AS Asean foreign ministers, as well as foreign ministers from the US, China and other partners of the region meet for a series of top-level talks, the 50-year-old regional bloc should assert that Southeast Asia is nobody’s backyard, a think tank in Manila said.
Ambassador Albert F. del Rosario, chairman of Stratbase ADRi (ADRi) said: “Bringing Asean citizens to feel kinship and a shared stake in the association is an enormous and incomplete task for the sociocultural community. But it has to be done, because our region’s identity will be an anchor for stability and will drive future action.”
“Asean has to address its outmoded governance system. The consensus approach, where a single country can block a decision, is responsible for the difficulty in reaching a unanimous decision. The consensus system empowers the few over the many and contributes to why Asean is adrift. Continuing this outmoded system allows an outsider to take advantage of the decision-making process. Are we ready to hand over our sovereignty and sovereign rights to a tyranny of the minority?” del Rosario said.
Ambassador Robert R. Romulo, chairman of the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation said: “The world has moved on from a unipolar center of power [of the United States] to one where multipolar centers of geopolitical and economic powers compete for allegiance in return for benefits.”
Han Sung Joo, former minister of Foreign Affairs of South Korea said: “I think the most urgent issue is not how to update and change the current rules, but how to deal with the challenge of multilateralism that comes from unilateralistic impulses, nativistic nationalism and anti-globalization.”
Often caught between conflicting interests from global powers, Asean should define its own leadership, even as its space for political action is becoming more constrained, said Dindo Manhit, president of ADRi.
“Over the last decade or so, Southeast Asia had witnessed a protracted power play between Washington and Beijing in relation to the vital sea lanes in the South China Sea. The Asean nations themselves, including the group, had played minor roles, even as the two powers tried to exert dominance in the region.” He stressed, “By becoming a more united bloc with a strong sense of regional identity, Asean will cement its role as a key player in the international arena.”
He cited China’s unabated militarization of South China Sea, in defiance of an arbitration ruling handed down last year, as an important geopolitical turn in the region that is hard to ignore.
“China’s increasing assertiveness is not only disturbing the region’s security architecture, it is also undermining Asean’s internal cohesion and quest for centrality in East Asian affairs,” Manhit added. “Only a stronger sense of Asean identity can tilt the balance away from Beijing and Washington and enable the region and its people to chart their own growth and progress.”