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Challenges to ASEAN’s Cohesion: The Policy of Constructive Engagement and a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea
Carlyle A Thayer College of Security Studies Department of Regional Studies Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies Honolulu, Hawai’i
Seminar on Regionalism and Globalism in Southeast Asia Organized by Centre for Southeast Asian Studies Åbo Akademi University Åland, Finland June 2-4, 2000
Challenges to ASEAN’s Cohesion: The Policy of Constructive Engagement and a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea
Carlyle A. Thayer*
INTRODUCTION The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is often judged to be one of the Third World’s most successful regional organizations. Its original five members — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand — were all market economies that sought to integrate with the global economy. In the decade prior to 1997 they all had growth rates which were higher than anywhere else in the world. ASEAN has passed through several stages of development but academics and even ASEAN officials are not always in agreement about the precise dating of each stage. There is consensus that the period from 1967-75 constitutes the first stage. During this period ASEAN achieved success by merely surviving. It was, wrote one writer, “much ado about nothing”. The communist victories in Indochina in 1975 jolted ASEAN into action. They held their first summit meeting in Bali in 1976 and adopted several documents charting ASEAN’s vision and future course. Foremost was the ASEAN Declaration of Concord and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC). During this second phase of development ASEAN restructured itself in order to cope better with the challenges of economic development. It was during this second phase of development that ASEAN first expanded its membership by including Brunei in 1984.
A. Thayer is a Professor of Southeast Asian Security Studies at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, currently on leave from the Australian Defence Force Academy. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
3 Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in late 1978 proved to be another shock to ASEAN. It quickly responded by turning itself into a highly effective diplomatic community. For the next decade (1979-89) ASEAN focused its prime efforts on securing a comprehensive settlement of the conflict in Cambodia. According to some writers, the 1992 Singapore summit marked the start ASEAN’s third phase of development. More than ever before economic issues such as trade liberalization, a free trade area and growth triangles came to dominate the ASEAN agenda. In 1995 ASEAN took its boldest step by admitting communist Vietnam as its seventh member. In 1997 ASEAN included two more new members, Laos and Myanmar. Cambodia was not admitted until 30th April 1999. Enlargement took place simultaneously with the onset of the Asian financial and economic crisis. ASEAN’s response came at the 1998 informal summit in Hanoi where a Plan of Action and Vision 2020 were adopted. . It is unclear whether this process of enlargement followed by the Hanoi Summit marks a distinctive fourth phase in ASEAN’s development. This paper examines challenges to ASEAN cohesion posed by enlargement and ASEAN’s attempts to negotiate a code of conduct for the South China Sea with China. ASEAN’s decision to admit Myanmar and Cambodia precipitated Thai and Filipino attempts to reexamine ASEAN’s long-standing policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of fellow members. By way of background, this paper examines ASEAN’s policy of constructive engagement towards Burma in the 1990s and ASEAN’s reactions to the violent political upheaval that beset Cambodia in mid-1997. The paper then discusses the concept of constructive engagement as advocated by Anwar Ibrahim, Surin Pitsuwan and regional NGOs. The paper ends discussion of this issue by considering the July 1998 ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in the Philippines where a Thai “non-paper” proposing “flexible engagement” was watered down to “enhanced interaction”
4 and the July 1999 ASEAN Ministerial Meeting that endorsed consideration of the concept of an ASEAN Troika. The second challenge to ASEAN cohesion discussed in this paper concerns internal ASEAN differences in negotiating a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea with China. It traces the evolution of a joint Philippines-Vietnam proposal in 1999, Chinese reactions to this proposal, and recent diplomacy between China and ASEAN on this issue. The paper concludes that new fault lines have begun to appear in ASEAN between its politically open and its politically closed states, particularly on the issue of state sovereignty and nonintervention in internal affairs. ASEAN ENLARGEMENT The end of the Cold War, Vietnam’s withdrawal from Cambodia, and the signing of an agreement outlining a comprehensive political settlement of the Cambodian conflict (October 1991) set the stage for ASEAN-Indochina relations to move from confrontation to reconciliation. In 1992 and 1993, Vietnam and Laos attended the annual ASEAN Ministerial Meetings as observers. At the former meeting both acceded to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. By so doing they renounced the use of force in external relations and committed themselves to the non-violent resolution of any conflict under mechanisms spelled out in the treaty. In 1994, at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok, ASEAN officially invited Vietnam to become a member. Vietnam’s application was formally approved later that year and it became ASEAN’s seventh member in July 1995.
5 The July 1994 ASEAN Ministerial Meeting also made clear ASEAN’s desire to see its membership expanded to embrace all of Southeast Asia. But the pace of membership was not certain. For example, Laos was initially hesitant because of the demands on its human and financial resources. Cambodia was also initially reluctant to go beyond observer status because of the objections of King Norodom Sihanouk.1 In July 1995 Cambodia joined Laos as an observer. A key turning point was reached at the December 1995 ASEAN summit. According to Jusuf Wanandi:
One other development within ASEAN deserve[s] mention here. This is [the] decision to enlarge its membership to include all ten Southeast Asian countries by the end of the century. This step has two objectives: (a) to prevent division among Southeast Asian countries between the rich and the poor, which could create new tensions in the future; and (b) to strengthen ASEAN’s ability to face pressures from any hegemonic power in the future. As in the case of Europe, it has been questioned whether ASEAN should first deepen or widen its cooperation. Widening first can create problems for ASEAN, complicating consensus building and the development of personal relations which are vital to overcome old and new problems. An additional problem is the difficulty for the new members to fully participate in AFTA. At the Bangkok summit in December 1995, however, the ASEAN leaders opted for an immediate enlargement. Evidently, they were convinced that ASEAN should take advantage of the current momentum to realise its vision of a one Southeast Asia, and that ASEAN should also provide strong support and assistance to the non-ASEAN Southeast Asian countries (Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar) to catch up. This support will be forthcoming only if they are serious candidate-members of ASEAN.2
In mid-1996 at the 29th ASEAN Standing Committee meeting Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas stated that “Cambodia and Laos are facing serious difficulties in their preparations [to join ASEAN] due to shortage of human resources and funds needed for the organisation and maintenance of the
to an Australian diplomat who attended the 1994 ASEAN Post-Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok, Sihanouk discouraged Cambodian membership in ASEAN because he felt this would violate Cambodia’s neutral status. However when the King took ill in 1994, voices favoring ASEAN membership became more prominent and a change in attitude was detectable. Interview, Canberra, September 1994.
