ASEAN’s consultation and consensus, which is an ethos

ASEAN’s success


1. Culture

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ASEAN is known
to have created a unique culture of consultation and consensus, which is an
ethos is now hailed by many as the “ASEAN way”. As well-respected
American University Professor Amitav Acharya puts it, the ASEAN way is
characterized 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 legalistic
decision-making procedures in Western multilateral negotiation. By
persistently engaging regimes like Myanmar’s military junta economically and
politically, ASEAN prevented a hardening of its positions due to isolation.


2. Networking

ASEAN now organizes more than
1,000 meetings a year to discuss topics ranging from climate change to cultural
exchange. Consequently, thousands of invisible informal networks have evolved
in the region. For example, ASEAN actively engaged Myanmar and its
military junta despite harsh criticism, when Myanmar was shunned by the Western
leaders. Representatives from the junta attended numerous ASEAN meetings and
witnessed the developmental strides made by Member States through
liberalisation, inspiring Myanmar to become more open to international norms
and practices. Months after Myanmar was appointed as the ASEAN chair, Aung San
Suu Kyi was released from house arrest.

ASEAN organises
the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a multilateral platform which brings 27 nations
together – including North Korea.  As
there are no comparable regional organizations for the northeast Asian
countries, these countries’ meetings at ASEAN summits have been a major
contribution to the reigning culture of peace in Asia. The ASEAN Plus
meetings also facilitated early meetings between leaders of China, Japan and
South Korea, the three countries that have traditionally distrusted each other.
When Sino-Japanese relations were tense after Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto
visited the Yasukuni Shrine in the late 1990s, an ASEAN summit in 1999 in the
Philippines helped to ease the strained ties by facilitating face-saving meetings.


3. Policy of

The West has
often needled the ASEAN states to criticize one another when their human rights
records slipped. Yet, ASEAN countries have ignored this advice and
sedulously avoided meddling in each other’s domestic affairs to prevent
overreach of power and unhappiness. This has resulted in a lasting peace. This
approach has been highly effective in defusing potentially explosive
situations, such as the Thai-Cambodia border dispute, as well as the dispute
over Sabah between Malaysia and the Philippines. The resolution of these
disputes reflects ASEAN’s facility for conflict management and quiet diplomacy.



1. Sino-American Relations

With the rise of
China to be competitively on the same level as US as one of the world’s top
powers, tensions between the Americans are growing. This will continue to
intensify ad long as the world’s geopolitical power continues to shift
until China grows to be larger than the United States. In theory, Sino-American
relations are predicted to hit a peak of rivalry by the next decade. Currently,
the United States and China are competing in their cultivation of economic and
diplomatic ties in the ASEAN region. Tensions aside, this is an advantageous
opportunity for ASEAN countries who will stand to gain from the benefits of
American and Chinese trade and investment. However, as the U.S.- China
relationship turns increasingly sour, which is to occur in the new future,
ASEAN countries will stand their ground exactly in the middle of both powers,
remaining neutral and not choosing sides. This is crucial because in the event
of enhanced rivalry between the United States and China, ASEAN faces the most
danger not just in terms of its economy, but the stability of the organization
itself. Being culturally diverse and made of member states that have varying
levels of closeness to the two large powers, ASEAN is at risk of a major


2. Terrorism

In recent years,
the trend of terrorist and extremist religious or militant groups have been on
the rise. What is worrying is the number of Indonesians and Malaysians
enrolling in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the emergence
of Buddhist extremist groups in Sri Lanka that could further spread to Myanmar.
It is now that ASEAN must be more careful than ever, and take extra measures ensure
that its hard-earned peace is not disrupted by the emergence of such extremist
elements. Ultimately, prevention is key in eliminating such threats. The
ASEAN countries must work closely together to ensure that religious extremism
does not rear its ugly head in the region.


3. The AEC

Economic Community (AeC) was implemented in 2015 with the goal of integrating
the region. It had hoped that barriers to to intra-regional trade and
investment would be taken down, if not reduced, so that the ASEAN states can
grow be more competitive in the global arena, alongside China and US. Although
much progress has been made such as the elimination of 99% of ASEAN total
tariff lines in 2010, ASEAN still faces the biggest challenge to economic
integration, which is the schizophrenic attitude of the ASEAN countries when it
comes to the AeC. As much as the members look forward to the benefits of
economic integration, they are hesitant to open up their own markets for fear
of resultant competition between the member states, which could
potentially harm the individual state’s community instead. Up till now, non-tariff
trade barriers still exist and any plans to eliminate these barriers have been
all talk. If ASEAN does not become more active and show progress in implementing
the AeC, its partners will lose trust in their effectiveness, and trust is
ASEAN’s main currency.


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