by the Panel is that R2P and ASEAN’s own commitments to establish a regional community are both compatible with one another and mutually supporting: Mainstreaming the Responsibility to Protect in Southeast Asia could make a significant contribution to the establishment of a ‘sharing and caring’ ASEAN Community… The responsibilities of protection stem not just from international law and global commitments made by the region’s governments at the United Nations, but also from the commitments that ASEAN Member States have made to each other. The concepts and norms of the Responsibility to Protect converge with ASEAN’s vision of a peaceful, just, democratic, people-centered and caring community in Southeast Asia. As such, the Responsibility to Protect provides ASEAN with a major pathway towards realizing its vision of a caring and sharing community in Southeast Asia and supports ASEAN’s responsibility to care for the protection of its own people . Time will tell to what extent ASEAN member states are able to follow the recommendations. Doing so can be seen as a giant step on the journey of community building.
ASEAN Community and Nation Building It is interesting to note that at the level of fundamental ideas and principles, ASEAN Community building and nation building have many points in common. Indeed, it may be argued that both nation building and regional community formation do share some profound ideas that have universal appeal. With some modifications, the ASEAN Charter can serve as a guiding document for nation building. This should not come as a surprise as ASEAN was established using concepts related to state formation and nation building .
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Another point is even more important. A country cannot be a useful member of a regional body unless it is at peace with itself. In the modern context, such nation must be built based on social justice, human rights, democracy, rule of law, and good governance. Only then can it play a meaningful role in regional community building. Nation building based on the premises of narrow nationalism does immense damage to regional community building. For example, its leaders may frequently drum up animosity towards a neighboring country in order to divert people’s attention from their misrule, to justify suppression of dissent, or to concoct a kind of false legitimacy. A failed state represents an even graver situation. It not only cannot make a meaningful contribution to the body but it is also a source of instability in the region. In discussing challenges facing ASEAN in building a mature political and security community by 2030, one ASEAN expert asks : In 2030, ASEAN might still be plodding on, but would it still be a key player in regional peace, stability, and prosperity in Asia—a role it currently enjoys? In his view, this is related to three questions, namely (a) what would be ASEAN’s relations with the great powers?, (b) what would be the state of inter-ASEAN relations?, (c) most importantly, what would the domestic political configurations of ASEAN countries look like; would they be more democratic and open? And he explains [4, p.11]: Domestic conflicts not only challenge the internal stability of ASEAN states, but also regional stability as a whole. Many domestic conflicts tend to spill over national boundaries, especially when militants or refugees flee the conflict zone and seek asylum in neighboring states … Moreover, uneven democratization in ASEAN may see some newly democratic regimes (such as Indonesia), unable to resist domestic demands for sympathy and support for opposition figures in neighboring authoritarian state, which might be construed as unwarranted interference by the latter. According to a Rank think tank report of 2001, ASEAN countries are generally speaking weak states, lacking political and social cohesion; their continuing preoccupation is internal security and regime survival . Sadly, this observation made 14 years ago still sounds very true today, and we can see this clearly in Malaysia and Thailand. The political chaos in Thailand has rendered implementation of ASEAN Economic Community more difficult; to critical observers, the ASEAN Community will remain nothing more than just an inspiration . If the ASEAN states are generally weak, their nations are even weaker still. To illustrate the difference between a strong state and a strong nation, take the case of Singapore. The country has some key attributes of a strong state—efficient bureaucracy recruited on the basis of integrity and capability, good governance, well-managed state finance, and well-run school systems, police, and armed forces.4 Yet, as a nation, Singapore is still a work in progress . What is a strong state? In terms of military might, state machinery of coercion, of control, or …? We have many examples in contemporary history to instruct us that a state needs to be strong enough to protect itself against aggression and going beyond that is highly undesirable. The military is unable to provide capable leadership for a dynamic economy, long-term political stability, and intellectual and cultural vitality. This point is borne out by contemporary history; a good example is Pakistan. State strength is not the same as authoritarianism, for the latter lacks legitimacy and uses state apparatus to suppress opposition. A coercive state is “strong” when it comes to persecuting its people. But such a state can collapse like a pack of cards; just think of the Ceauşescu regime of Romania in 1989.