6 respective national secretariats and for their participation in ASEAN activities... [They] may also encounter difficulties in familiarising themselves with the organisational structures, legal systems and practices in ASEAN member countries.”3 Nonetheless it was expected that Cambodia and Laos would join ASEAN on its thirtieth anniversary (1967-97), while Myanmar would be admitted in the year 2000. In mid-1996 Myanmar also became an observer. As ASEAN’s 30th anniversary approached, however, pressures mounted to admit all three countries simultaneously and unite Southeast Asia under one organizational roof. MYANMAR’S MEMBERSHIP In 1990 the Myanmar State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) abrogated the results of the 27th May democratic elections. ASEAN responded at its Annual Ministerial Meeting in Kuala Lumpur in July 1991 by adopting a policy of constructive engagement.4 However, as Kavi Chongkittavorn notes, “Asean did not have any common or coordinated stand on Burma, they [ASEAN Foreign Ministers] agreed to adopt their own positions.”5 In 1993 the ASEAN Institutes of Security and International Studies (ISIS) prepared a memo for the ASEAN foreign ministers outlining steps which could be adopted under
Jusuf Wanandi, ‘Developing the Regional Security Architecture: The Road Ahead,’ Paper presented to the Tenth Asia-Pacific Roundtable, ASEAN-ISIS, Kuala Lumpur, June 5-8, 1996.
Jakarta, ‘Laos and Cambodia hit ASEAN hurdle,’ The Australian, 19 July 1996. The ASEAN Standing Committee set up a working group to look into the membership applications by Laos and Cambodia. During the year an Indonesian-led fact-finding team visited Laos and Cambodia to review preparations for membership and its recommendations were submitted to the ASEAN Standing Committee but not made public.
Chongkittavorn, ‘The Evolution of “Constructive Engagement”,’ in Ralph Bachoe and Debbie Stothard, From Consensus to Controversy: ASEAN’s Relationship with Burma’s SLORC. Bangkok: Alternative Asean Network on Burma, July 1997, 18-25.
7 a policy of constructive engagement. A divergence of views quickly became apparent. Jusuf Wanandi, chairman of the supervisory board of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, called for the adoption of a new set of principles on intervention. Wanandi argued:
In the case of ASEAN relations, it is clear that in the longer term, economic integration, social interaction and political cooperation will increase the stake of each member country in the development of other member countries. Therefore, it cannot be expected that there will be a completely hands-off policy towards the domestic developments of other member countries... In the future, ASEAN has to consider the impact of the domestic developments in each member country on other members and what they can do about it together. Obviously this should be based on already established friendship. It should be implemented in accordance with the rules that will be collectively formulated within ASEAN, either legally or according to unwritten rules, depending on the case. 6
ASEAN’s policy of constructive engagement was also prompted by the fear that an isolated Myanmar would move closer towards China. Barry Wain has argued, for example, “Getting all 10 Southeast Asian countries under one roof will fulfil the original Asean vision and maximize the organisation’s strategic clout. In particular, Asean is determined to limit China’s penetration of Burma and bring Rangoon into the Southeast Asian orbit.’7 This view was also shared by Asiaweek magazine which editorialized: “Geo-strategic realities also ensure that ASEAN can never ostracise Myanmar. Unlike outsiders, neighbours have to live with one another — forever. Patient, sensitive diplomacy is usually the only practicable approach to difficult relationships. For ASEAN, ganging up on Yangon [Rangoon] would produce another undesirable outcome by pushing the Burmese further into China’s orbit.”8
Wanandi, ‘ASEAN’s Domestic Political Developments and Their Impact on Foreign Policy.’ The Pacific Review, 8(3), 1995, 457.
Wain, ‘Boycotting Burma: Mission Impossible,’ The Asian Wall Street Journal, 21-22 June
Asia’s Black Eye: How ASEAN should handle a wayward neighbor,’ Asiaweek, 22 October 1996.
8 Whatever the strategic calculations, in 1996 heightened repression of prodemocracy activists by the SLORC regime precipitated debate within several ASEAN countries about the suitability of Myanmar for membership. SLORC’s human rights record also became an issue between ASEAN and several of its dialogue partners including the European Union and the United States. These debates coincided with formal moves by the Myanmar government to seek ASEAN membership.9 In the lead up to the July 1996 ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, ASEAN came under renewed pressure to modify if not drop its policy of constructive engagement towards Myanmar because of increased human rights abuses in that country, to press Myanmar to undertake political reforms prior to joining the Association and/or to defer Myanmar’s membership until such an improvement was evident. Initially ASEAN stuck to its guns but under mounting pressure from within provoked by SLORC’s repressive policies, ASEAN backtracked slightly. Myanmar attended the July 1996 ASEAN Annual Ministerial Meeting as an observer (and joined the ASEAN Regional Forum as a full member). According to an ASEAN diplomat, immediately following the AMM, despite pressure from the United States and European Union, “The consensus is now even stronger that we’re going to persist with the policy of constructive engagement. For us, the benchmark is the long-term evolution of (Burma).”10 In mid-August, Myanmar formally applied to join ASEAN.11 And in October Myanmar announced that it would open an ASEAN Division within the Political Department of the Foreign Ministry as part of its preparations for membership.
details see: Carlyle A. Thayer, ‘ASEAN’s Expanding Membership’, Paper to conference on ASEAN in Transition: Implications for Australia, Centre for the Study of Australia-Asia Relations, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland, December 9-10, 1996.
Pura, Jakarta, ‘Asean’s courtship of Burma Makes Key Allies Nervous,’ The Asian Wall Street Journal, 19-20 July 1996. Kuala Lumpur, ‘Burma applies to join ASEAN,’ The Australian, 18 September 1996.
9 The following month, when ASEAN Foreign Ministers met in New York at the United Nations during General Assembly session, they decided to postpone a decision on Myanmar’s entry.12 While some of the ASEAN ministers may have had misgivings about Myanmar because of its poor human rights record and recent suppression of pro-democracy activists, public statements underlined technical impediments to membership. Some observers suggested that the stress on “technical impediments” was adopted so that ASEAN would not be seen as bowing to external pressure or interfering in another state’s internal affairs. For example, a Thai official stated that 1997 would be too early to admit Myanmar as a full member because it needed more time to familiarize itself with ASEAN mechanisms.13 Unofficially, there was another concern. Some ASEAN officials felt that the SLORC regime would use membership in ASEAN as a shield to deflect criticism from the UN, the US and EU over its human rights record and thereby tarnish ASEAN’s image.14 Myanmar’s application for membership was considered at an ASEAN Standing Committee meeting held in Kuala Lumpur from 3rd-4th October 1996. Once again no firm date was set for membership. The ASEAN Secretariat, however, was asked to report on how long it would take Myanmar to set up its ASEAN network to enable it to become a full member. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Badawi noted, “we need a full consensus, and may need a discussion at the informal level... But it’s too early to decide on Burma’s membership as it only sent in its application in August.”15 Later that same month a meeting of ASEAN Senior Officials met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss Myanmar’s application to advance the timetable for full membership from 2000 to 1997. The
12Michael 13Kyodo, 14Susan
Vatikiotis, ‘Seeds of Division,’ Far Eastern Economic Review, 17 October 1996, 16.
Manila, ‘ASEAN may review policy towards Myanmar: Ramos,’ The Straits Times, 3 October 1996. Berfield, ‘ASEAN Mulls Myanmar,’ Asiaweek, 18 October 1996 based on reports by Dominic Faulder (Bangkok), Antonio Lopez (Manila), and Roger Mitton (Kuala Lumpur); and Michael Vatikiotis, ‘Seeds of Division,’ Far Eastern Economic Review, 17 October 1996, 16-17.
worries Asean,’ Nation Today [Manila], 4 October 1996.
