11 July 2024

Against all odds and naysayers, ASEAN has survived for the past five and a half decades. The bloc has grown in terms of numbers and international profile. Given the current global political and economic landscape, ASEAN will continue to serve as a regional foundation with defined aims ­ forging cooperation and building peace.

For the past week, ASEAN members have been tackling regional and international issues, which will impact regional well-being in the years to come. As the current chair, Cambodia has worked very hard to display ASEAN centrality and solidarity at its best. The outcome of ASEAN annual meeting was evidence of these diligent efforts. Indeed, the chair has restored the much-needed credibility it deserves, after the malfeasance of a decade ago. All concerned authorities and the Cambodian people, most of all, should be proud.

This time around, ASEAN is having to face both internal and external crises simultaneously. On the one hand, the Myanmar crisis has reached a critical point that is causing great resentment among ranking ASEAN members. On the very day ASEAN started their ministerial meeting, the US House speaker Nancy Pelosi stirred up a crisis by visiting Taiwan, an act which demanded an immediate response from the bloc.

Within 24 hours, ASEAN issued a joint statement reaffirming its One China policy. The bloc also called for all parties to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from provocative action. Furthermore, ASEAN urged them to uphold the principles enshrined in the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TÁC).

ASEAN also reiterated that it stands ready to play a constructive role in facilitating peaceful dialogue through ASEAN-led mechanisms. At the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), all 27-member countries shared their views about regional and international challenges. Their common and divergent views have already made the ARF meeting unique, as all major powers of the world are involved. Better still was the East Asia Summit foreign ministerial meeting, which enabled key global players to come face to face to exchange views, without resorting to confrontation.

ASEAN ministers have also set a deadline for the military junta in Nay Pyi Taw to make progress on the implementation of the ASEAN five-point consensus, prior to the ASEAN-related summits being held on November 10th and 11th. The ASEAN leaders were disappointed with the lack of substantive progress on the peace roadmap, by which Myanmar pledged to abide. Now the ball is in the junta’s court. Otherwise, when the ASEAN leaders gather at their summit, they will respond forcefully if the junta remains complacent.

To deal with the uncertain future, currently the wise men and women in ASEAN, who are members of the High-Level Task Force, are now working on the ASEAN Vision beyond 2025. By the end of this year, the task force will have an overarching idea of the common vision of ASEAN for 2025-2035. Some of the themes that emerged from the initial discussion focused on how to make the bloc more relevant to the 670-million strong ASEAN community. That is to say, to make ASEAN a people-centred organisation.

The future of ASEAN depends on its adaptability in responding to the emerging political and economic landscape. ASEAN has learned that, to survive, the bloc has to be a neutral and safe place in which all powers can engage in dialogue and build trust and confidence, as they just did in Phnom Penh.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn