ASEAN’s success 1. CultureASEAN is knownto have created a unique culture of consultation and consensus, which is anethos is now hailed by many as the “ASEAN way”. As well-respectedAmerican University Professor Amitav Acharya puts it, the ASEAN way ischaracterized by a high degree of discreteness, informality, pragmatism,expediency, consensus building, and non-confrontational bargaining styles,which are often contrasted with the adversarial posturing and legalisticdecision-making procedures in Western multilateral negotiation.
Bypersistently engaging regimes like Myanmar’s military junta economically andpolitically, ASEAN prevented a hardening of its positions due to isolation. 2. NetworkingASEAN now organizes more than1,000 meetings a year to discuss topics ranging from climate change to culturalexchange. Consequently, thousands of invisible informal networks have evolvedin the region.
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For example, ASEAN actively engaged Myanmar and itsmilitary junta despite harsh criticism, when Myanmar was shunned by the Westernleaders. Representatives from the junta attended numerous ASEAN meetings andwitnessed the developmental strides made by Member States throughliberalisation, inspiring Myanmar to become more open to international normsand practices. Months after Myanmar was appointed as the ASEAN chair, Aung SanSuu Kyi was released from house arrest.ASEAN organisesthe ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a multilateral platform which brings 27 nationstogether – including North Korea. Asthere are no comparable regional organizations for the northeast Asiancountries, these countries’ meetings at ASEAN summits have been a majorcontribution to the reigning culture of peace in Asia. The ASEAN Plusmeetings also facilitated early meetings between leaders of China, Japan andSouth Korea, the three countries that have traditionally distrusted each other.When Sino-Japanese relations were tense after Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimotovisited the Yasukuni Shrine in the late 1990s, an ASEAN summit in 1999 in thePhilippines helped to ease the strained ties by facilitating face-saving meetings.
3. Policy ofNon-InterventionThe West hasoften needled the ASEAN states to criticize one another when their human rightsrecords slipped. Yet, ASEAN countries have ignored this advice andsedulously avoided meddling in each other’s domestic affairs to preventoverreach of power and unhappiness. This has resulted in a lasting peace. Thisapproach has been highly effective in defusing potentially explosivesituations, such as the Thai-Cambodia border dispute, as well as the disputeover Sabah between Malaysia and the Philippines.
The resolution of thesedisputes reflects ASEAN’s facility for conflict management and quiet diplomacy.Challenges 1. Sino-American RelationsThe rise ofChina to join USA in the ranks of the world’s top powers is seen as the world’sbiggest shifts of geopolitical power that will continue to shift until Chinagrows to be larger than the United States. In theory, Sino-American relationsshould hit a peak of rivalry in the next decade. Currently, the UnitedStates and China are competing by cultivating their economic and diplomatic tiesin the ASEAN region.
This is beneficial for the ASEAN countries, as they willreap the benefits of American and Chinese trade and investment. However, if the U.S.-Chinarelationship turns sour, which is predicted to occur in the new future, ASEANcountries will actively seek to resist the geopolitical pressures to choosesides. In the event of enhanced rivalry between the United States andChina, ASEAN faces the danger of devolving into a house divided against itself,as historically, the ASEAN Member States have had varying levels of closenessto these superpowers 2. TerrorismThe resurgenceof extremist groups in the region poses a worrying trend. The number ofIndonesians and Malaysians enrolling in the Islamic State of Iraq and theLevant (ISIL) has alarmed their respective governments. Similarly, theemergence of Buddhist extremist groups in Sri Lanka could lead to politicalclones springing up in Myanmar.
ASEAN must ensure that its hard-earned peace isnot disrupted by the emergence of such extremist elements. Therefore, theASEAN countries must work more closely together to ensure that religiousextremism does not rear its ugly head in the region 3. The AECThe ASEANEconomic Community (AeC) was implemented with the goal of integrating theregion by 2015, by reducing barriers to intra-regional trade and investment, sothat the ASEAN states can be more competitive in the global arena. AlthoughASEAN has already made good progress in regional integration in many areas suchas the elimination of 99% of ASEAN total tariff lines in 2010, it seemsunlikely that all the goals of the AeC will be met by 2015. The biggestobstacle to economic integration in the region is the schizophrenic attitude ofthe ASEAN countries when it comes to the AEC.
Though they are eager to reap thebenefits of integration, they do not want to open up their own markets to theresultant competition. Non-tariff trade barriers have yet to beeliminated and the process has been slow and arduous. If ASEAN does not becomemore serious about implementing the AeC, its partners could lose trust in itseffectiveness, and trust is ASEAN’s main currency