10 meeting also reviewed progress by Cambodia and Laos. The officials set no time frame on membership. They concentrated, however, on those technical steps that must be in place prior to membership. Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (dubbed “the C-L-M” countries) were invited to attend the ASEAN informal summit scheduled for Jakarta in late November. According to an official Malaysian spokesperson, no country objected to Myanmar’s membership or expressed any other reservations. The issue of Myanmar’s membership was duly placed on the agenda of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting scheduled for Manila on 20th November. In early November (2nd-9th) ASEAN Secretary General Ajit Singh visited Myanmar to assess its preparations for membership.16 A special seminar focusing on Myanmar and AFTA was held for his benefit. Singh was informed that Myanmar had set up a special ten-person office within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to serve as the nucleus for an eventual ASEAN Secretariat. This special office was staffed by diplomats with experience in ASEAN countries.17 At the conclusion of his visit Singh announced that Myanmar was “fairly advanced” in its preparations for entry into ASEAN and AFTA. Myanmar had established embassies in most ASEAN countries already. Its financial records were computerized by the Central Statistical Office and Myanmar had made available copies of its trade, investment and company laws (all of which were published in English, ASEAN’s official language). Myanmar was already a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and had thus granted most-favored-nation (MFN) status to other ASEAN members. The ASEAN Secretary General also noted that Myanmar had subscribed to all the necessary ASEAN political documents — 1976 Bangkok Declaration, 1971 Zone
Myanmar, Rangoon, in Burmese, 1330 gmt, 9 November 1996; Agnes Wee, ‘Myanmar will joint ASEAN when it is ready: PM Goh,’ Business Times, 2 November 1996; and ‘Burma’s ASEAN membership to be delayed,’ Singapore, Hong Kong Standard, 1 November 1996.
Brookes, Yangon, ‘Myanmar moves fast on ASEAN status,’ Asia Times, 4 November
11 of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and the 1995 South East Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ) treaty and other agreements. — and was prepared to meet the financial obligations of membership.18 Finally, there was no language problem as all the officials concerned were competent in English. On November 20th the ASEAN Foreign Ministers met in Manila in advance of the informal summit scheduled for the end of the month. They agreed that Myanmar would have to go through the normal technical process applicable to all potential members. Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said this included Myanmar’s level of preparedness in joining AFTA by 2003.19 Matters were partially resolved when the ASEAN Heads of Government meeting in Jakarta declared their intention to admit the C-L-M countries simultaneously at some unspecified point in the future. Secretary General Ajit Singh stated that Burma was better prepared to meet ASEAN’s entry criteria on economic issues than either Cambodia or Laos. According to Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Amnuay Viravon, “It could go either way. Next year, maybe they all join, or something else happens and they have to wait.20 Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir argued that ASEAN’s policy of constructive engagement had brought “significant improvements” to Myanmar.21 ASEAN’s decision not to delay Myanmar’s membership and to admit the C-LM countries simultaneously may be seen as a reaction to outside pressure. ASEAN took this stance to demonstrate it would not give in to pressure on human rights from the West and because they did not want to be forced to
Myanmar, Rangoon, in Burmese, 1330 gmt, 9 November 1996. in no hurry to admit Myanmar: Alatas,’ Manila, Business Times, 21 November 1996.
by Joe McDonald, AP, Jakarta, ‘ASEAN leaders want Burma but not yet,’ The Canberra Times, 1 December 1996.
Feeney, AAP, Jakarta, ‘Human-rights advocates feel ASEAN rebuke,’ The Canberra Times, 2 December 1996; see also: Patrick Walerts, Jakarta, ‘Typical compromise makes Burma wait,’ The Australian, 2 December 1996 and Michael Richardson, Singapore, ‘Burma’s Bid For ASEAN Membership Reaffirmed,’ International Herald Tribune, 2 December 1996.
12 make a distinction between prospective members based on political criteria.22 Or, in the words of an editorial in a regional newspaper, “The message that came out of Saturday’s summit was clear: the domestic affairs of Myanmar, in spite of international urging, will not be a factor in considering Myanmar’s membership into ASEAN.”23 This decision led not only to increased external pressure on ASEAN to refrain from admitting Myanmar until some progress had been made on the human rights front; but it also led to mounting domestic pressure in various ASEAN countries to take the same action (see below). In 1997 pressure within ASEAN to defer Myanmar’s membership mounted. But a change in Thai government and the EU’s willingness to set this issue aside, tipped the balance back to ASEAN’s original position to admit Myanmar. Malaysia, as host to the 30th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, once again began to lobby strongly for the expansion of ASEAN to include all ten Southeast Asian states. Malaysia received support from Indonesia, Vietnam and the new government in Thailand. In July, Myanmar and Laos were admitted as ASEAN’s newest members. CAMBODIA’S MEMBERSHIP In July 1997, the question of Myanmar’s membership was overshadowed by the breakdown of political order in Cambodia on the eve of ASEAN’s annual ministerial meeting in Malaysia. The violent upheaval in Phnom Penh shattered the coalition government of Cambodia. Prince Norodom Rannaridth, populist political leader Sam Rainsy, and their supporters were forced into exile. Military forces loyal to Rannaridth made common cause with Khmer Rouge remnants and continued a rear guard action. Sixty thousand refugees streamed
Richardson, Singapore, ‘Burma’s Bid For ASEAN Membership Reaffirmed,’ International Herald Tribune, 2 December 1996. Myanmar in, but ASEAN should also heed international opinion,’ editorial, The Jakarta Post, 4 December 1996.
