The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) should reconsider its consensus-based approach to resolving issues and work on presenting a unified front to address emerging challenges.
This was the sentiment of experts who spoke at a panel discussion during the “Asean at Fifty: Going Forward” forum in Makati City on Thursday. The forum tackled the question of what role the regional bloc could play given rising anti-globalization sentiment and how the promises of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) could be achieved.
Credit Suisse Asia Pacific Vice Chairman Jose Isidro Camacho said member countries must renew Asean centrality to make the bloc truly integrated and competitive.
“First, our political leaders must affirm their commitment with the Asean community and their respective work plans. Second, it is apparent that some members do not consider Asean as the lead driver of their foreign policy,” he said.
“The governance structure of Asean with the adoption of Asean Charter lacks teeth in compliance. The Asean way of ‘polite way’ must give way to a more rule-based framework if we are going to make progress,” Camacho added.
He also stressed Asean must do a better job in communications, noting that while there was heightened visibility leading to the establishment of the AEC in 2015, the bloc has not really been effective in communicating its vision, strategies and action plans to the public.
Lastly, he said it was about time that each member countries commit to the concept of Asean citizenship.
“This should allow Asean members to be distinguish with non-Aseans on nationality issues in areas like foreign ownership limits, foreign labor, professional services and many others,” he said.
Meanwhile, Center for Strategic International Studies Co-Chair Mari Pangestu said Asean should renew its focus on regional cooperation to capture opportunities and manage the risks of uncertainty and the disruptions it is facing right now.
Pangestu expressed support for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is a proposed 16-nation free trade area comprising the 10 Asean member-nations — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — and trading partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
Pangestu said RCEP cooperation would benefit the region in terms of politics and security particularly in managing relations with powerhouses China, Japan, and India.
“A strong Asean consensus with RCEP [will]enhance [the]strategic position of Asean vis-a-vis its larger East Asian neighbors and other trading partners like EU and US,” she said.
Pangestu said the RCEP would also lift incomes across the region between 2 percent and 9 percent, with higher benefits to arise from deeper commitments involving trade and rules.