Tue, Sep 17, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Southeast Asia models Europe on its path toward integration

Against a rising China, ASEAN nations form the foundation of a regional economic and diplomatic community. Such an alliance may stabilize the region

By Fidel Ramos

Indonesia — the largest of the 10 ASEAN countries — has assumed a leadership role in setting security landmarks on the road toward the ASEAN Community. Indonesia has also proposed an ASEAN Peacekeeping Centers Network and a Regional Peacekeeping Force — institutions that the region urgently needs and that, despite the difficulty of multilateral security cooperation, are within ASEAN’s capacity to establish.

However, success will depend on whether ASEAN countries implement crucial reforms. In order to stimulate GDP growth, encourage the establishment of competitive and dynamic enterprises, facilitate larger trade flows and create more jobs, they must dismantle barriers that raise costs, inhibit competition and deter new investment.

Throughout this process, ASEAN’s leaders must bear in mind a crucial lesson of the EU: High-level agreements that lack the consent of ordinary people have limited effectiveness and longevity. Citizens — ASEAN’s most important stakeholders — must regard the bloc’s mission as their own. Thus, in order to build public support for the ASEAN Community, policymakers must ensure that it genuinely improves people’s lives by delivering more effective health-care systems, improved housing, better education and greater access to decent, higher-wage jobs.

Furthermore, ASEAN leaders must build durable institutions that represent both the particular interests of individual member countries and the larger interests of the community as a whole. As it stands, ASEAN has no mechanism to expedite decisionmaking in crisis situations or, more important, to enforce compliance with collective decisions — a deficiency highlighted by disputes over the proposed code of conduct for the South China Sea.

The ASEAN Secretariat, for example, lacks the authority and resources to perform crucial functions, including formulating policies, coordinating implementation, monitoring compliance and settling disputes. As a result, ASEAN, as a McKinsey Global Institute study argued, effectively “grants a veto to any country that resists regional economic integration.”

While US efforts to enhance stability in the Asia-Pacific region are welcome, they are inadequate to offset rising strategic and economic uncertainty. Only by building a more unified, dynamic community can ASEAN leaders secure a more prosperous, stable, and sustainable future for their citizens.

Fidel Ramos, a former president of the Philippines, is a member of the ASEAN Eminent Persons Group that provided the concepts and guidelines for drafting the ASEAN Charter.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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