13 across the border into Thailand. It was in this emotionally charged climate that ASEAN attempted to broker a political settlement. On 10th July a special meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers reaffirmed the association’s adherence to the principle of non-interference and at the same time offered its good offices to the warring Cambodian parties. Cambodia’s foreign minister accepted the offer. This resulted in the setting up what became known as the ASEAN troika, an informal body composed of the foreign ministers of Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. On 19th July the ASEAN troika met with Hun Sen but he proved most uncooperative. The 1997 AMM therefore postponed Cambodia’s membership to a later date. At the fourth ARF that met immediately after the AMM, consensus was reached that ASEAN should make the policy running on Cambodia. ASEAN members were part of the international community that signed the October 1991 Cambodian peace agreements. ASEAN argued that this provided a legal basis to justify its efforts to broker a settlement between warring Cambodian political factions. The ASEAN troika initiated discussions with the Hun Sen government about how to restore conditions of political stability so that Cambodia could be admitted. In addition, ASEAN ‘s role was not only endorsed by the international community (at the fourth ARF meeting) but also accepted by the Hun Sen government in Phnom Penh. ASEAN’s policy of engagement with Cambodia was aimed at re-establishing political order on the basis of the 1991 Paris Agreement and 1993 Cambodian Constitution and to prevent the political-military situation in Cambodia from spilling over and affecting regional security.24 ASEAN’s policy of constructive
There is only one sense in which internal conflict in Cambodia in 1997 represented a potential threat to regional security; and that is the scenario in which Cambodia aligned itself with China and remained outside of ASEAN. The argument for this scenario rests on speculation arising from the expulsion of the Taiwan representative office shortly after the events of July 1997 and continued Chinese support for the Hun Sen government before and after these events. According to this line of thinking, ASEAN was motivated by a grand strategy of uniting
14 engagement was also aimed at deflecting US and EU pressures for more direct forms of intervention such as economic sanctions. The Hun Sen government was highly suspicious of the ASEAN troika and accused it of bias and interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs. Indonesia’s veteran foreign minister became so incensed that he reportedly threatened to resign from the troika. It was only as a result of Japanese diplomatic intervention that a political settlement was eventually reached. Rannaridth, Sam Rainsy, and their supporters returned to Phnom Penh and contested elections held in 1998. The Cambodian elections were conducted by the incumbent Hun Sen government that used all the advantages of its position in power. There was widespread violence and intimidation directed against opposition groups. The elections were observed by tens of thousands of Cambodian volunteers and by international observers from ASEAN, Europe, the United States, Japan and Australia under UN coordination. The incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen won 64 seats. Norodom Rannaridth FUNCINPEC’s won 43 seats, while the Sam Rainsy party secured only 15. Although the CPP won an absolute majority, it fell short of the two-thirds majority (81 seats) necessary to form a government in the 122-seat National Assembly. Both Rannaridth and Rainsy alleged fraud and initially refused to discuss the formation of a coalition government until their charges were investigated. Because the elections were conducted in a climate of violence and intimidation, no international observer judged them to be completely free and fair. Nevertheless, due to the extremely high level of voter turnout, secrecy of the ballot box, and generally fair counting, ASEAN accepted the results as broadly reflecting Cambodian popular opinion. Pressure was put on the Cambodian parties to reach a compromise. It was not until December, however, that a coalition government was formed and approved by the National Assembly.
Southeast Asia so as to be in a better geopolitical position to deal with external powers in general and China in particular.
15 That same month Vietnam hosted the sixth ASEAN summit in Hanoi. Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam used this opportunity to lobby strongly for Cambodia’s admission into ASEAN. Cam even went so far as to announce publicly that agreement had been reached. This provoked dissension by several of his ASEAN counterparts. A compromise was quickly reached — it was decided to admit Cambodia at a “special ceremony” to be convened later. As noted above, Cambodia became ASEAN’s tenth member on 30th April 1999. FROM CONSTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT TO ENHANCED INTERACTION The cases of Myanmar and Cambodia have challenged ASEAN’s long-standing policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of member states. ASEAN elites and some policy-makers began to propose either the modification or the abandonment of ASEAN’s policy of non-interference. They argued that ASEAN members had already interfered in the internal affairs of Myanmar in myriad ways. For example, government officials and politicians had commented on the domestic political situation in Myanmar. In addition the media, political parties, youth groups, local NGOs and prominent personalities made highly critical statements of the SLORC regime.25 The prospective admission of Myanmar as a full member of ASEAN became a contentious issue among ASEAN members, within ASEAN states, and between ASEAN and its dialogue partners. Intra-ASEAN differences involved proponents of early membership (Indonesia and Malaysia) versus those who advocated delayed membership (the Philippines, Singapore26 and Thailand). NGO groups played a strong domestic role. In Malaysia, for example, they petitioned their government to alter its policy favoring Myanmar’s early
detailed background see: Carlyle A. Thayer, ‘ASEAN’s Expanding Membership,’ Written submission to the ASEAN Inquiry, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, 38th Parliament, Submissions. Canberra, March 1997, vol. 1, 71-94.
16 admission. In Thailand, domestic NGOs took up the cause of Myanmar’s prodemocracy movement and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The question of Myanmar’s domestic record on human rights and its membership in ASEAN also became an issue between ASEAN and its dialogue partners, particularly the United States27 and the European Union.28 The sub-sections below provide a detailed overview of the debate within the five original ASEAN members.
Singapore later changed its position.
In May-June 1996, in advance of the ASEAN ministerial meeting, President Bill Clinton dispatched two envoys, William Brown and Stanley Roth, to Southeast Asia to gather regional support for pressure on Myanmar to stop repressing its pro-democracy movement. The envoys were given a polite hearing but ASEAN reaffirmed its policy of constructive engagement. On 3rd October, President Clinton signed into law a bill that allowed him to ban new investment in Myanmar if SLORC harmed or re-arrested opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. This sanction could be invoked at the President’s discretion and was authorized as part of an amendment to the 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill. President Clinton also issued a proclamation banning SLORC officials and their families from entering the United States. The United States has also stopped providing funds to ASEAN regional projects in such areas as the environment, science and technology and human resources because of its objections to Myanmar. This issue was discussed at a ASEAN-US meeting held in Kuala Lumpur in May 2000. A joint statement issued afterwards included an ASEAN acknowledgement of US bilateral assistance but called for greater US participation “at the regional level” (thus including Myanmar). The US “noted that the situation in Myanmar remained a source of instability in the region”, while ASEAN “noted the on-going efforts of Myanmar in promoting peace, tranquility and stability in the region.” See: Dispatch from Washington, ‘Investment ban if Suu Kyi is re-arrested,’ The Straits Times, 3 October 1993; AFP and Reuters, Washington, Los Angeles, and Rangoon, ‘US bans Burma’s “repressive” rulers,’ The Weekend Australian, 5-6 October 1996; and Reuters, Kuala Lumpur, 25 May 2000. For a recent overview of US policy towards Myanmar consult: “Report to Congress on Conditions in , U.S. Policy toward Burma, U.S. Department of State, International Information Programs, Washington file, 4 November 1999 and “US suspends economic aid to Myanmar,” SEALS/56, ASEAN-L@LISTSERV.INDIANA.EDU, 7 AY 2000.
