Sun, Sep 09, 2018 - Page 7 News List

ASEAN must focus on the opportunities global disruptions offer

At a time when large powers and world trends are reshaping the regional environment, the only way for ASEAN countries to advance is by working together

By Borge Brende and Justin Wood

With a single digital market, ASEAN could develop truly pan-regional services in finance, healthcare, education and e-commerce.

Of course, ASEAN should not build a fortress that keeps the world out. Indeed, the bloc has long been praised for its “open regionalism,” whereby it pursues economic integration among member states without discriminating against non-ASEAN economies.

This approach has been integral to ASEAN’s economic strategy from the beginning, and continues with the soon-to-be concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership joining ASEAN with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Strengthening the political-security community would be equally essential. With the architecture of global governance being challenged, ASEAN members must make their voices heard if they want a world that supports their interests.

Individually, Southeast Asia’s countries carry little weight, but collectively they represent almost one-tenth of the world’s population and nearly 5 percent of its GDP.

Historically, ASEAN has played a pivotal role in facilitating regional relationships, giving rise to the notion of “ASEAN centrality” in Asia. In 1993, the bloc established the ASEAN Regional Forum — now with 27 members — to foster dialogue on political and security concerns. It established the East Asia Summit, which now has 18 member states, in 2005.

However, the geopolitical context is evolving. As other powers rise, ASEAN is at risk of losing its collective commitment to a shared vision for the region and a common stance on geopolitical issues. Many observers believe that other countries are undermining ASEAN unanimity by developing dependencies with individual countries, built on investment, trade and assistance.

Unless ASEAN remains united as a bloc, it will lose its ability to convene regional actors, mediate disputes and shape principles of international behavior and interaction.

The so-called ASEAN way, characterized by consensus-based decision-making and non-interference, has served ASEAN well, and the bloc would be unwise to jettison it.

However, a reassessment is needed if ASEAN is to speak with a strong voice on regional matters, rather than allowing dissenting voices within the group to prevent the adoption of collective positions.

Given that existing global institutions are being challenged and the rise of Asia in global affairs, ASEAN must reinforce its ability to influence the debate.

The World Economic Forum on ASEAN is to be held in Hanoi from Tuesday to Thursday, providing an opportunity for such a reassessment. In an increasingly uncertain world, the need for the countries of ASEAN to strengthen their community and their commitment to integration and collaboration is more important than ever.

Borge Brende is president of the World Economic Forum. Justin Wood is head of Asia-Pacific and a member of the executive committee of the World Economic Forum.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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