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That regional community has a complex relationship with nation building is manifested in the European Union. The attraction of the European Union membership has helped in the democratic transition of Greece, Portugal, and Spain several decades ago, and in the more recent past, of countries in East Europe. In other words, under some special historical conditions, a stable regional community can exert a positive influence on the development of the surrounding countries. ASEAN may well provide a case study of how nation building and regional community can proceed hand-in-hand and do so in a virtuous cycle. ASEAN member countries are young nations, with multi-ethnic populations. From cultural perspective, the rich diversity in terms of language, religious belief system, way of life, and habit represents an immense resource for the evolution of societies in the region. Unity in diversity is thus the correct principle to follow, and it is consistent with the ideals of democracy and human rights. Enduring harmonious ethnic relations within all the ASEAN countries is a necessary condition for ASEAN to develop as a promising regional grouping for at least one reason. Discrimination against a religious minority is bound to generate ill-feelings of their co-religious believers in other ASEA N countries. The ill-feelings may not erupt spontaneously into street demonstrations, but for sure, the ill-feeling is not going to promote ASEAN solidarity, no matter what their leaders may claim otherwise. What is even worse and more dangerous is religious extremism inspired by a very narrow interpretation of religious texts. Some elements of such religious extremists may put on the attire of civil societies but behave in very uncivil manners. As religious extremism is against the spirit of ASEAN Community building and undermines the project, it makes sense for ASEAN to apply pressure on a member country that fails to act firmly against religious extremism within the country. Reports by human rights organizations like the Amnesty International and academic studies on the ASEAN countries reveal many instances of violations of the rights of their minorities. One reason may have to do with the model of nation building. In their rush to build nation on gaining political independence, these countries have adopted the model of nation-state , which is a product of historical development of Western Europe [16, 20, 21]. In its ideal type, a nationstate has within its border a homogenous population, i.e., people of the same race, culture, religion, language, and history. Applying this model to a multi-ethnic country ends up discriminating against ethnic minorities even though the state constitution may have provisions to safeguard the rights of minorities. Suppressing the languages of the minority is a common strategy . Those ASEAN states that have embraced the model of nation-state have a record of internal conflicts arising from some form of discrimination. Just to quote a few examples: Indonesia has experienced a series of secessionist armed conflicts, and inter-ethnic and interreligious turmoil, Thailand has an ongoing conflict with its Muslim minority in the south, the Philippines and Myanmar too have problem of separatist movements, and Malaysia has a worsening ethnic and religious polarization [1, 2, 31, 39]. The antidote to ethnic discrimination is to treat all the citizens with real equality—having the same rights and responsibilities. It is consistent with the basic principle of rule of law. We find this in multiculturalism, which has been gaining ground since the end of World War II. It has been adopted by Australia, Canada, Europe, and the USA . In Southeast Asia, Singapore
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has opted for it and perhaps not surprisingly, the city-state has the best ethnic relations in Southeast Asia . Our discussion of ASEAN community building has meandered into the terrain of state building and nation building of the individual member states. But this is not to be avoided, for without a set of stable, strong, and functioning nations and states, the longterm prospect of an ASEAN Community is dim.
Concluding Remarks From its humble beginning, ASEAN has grown into a regional body that is courted by major world powers. Given the different historical backgrounds, cultures, political systems, and their lack of complementary economic activities, its endurance and success might have come as a surprise. Credit must be given to its political leaders for being able to respond well to the emerging challenges and opportunities. The success of ASEAN can be seen as a clever response to the challenges posed by globalization. This is clearly seen in how the Asian financial crisis of 1997 (a manifestation of globalization) has prompted ASEAN to speed up and deepen their integration . The same is again seen in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The latest of this is how the operations of global production network have integrated the ASEAN economies with that of China, forming a basis for the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement . But the imperatives for regional integration need to be combined with an awareness of the limitations arising from inter-state competition and divergent domestic capabilities within its member states . Here, there is a need to work for the greater common good and with a long-term perspective. There are at least four areas where this approach is needed. The first concerns industrial policies. The member states need to sit down and formulate industrial policies so that they are complementary to each other. Doing so will increase intra-ASEAN trade; currently, intra-ASEAN trade constitutes only 25 % of ASEAN’s trade . The second concerns protection of the environment, a point that is touched on earlier. The third concerns supporting local cultures and intellectual activities, so that Southeast Asia can boast of its own world-class writers, painters, thinkers, musicians, and architects. The fourth, arguably the most difficult of all for the ASEAN leaders, is to translate into real practice their paper commitment to democracy and human rights. It includes protecting and respecting the rights of minorities, appreciating political opposition as assets of the country, and guaranteeing freedom of the press and association. As an economic power, ASEAN is small by international standard. Given the level of development and technological base, ASEAN is unlikely to make a big impact on global economy. Perhaps the most important area which ASEAN can contribute to the world is to a do good job of bringing about the ASEAN Community with cultures and historical backgrounds so different from those of the European Union. The new global conditions present Southeast Asia with opportunities and challenges. The biggest opportunities are big avenues for economic growth in the region and the long-lasting peace. Territorial contestation leading to war is for most countries a thing of the past. Some challenges are persistent old ones—nationalism, ethno-religious parochialism, discrimination
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against women, natural disasters, diseases, and poverty. Some challenges are new ones—climate change, environmental degradation, depleting natural resources, cross border crimes, and terrorism. The challenges call on political, religious, opinion, and business leaders to re-orientate their course of actions for the greater common good of the people in the region. What is more crucial and effective is for the citizens of ASEAN countries to render support to each other in their struggle for the ideals of the ASEAN Charter such as environmental protection, rights of migrant workers, human rights, and social justice. It would be more difficult for their governments to suppress the struggles because these are struggles inspired by a document crafted and endorsed by the government leaders themselves. The common struggles of the ASEAN peoples across the region is a firm foundation for the growth of ASEAN solidarity, consciousness, sense of shared interests, and ASEAN identity. Like other historical processes, the formation of the ASEAN Community takes time and will not be easy. There is still a wide gap between the deeds and words of the government leaders of ASEAN. If and when the realities on the ground are in line with the lofty proclamations of ASEAN documents, then and only then is the ASEAN Community no longer a dream but a reality. It will be an ASEAN with a new identity, for it will represent a new moral and political order, able to articulate global issues in international forums with moral authority and moral coherence. Acknowledgments This paper is an extended version of two earlier drafts. The first draft was presented at the Asia Pacific Sociological Association Conference “Transforming Societies: Contestation and Convergences in Asia and the Pacific” 15–16 Feb 2014. The second draft was delivered as an invited lecture at a workshop on ASEAN at Chiang Mai University, Thailand on 20th September 2014. The author thanks Professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti of CMU for the invitation, and the participants at the Conference and the workshop. Thanks are due to Professor Rahman Embong of National University of Malaysia and Mr. Edward S. Grant as well as two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.
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