In a statement issued in July 1996, the 15-member European Union warned that if Myanmar became a full member of ASEAN it could jeopardize efforts to build closer EU-ASEAN relations. The EU was particularly concerned about the death in custody of James Nichols, a former honorary consul for several Europeans nations. Domestic pressure was put on European firms (Heineken and Carlsberg) to boycott Myanmar. In October 1996, while on a visit to Thailand, Norway’s Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland criticized ASEAN’s policy of constructive engagement and said her country was seeking international support for sanctions against the SLORC regime. Later that month the EU foreign ministers adopted sanctions against Myanmar including: a ban on visas for SLORC officials, including military and security personnel; expulsion of all military personnel from Myanmar embassies and the withdrawal of EU attaches; suspension of all bilateral development cooperation (except humanitarian assistance and programs aimed at poverty alleviation or to promote human rights); and a ban on all high-level governmental contacts. The EU Parliament also called on ASEAN to refuse Myanmar’s application for membership “until the SLORC has stepped down from power and democratic rule has been restored.” The question of Myanmar’s membership in ASEAN also featured at the twelfth ministerial talks between the EU and ASEAN held in Singapore in mid-
17 Indonesia. The Indonesian government’s support for the early admission of Myanmar into ASEAN provoked dissension by intellectuals. In October 1996, before the decision to admit the C-L-M countries simultaneously was made, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, one of Indonesia’s leading strategic analysts, provided “four compelling reasons” for delaying Myanmar’s membership in ASEAN.29 She argued:
There was a greater need to facilitate the entry of Cambodia and Laos into ASEAN. These countries lacked sufficient numbers of English-speaking officials, relevant institutions, and financial and other technical means to carry out intensive regional cooperation. Because of this, Anwar argued, “[ASEAN] will have its hands full trying to mobilise resources, from within
February 1997. Myanmar’s membership and ASEAN (as well as the question of East Timor) were kept off the formal agenda. The former issue was dealt with at an informal lunch. Spain’s foreign minister Manuel Marin warned ASEAN that if Myanmar was admitted without having to undertake reforms, it would be difficult to get the European Parliament to renew agreements with ASEAN. Thailand responded by arguing that both sides had a “shared responsibility” to find a solution and that the EU should press Aung San Suu Kyi into dropping her call for sanctions against Yangoon. Thai foreign minister Prachuab Chaiyasarn argued, “the West should also talk to Aung San Suu Kyi to tone down and lend a hand to the other side to start consultations” [i.e. dialogue with SLORC]. In the end the two sides “agreed to disagree” and focus instead on economic issues. Since Myanmar’s admission into ASEAN, the EU has refused to issue visas to Myanmar officials to attend meetings in Europe. For example, a meeting of EUASEAN foreign ministers scheduled for March 1999 in Berlin was cancelled because of Myanmar’s participation. Most recently the EU has signaled a slight shift in its policy. Portugal, the current EU President, has offered to host a meeting of EU and ASEAN senior officials, including Myanmar, in Lisbon. Portugese officials cautioned, however, that a follow-on meeting of foreign ministers could not be guaranteed if any of the EU’s members objected. The EU also wants to have a dialogue with Myanmar first. Myanmar has indicated to its ASEAN partners that it is now willing to discuss any matter that the EU wishes to raise — including human rights and democracy. In April 2000 the European Union extended its economic sanctions against Myanmar to include freezing assets by members of the SPDC in EU countries and a ban on export of equipment that may be used for repression. The EU also released a list of Myanmar generals prohibited from visiting EU countries. See: ‘Norway seeks Burma sanctions,’ Bangkok, The West Australian, 9 October 1996; AFP, Luxembourg, ‘Myanmar rulers face visa ban under EU sanctions package,’ The Straits Times, 28 October 1996; Nussara Sawatsawang, ‘Put democracy before ASEAN role — Amnuay,’ Bangkok Post, 30 October 1996; Harpajan Singh, ‘Indigestion over Myanmar’s entry,’ The Star, 19 February 1997; Reuter, Singapore, 15 February 1997; The Nation [Bangkok], 31 March 2000; Democratic Voice of Burma [Oslo], 11 April 2000; and editorial, “Burma Still Obstacle to ASEAN-EU Ties,” The Nation [Bangkok], 24 April 2000.
Fortuna Anwar, ‘Compelling reasons for Asean to delay Myanmar’s membership,’ The Straits Times, 26 October 1996.
18 the region as well as from friends outside the region, to assist in the regional integration of Cambodia and Laos. Without active help from ASEAN, the new members may feel marginalised and soon disillusioned.” The early admission of Myanmar would stretch ASEAN’s very thin resources. The lack of unanimity within and among member countries regarding Myanmar’s membership. Anwar argued that ASEAN should stick to its principle of consensus. She drew attention to the dissenting views expressed by President Fidel Ramos (see below) and, in addition, the views of domestic groups within individual ASEAN states that opposed Myanmar’s membership. There were doubts about Myanmar’s support for regional cooperation and ASEAN. Anwar wrote “The SLORC leaders’ commitment to the idea of regional cooperation in general and ASEAN in particular is not unequivocal.” Anwar also argued that membership might serve to legitimize the SLORC:
Only one–one-and a half years ago, SLORC still considered ASEAN a Western colonial tool, membership in which would compromise Myanmar’s long-held neutrality. There is clearly a need for Myanmar to spell out its commitment to the ideals of ASEAN more definitely. Without such a declaration, one might wonder whether the Myanmar government is trying to use the grouping as a public relations vehicle to improve its international image. In such a case, ASEAN is open to vilification from a substantial part of Myanmar’s population, a situation that would be detrimental to its image as the harbinger of peace and prosperity in the region.
The possible negative effects of Myanmar’s membership on ASEAN’s extraregional relations. ASEAN’s effectiveness in the international arena owed much to support from its dialogue partners. While ASEAN should not bow to external pressures, Anwar argued, it did need to take them into account.
19 The political and human rights situation in Myanmar was not an albatross that ASEAN needed to wear around its neck. In short, the early admission of Myanmar could damage ASEAN’s high international reputation. According to an Asian diplomat, “ASEAN wants to achieve a united Southeast Asia and knows that it can never do so if its members interfere in each other’s internal affairs. But admitting Burma too hastily, when repression has recently been increasing, not decreasing, would inevitably tarnish ASEAN’s standing.”30 As ASEAN officials and intellectuals debated the question of Myanmar’s membership, some Indonesians became critical of the absolute nature of the principle of non-intervention. Jusuf Wanandi argued that an exception should be made in the case of Myanmar. He wrote, for example:
It is important for ASEAN to lay down a road map for its three new members so that they adjust to the group’s principles. In the economic field, they should adopt sound macro economic policies. A road map for political development is especially important for Burma. The government must understand that membership in ASEAN brings with it not only rights but obligations.... Here ASEAN could play a role. Despite the principle of non intervention in each other’s affairs that ASEAN espouses, it would be right to make an exception in Burma’s case. But is should be done quietly, in the right way, the ASEAN way. 31
The views of Anwar and Wanandi went unheeded, President Suharto and Foreign Minister Ali Alatas both pressed for Myanmar’s admission in 1997.
Richardson, Singapore, ‘ASEAN Likely to Delay Burma’s Entry,’ International Herald Tribune, 29 November 1996. Wanandi, ‘Partners Should Nudge Burma.’ International Herald Tribune, June 5, 1997.
