Editorial: Asean at 41
[August 14, 2008]
The Manila Times
Asean at 41
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) rounded out its 41st year on August 8, moving slowly closer to its vision of establishing an Asean Community which is committed to achieving utmost social, economic and cultural growth in the region through greater cooperation.
Formed in Bangkok on August 8, 1967, by its five original members–Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand–the organization was joined later by Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (former Burma) and Cambodia to become a 10-nation group.
One fundamental goal of Asean is to promote regional peace and stability “through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law.”
Over the years, Asean has forged major agreements with other countries to promote economic partnership, political cooperation, peace and freedom. A landmark accord is the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia which was signed in Bali, Indonesia, on February 24, 1976.
Other Asean’s significant accords are the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (signed in Kuala Lumpur on November 27, 1971), the Declaration of Asean Concord (Bali, February 24, 1976), Asean Declaration on the South China Sea (Manila, July 22, 1992), Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (Bangkok, December 15, 1997), Asean Vision 2020 (Kuala Lumpur, December 15, 1997), and the Declaration of Asean Concord II (Bali, October 7, 2003).
All of these were preceded by the Asean Declaration right on the organization’s foundation day on August 8, 1967.
The establishment of the Asean Community, whose original target date of year 2020 was advanced to 2015, has been the organization’s foremost goal. It called for the drafting of the Asean Charter to give Asean an international legal personality. The draft was prepared during the 12th Asean Summit in the Philippines and the final product was approved at the Asean Summit in Singapore in November last year.
As a corollary and necessary step, the Asean economic ministers, meeting in the Philippines in August, adopted the Asean Economic Community Blueprint to provide a “road-map to a regional free trade zone by 2015.”
The Asean Charter, which is yet to be ratified by member nations, has addressed the clamor of human rights advocates by forming a Human Rights Body under Article 14. But the Charter’s authority to implement its human rights provisions is held in doubt, especially in dealing with Myanmar whose human rights record is abysmally bad.
Asean’s non-interventionist policy with respect to the internal affairs of member countries and its consensus-building principle render its Charter virtually toothless in meting out appropriate sanctions against recalcitrant member nations, like Myanmar which has defied calls for the release of democratic and opposition leader Aung San Kyu Kyi who, until now, has been under house arrest by its military government.
Critics have expressed pessimism over whether “the highly criticized consensual style of decision making that has hitherto characterized Asean will be replaced by a more robust system of authority.” They harbor misgivings about the Charter being a “vital opportunity for the organization to overcome its past weaknesses in upholding human rights in the region.”
On the economic and security front, the regional group may be said to have chalked up a good performance. With the launching of the Asean Free Trade Area, which seeks to increase regional trade through the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers, exports among Asean countries grew tremendously. It also boosted tourism to a great extent.
The Asean Security Community has fostered political and security cooperation among member nations and with the world at large. In July, Asean foreign ministers were seen upbeat about North Korea’s plan to join its non-aggression treaty, a strong sign of Pyongyang’s commitment to the peace and security of the region. This is significant in the light of efforts of the US, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear facilities.
The Asean Regional Forum
The Asean Regional Forum (ARF), which was established in 1994, has proven expedient in promoting “confidence building, preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution in the region.” Composed of 26 countries, including the US, Australia, Russia, China, the European Union, India, Japan and North Korea, the ARF has become a pillar for peace in the region.
To Asean’s credit, its effective confidence-building measures and resort to political dialogue have worked tremendously well to prevent tension among member states into escalating into an armed confrontation. Asean is yet to face its greatest test in meeting future challenges, but it exudes confidence and optimism in overcoming them with more efforts and greater resolve.
Copyright (c) 2008, The Manila Times, Philippines http://www.manilatimes.net.