The Honest Truth: ASEAN is Still Rather Lame

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/23/2012 12:16:00 PM
World leaders--among them from ASEAN member countries, China, Japan and the US came, saw and whimpered in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Among other things, differences within ASEAN itself are causing trouble coming up with a united policy on the matter of the South China Sea to negotiate with China. (Remember, the current ASEAN chair Cambodia is a longtime Chinese ally dating to the Khmer Rouge era and beyond. While it has no claims there, the general perception is that it's removing the issue from the ASEAN meeting agenda at China's behest.) Meanwhile, having previously accelerated the date of ASEAN economic integration including new accession countries Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) to 2015, our dear leaders are now moving it back--from the start of 2015 to the end of 2015. As usual in the political and economic realms, it's two steps forward, one step back.

Actually, we at LSE IDEAS came up with a publication prior to the massive ASEAN shindig that expressed caution about the influence of the association vis-a-vis China and the United States in shaping affairs in our region. It's kind of sad, but the honest truth is that ASEAN has some ways to go before it can match the agenda-setting capabilities of the would-be regional hegemons. Oh well...

At any rate, here is the LSE press blurb that pretty much sums up the current state of (regional) affairs:
As world leaders gather this week for the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh, an LSE report concludes that the group is ill equipped to defend its own interests against those of China and the US. The New Geopolitics of Southeast Asia, from LSE IDEAS, a centre for the study of international affairs, features articles by academics from LSE and leading universities in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Although ASEAN represents a market of over half a billion people, with a combined GDP growth currently double the global average, the report argues that its consensual approach to fostering regional economic integration leaves it unable to lead in the task of forging a regional strategy, meaning that Southeast Asian states risk becoming pawns in a geopolitical clash between the two superpowers. It therefore requires reform and renewal to enable it to serve as a third pole in the new geopolitics of Southeast Asia, with the capacity and authority to stand up to China and the US.

Regional member states need to empower ASEAN to represent their collective strategic interests, it explains. Failure to do so will mean surrendering the future of the region to the geopolitical interests of China and the US.
Contributions on the geopolitics of individual ASEAN nations in relation to China and the US vying for the affections of Southeast Asian nations are available online--including that of yours truly. There are also overarching commentaries from no less than the LSE founders themselves: Mick Cox, the guy who literally wrote the book on US foreign policy from a British perspective, weighs in.. So does Arne Westad, who recently authored a well-received book about China's global outreach from 1750 to date.

While ASEAN stands to gain much by standing together, don't except too much too fast. In the meantime, enjoy the contributions here that shed some light on the difficulties of ASEAN making a truly "Southeast Asian" stand in relation to the US and China.