20 Malaysia. In late August 1996, General Than Shwe, chairman of SLORC, visited Malaysia and requested that Myanmar’s membership be brought forward to July 1997. His request received immediate endorsement by the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir who stated he wanted Myanmar to become a ASEAN member on the association’s 30th anniversary. This provoked thirty-three local NGOs the following month to call on their government to postpone Myanmar’s membership until a democratically elected government was in power. Ahmad Azam, secretary-general of ABIM (Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement) called on the Malaysian government to include “initiatives for the peaceful transition of power from the military to democratically elected representatives of the people” in its policy of constructive engagement.32 Taking note of the differences among ASEAN members and within Malaysia as well, Azam advocated setting preconditions on Myanmar’s membership:
Now, toward the end of ASEAN’s third decade, the grouping is becoming more mature as a regional political and economic forum representing nearly half-a-billion people. It is time for ASEAN to include basic human rights and democratic reforms in its purview. ASEAN has the opportunity to give its neighbor invaluable assistance. At the next ASEAN (informal) summit in Jakarta at the end of November, member countries can propose to SLORC a condition for full membership that is fundamental and pragmatic for the people of Myanmar. The condition: a genuine tripartite dialogue between SLORC, the democratic forces led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the ethnic nationalities. The dialogue can be mediated by ASEAN itself or by one ASEAN member with the cooperation of the others. This will eventually lead to a peaceful and prosperous Myanmar, and a better record for ASEAN.33
Azam’s views were rejected by the Prime Minister. In October Mahathir joined with visiting Indonesian President Suharto in issuing a joint statement defending ASEAN’s policy of constructive engagement with Myanmar. They
Myanmar’s entry into Asean, say NGOs,’ The Star, 19 September 1996.
Azam Abdul Rahman, ‘The entry condition: genuine tripartite dialogue,’ Asiaweek, 18 November 1996.
21 argued that its human rights record should not be a cause for delaying membership.34
In November, Malaysia’s opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) issued a statement requesting the government to drop its sponsorship of Myanmar’s membership in ASEAN “in view of the positions taken by Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.”35 This call went unheeded. On 4th November Prime Minister Mahathir reiterated that the time was ripe for Myanmar to be admitted and Malaysia was keen for this to occur at ASEAN’s 30th anniversary celebrations. This provoked the Burma Solidarity Group of Malaysia, representing a variety of NGOs, the DAP and Malaysian Trade Union Council, to present a memorandum to the government calling on it to abandon its policy of constructive engagement as this policy had failed to bring about democratic reforms. The Burman Solidarity Group urged Malaysia to use its good offices to promote dialogue between the SLORC and Aung San Suu Kyi. Others argued that Myanmar and Cambodia represented special cases and that ASEAN should adopt a policy of “constructive intervention.” “Construction intervention,” it was argued, was not a violation of ASEAN’s principle of noninterference but was an “ASEAN solution to an ASEAN problem.” This view was best articulated by the Institute of Policy Research, a Malaysian research think tank that provided policy advice to Anwar Ibrahim, then Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. In an influential article
Saw Lay, AFP, Kuala Lumpur, ‘Leaders back Burma open-door policy,’ The Australian, 8 October 1996.
Pereira, Kuala Lumpur, ‘KL says it again: Time to admit Myanmar into ASEAN,’ The Straits Times, 5 November 1996. More recently, in the wake of the seizure of a provincial hospital in Ratchburi, Thailand by “God’s Army” from Myanmar, the DAP called on “ASEAN member countries and the international community to consider to intervene into the problem in Burma, and to impress upon the Burmese military regime to recognise the wishes of the people of Burma for political reforms. ASEAN is in the best position to play a mediating role in the internal conflict in Burma,” see: Democratic Action Party of Malaysia [Petaling Jaya], www-text, 27 January 2000.
22 published in mid-1997 Anwar argued the case for constructive intervention in this way:
Chaos has worked its masterpiece. The madness in Cambodia calls for a reconsideration of the way Southeast Asia handles its interstate engagements. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must now move from being a largely reactive organization to one that is proactive. We need to “intervene” before simmering problems erupt into full-blown crises, like the one now unfolding in Cambodia. Perhaps it is now appropriate to seriously consider the idea of “constructive interventions”.... ASEAN has to accept the dawning reality that with the entry of new members, which include some of the poorest countries in the world and which are distinguished by their political and social underdevelopment, new problems will emerge. These problems are ASEAN’s to solve if Southeast Asia is not to be divided in two – one poor and the other rich.... So much is at stake that ASEAN cannot afford to remain uninvolved. Our noninvolvement in the reconstruction of Cambodia actually contributed to the deterioration and final collapse of national reconciliation. We should have nursed the baby, at least through its teething period. That’s why we need to consider the idea of “constructive intervention.” This new framework [of constructive intervention] would be consistent with United Nations ideals. It does not violate the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of another state. ASEAN’s direct involvement in the affairs of its members is but the application of an ASEAN solution to an ASEAN problem. Given the nature of the problems that we may face in the region, where the threat of spillovers of domestic economic, social and political upheavals can seriously undermine the stability of the entire region, we should reach a consensus to adopt this approach. 36
Abdul Rahman Adnan, the director of the Institute of Policy Research argued in a similar vein:
Given the nature of the problems that we may face in the region, it will be necessary to re-examine our long-held notions regarding the resolution of regional crises. This is particularly so when domestic economic, social and political upheavals in one country can seriously undermine the stability of its neighbors and the region as a whole. Although in the past Asean has been loath to involve itself in the domestic affairs of its members, this may no longer be a luxury it can afford. Thus ‘constructive intervention’ could be one mechanism to resolve regional problems. This concept in no way violates Asean’s principle of noninterference in the domestic affairs of another country. What it advocates is that Asean must proactively involve itself in the resolution of problems that occur in its own neighborhood, usually with the consent of the member concerned. In the case of Cambodia, Asean has already been invited to mediate. Constructive intervention means providing not only assistance in time of political crises, but also the continuous deployment of regional resources for economic and social development in the poorer parts of the region. Already
Ibrahim, ‘Crisis Prevention,’ Newsweek, July 21, 1997, 29.
Asean has ‘intervened’ in some of these issues on an ad hoc basis. The time has arrived to explore this avenue more thoroughly and put in place a guideline of just what exactly constructive intervention would entail. Asean may want to review the various forms that constructive intervention could take, such as assistance toward legal and bureaucratic reforms, measures to promote human resources development, and the general strengthening of the rule of law of civil society. In essence, ‘constructive intervention’ affirms our belief that all of us in the region live in a common home, as members of a large family, and must therefore share in equal measure the shouldering of its commitments, burdens and responsibilities.37
Prime Minister Mahathir rejected these calls, and as noted above, joined with President Suharto in pressing for the admission of Myanmar at the July 1997 ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. Philippines. Rifts within ASEAN on the question of Myanmar’s membership came to the surface in October 1996 when President Fidel Ramos suggested that ASEAN might review its policy of constructive engagement towards Myanmar at an informal meeting of leaders scheduled for Jakarta in late November. President Ramos also called for a reconsideration of Myanmar’s application on the ground of “failing to familiarise itself with the political mechanisms of Asean states.”38 Former President Corazon Aquino also called for an improvement in Myanmar before the country was admitted to ASEAN. As a result the SLORC regime refused her request for a visa to visit. This prompted one columnist to argue:
By barring Ms. Aquino, Yangon has proven, once and for all, that it is not quite ready to join the Association for Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN isn’t meant for cowards. So long as that repressive cowardly regime remains in power, Yangon is thoroughly undeserving of the place ASEAN has graciously reserved for the people of Myanmar.
Rahman Adnan, ‘ASEAN Turns to “Constructive Intervention”,’ The Asian Wall Street Journal, July 30, 1997.
worries Asean,’ Nation Today [Manila], 4 October 1996. For a further illustration of Filipino attitudes see: Frankie Liaguno Charivari, ‘No ID, no entry for Burma,’ The Manila Times, 4 October 1996.
ASEAN isn’t a place for the likes of the SLORC generals. It simply does not have the spirit of ASEAN.39
And, in early November 1996, a meeting of the Forum of Democratic Leaders in Manila issued a declaration calling for an embargo on arms sales and international investment in Myanmar as well as a delay in any decision on Myanmar’s application for membership.40 The meeting also warned that “the fumes of discontent” could explode into violence affecting the whole of Asia Pacific. The meeting was attended by one hundred delegates from fifteen nations including Corazon Aquino, Kim Dae Jung (South Korea) and Sein Win (prime minister of the Burmese government-in-exile). Singapore. On 9th October 1996, an editorial in The Straits Times signaled a shift in Singapore’s policy. The editorial argued that SLORC must move towards political pluralism or risk exhausting the patience of ASEAN. The editorial noted that President Ramos’ remarks were the “clearest indication” that “patience is wearing thin.” It then asserted: “[SLORC has to] show results in its constitutional maneuvers” otherwise “ASEAN will feel under increasing pressure... to reassess its policy of constructive engagement, to say nothing of deferring membership for Myanmar.”41 The editorial concluded by calling on SLORC to respect the outcome of the 1990 general election and to bring the National League of Democracy back into constitutional discussions. Political
R. Dizon, ‘Am I dreaming? ASEANWatch,’ Business World, 29 October 1996.
on transition from dictatorship to democracy,’ issued by the Forum of Democratic Leaders in the Asia-Pacific, BurmaNet News via Internet in English, 6 November 1996; Reuter, Manila, 4 November 1996; AFP, Manila, ‘Aquino urges Myanmar to bring back freedom,’ Business Times, 4 November 1996; ‘Burma discontent “may poison all of Asia”,’ Hong Kong Standard, 4 November 1996; and Marie Orara, Manila, ‘Philippines/Burma,’ Voice of America, 1452 UTC, 4 November 1996.
25 observers were quick to point out that The Straits Times often reflected government views. At the end of the month Singapore’s Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong stated in an interview with Finland’s MTV 3 television, “My own view is I don’t think Myanmar is quite ready in the near future to adopt all the obligations of being a member of ASEAN.”42 Membership, he said, depended on Myanmar’s ability to assume AFTA obligations. Finally, Goh noted “I myself don’t know at this stage how Myanmar would rank against the Laotians and Cambodians. But it is possible that Myanmar may be the last member to join ASEAN.”43 Thailand. In October 1996, Thai Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa stated that Laos and Cambodia would become members before Myanmar, and Myanmar’s internal problems would be a bar to membership in 1997.44 These reviews were reinforced by Deputy Prime Minister Kasem S. Kasemsri who declared that Myanmar was not ready for ASEAN membership and the international community was losing patience with the SLORC regime. “Being simply an ASEAN member is of no benefit to either the newcomer or the old members,” he said. “The most important thing is how the new member can participate in ASEAN effectively, and this is only possible for those who are familiar with
by Reuter, Singapore 9 October 1996; Nussara Sawatsawang, ‘Top officials to discuss Burma request,’ Bangkok Post, 14 October 1996. Wee, ‘Myanmar will join ASEAN when it is ready: PM Goh,’ Business Times, 2 November 1996; and ‘Burma’s Asean membership to be delayed,’ Singapore, Hong Kong Standard, 1 November 1996.
Pereira, Kuala Lumpur, ‘KL says it again: Time to admit Myanmar into ASEAN,’ The Straits Times, 5 November 1996. by Evan Williams, Radio Australia external service, Melbourne, in English 0800 gmt, 8 October 1996.
26 ASEAN’s work.”45 Next, Thai Foreign Minister Amnuay Viravan stated that Myanmar should complete drafting a constitution, hold general elections, and bring democracy to the country before becoming a full member of ASEAN. 46 In his view, Myanmar would need “some time” to prepare for full membership. As in Malaysia and the Philippines, Thai NGO groups made their opposition to Myanmar’s membership in ASEAN known. On 30th October 1996, for example, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia) issued an “Alternative ASEAN Declaration on Burma” at a Bangkok meeting of academics, human rights activists and trade unionists.47 The declaration called on ASEAN to drop its policy of constructive engagement and replace it with meaningful guidelines for democratic improvements. It also called for the expulsion of Myanmar from the United Nations. Thai policy changed to one of support for Myanmar’s admission into ASEAN after the November 1996 elections and change of government. The new prime minister, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh stated in early 1997, for example, that he wanted the C-L-M countries to join “as soon as possible.” 48 Thailand’s change
by Nussara Sawatsawang, ‘ASEAN goal fades amid fears for Suu Ky,’ The Bangkok Post, 25 October 1996.
Sawatsawang, ‘Put democracy before ASEAN role — Amnuay,’ Bangkok Post, 30 October 1996. For a discussion of Thai foreign policy towards Myanmar see: Nussara Sawatsawang, ‘Burmese ambassador faced with new range of bilateral issues,’ Bangkok Post, 5 November 1996. Human rights and democracy along with border issues are now the main concerns.
urged to oust regime,’ Bangkok Post, 29 October 1996; Radio Australia external service, Melbourne, in English, 1400 gmt, 30 October 1996; and ‘Groups urge UN to leave seat empty,’ Bangkok Post, 1 November 1996. The meeting was attended by forty-six non-government groups from twenty countries.
change in policy on Myanmar despite unrest,’ Straits Times, 16 January 1997.
27 of policy swung the balance; it joined Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam in support of Myanmar’s membership.
Thai policy underwent a 180-degree change when the Chavalit government was replaced in late 1997 by a coalition led by Chuan Leekpai. On 1 June 1998, in an address to a security round table in Kuala Lumpur, Surin Pitsuwan, the new Foreign, announced his endorsement of “constructive intervention” in those cases where “a domestic concern poses a threat to regional security.” Surin argued,
ASEAN members perhaps no longer can afford to adopt a non-committal stand and avoid passing judgement on events in members countries… however, if domestic events in one member’s territory impact adversely on another member’s internal affairs, not to mention regional peace and prosperity, much can be said in favour of ASEAN members playing a more proactive role… ASEAN countries have an overriding interest in the internal affairs of [their] fellow members and may, on occasion, find it necessary to recommend a certain course of action on specific issues that affect us all, directly or indirectly… We may need to make intra-ASEAN relations more… ‘constructive' than before. 49
Surin’s views reflected the frustration of the Thai national security bureaucracy over the failure of its policy of constructive engagement towards Myanmar to achieve any results.50
Surin Pitsuwan, “Currrency Turmoil in Asia: The Strategic Impact,” Remarks at the 12 th AsiaPacific Roundtable, Kuala Lumpur, 1 June 1998. See also Surin Pitsuwan, Keynote address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs at Thammasat University on theoccasion of the 49 th anniversary of the Faculty of Political Science, 12 June 1998.
Thai-Myanmar bilateral relations have been bedeviled by a number of problems including the flight into Thailand of large numbers of refugees fleeing repression and fighting inside Burma (especially from the Karen ethnic minority group). Refugee figures are estimated at 300,000 including 3,000 student activists who have made Thailand their base to launch propaganda attacks against the Myanmar government. This group is known as the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front. Fighting in Myanmar sometimes spills over into Thailand; Thai officials claim there have been twelve major incursions since 1988 (up to April 2000). On occasion SPDC-sponsored militias, known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, have deliberately attacked refugee holding camps on Thai soil. Other irritants in bilateral relations include: illegal migration of Myanmar workers (estimated at one million), relocation of the Wa minority to locations along the Myanmar-Thai border, cross-border smuggling and drug trafficking, the revocation of business permits to Thai traders and border closures as a form of political pressure, restrictions on imports from Thailand, and the encroachment by Thai fishermen into Myanmar’s fishing grounds. In recent years methamphetamine has surpassed heroin as the largest source of illegal drugs brought into Thailand. Thai authorities claim that most of it is manufactured in Myanmar. Myanmar authorities counter-claim that the chemicals used in methamphetamine production originate in Thailand.
28 As a result of opposition from other ASEAN members, Surin modified his proposal and now called for “flexible engagement.” This modified formulation was spelled out in a short “non-paper” that was circulated at the 1998 ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila. Surin argued that if ASEAN failed to address the Asian economic crisis and the challenges of globalization and interdependence, ASEAN’s credibility and capacity to promote and protect its interests would erode. The purpose of flexible engagement’ was to create an ASEAN regional community in which individual members had responsibilities as well as rights. Surin argued:
The dividing line between domestic affairs on the one hand and external or trans-national issues on the other is less clear. Many ‘domestic’ affairs have obvious external or transThai-Myanmar relations were strained by two major incidents in 1999-2000 involving dissident groups from Myanmar operating in Thailand. In October 1999 five students seized the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok. After negotiations the students were escorted by the Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Sukhumbhand Paribatra in a helicopter and released long the ThaiMyanmar border. The students returned to Myanmar and were given refuge by a group known as “God’s Army,” a breakaway group from the Karen National Union. This drew protests from the Yangoon government which closed its border with Thailand for two months and banned Thai fishing craft from its waters. In the second incident, a 10-member group from “God’s Army”, which included two student veterans of the 1999 Embassy occupation, seized a provincial hospital in Ratachaburi province on 24-25 January. They were killed while elite Thai troops stormed the hospital. On this occasion Thai newspapers and NGOs (Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development or Forum-Asia; Friends Without Borders, Union of Civil Liberty, Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma ant Altsean Burma) blamed SPDC repression as being the root cause of the incident. Thai-Burma relations came under further strain on 21 February when the Myanmar Foreign Minister formally asked his Thai counterpart not to attend a seminar on Myanmar in Seoul scheduled for 5-6 March. Foreign Minister Win Aung called on Surin Pitsuwan not to take part for the sake of “Asean spirit and solidarity.” Thai officials denounced the Myanmar letter as blatant interference in Thailand’s internal affairs. Thailand reaffirmed its decision to attend the seminar but downgraded the level of representation from deputy minister to senior official. The meeting in Seoul was a follow on to a meeting held at Chilton Park, England in October 1998. It was organized by the United Nations and South Korea to explore how to implement the annual UN resolution on the situation in Burma. The Chilton Park meeting agreed to encourage change in Myanmar by offering the government US $1 billion in aid in return for reforms. The Yangoon government flatly turned down the offer. This necessitated the convening of a second meeting which was attended by senior officials from fourteen countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, Portugal (representing the EU), Britain, France, the United States and ASEAN members Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines (Indonesia declined to attend). According to press accounts, Japan, South Korea and the three ASEAN countries (Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia) agreed on the need to continue engagement with Myanmar and to assist in human resource development and economic reform. The Seoul meeting also agreed: to increase humanitarian assistance especially for persons living along the Thai-Myanmar border, and to call for the quick appointment of a new UN Special Envoy for Burma to kick-start a process of political dialogue and national reconciliation (the opening of a political dialogue between the SPDC and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi).
national dimensions, adversely affecting neighbors, the region and the region’s relations with others. In such cases, the affected countries should be able to express their opinions and concerns in open, frank and constructive manner…51
Thailand’s new policy of flexible engagement was backed by the Philippines but failed to secure the endorsement of any other ASEAN member at the 1998 AMM. It was bitterly criticized by Myanmar and publicly rejected by Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Although it was discussed at an informal meeting of ASEAN ministers it was not placed on the official ASEAN agenda and therefore was not mentioned in the final communiqué. Despite differences between ASEAN, within ASEAN states, and between ASEAN and its dialogue partners, ASEAN proceeded to admit Myanmar as a member in July 1997. This result was obtained due to strong Malaysian leadership on the issue, coupled with strong support by Indonesia. Vietnam supported Myanmar’s membership from the beginning. Brunei and Singapore sided with the plurality, leaving Thailand and the Philippines in the minority. ASEAN TROIKA Political instability in Indonesia, which threatens the “balkanization” of that island archipelago,52 coupled with the recent failure of ASEAN to mount an effective response to the unfolding tragedy in East Timor,53 has once again raised the question of what role if any should ASEAN play. 54 ASEAN sought to
Non-Paper on The Flexible Engagement Approach’, July 27, 1998. The term is not dead, as recently as April 2000 a leading Thai academic argued that flexible engagement might be a better policy than ASEAN’s constructive engagement; see: Supamart Kasem, “Thai Expert Calls for ‘Flexible Engagement’ with Burma,” Bangkok Post, 23 April 2000.
T. Almonte, “Speak with One Voice on the South China Sea,” Pacific Forum-CSIS, PacNet 11, March 17, 2000 has used this term in a wider context to embrace the whole region: “it is this lesson — that disunity can result in balkanization — that is ASEAN’s principal reason for being.”
Barry Wain, “Asean Goes Missing in Action in East Timor,” The Asian Wall Street Journal, 25 February 2000. There is also an element of resentment on the part of some ASEAN officials, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia but also in Thailand, over Australia’s high-profile role in leading the UN Intervention Force in East Timor (INTERFET).
commentary in a Vietnamese newspaper went so far as to argue the western media reports of rifts in ASEAN on the question of East Timor were fabrications. “ASEAN members unanimously consider the East Timor issue an internal affair for Indonesia, and the right of the people of East Timor to decide on their own political future should be respected,” it stated. Kim
30 address this contentious issue at its November 1999 third informal summit in Manila. ASEAN leaders affirmed their support for the unity of Indonesia. But faced with the prospect of a spill over affect arising from Indonesia’s domestic instability, they opted to hedge their bets. It was in this context that Thailand (with support from the Philippines) successfully proposed that an ASEAN troika be set up. Surprisingly, consensus was reached to consider the establishment of such a mechanism to deal more effectively and cooperatively with “issues affecting peace and stability in the region.” ASEAN officials cited its intervention in Cambodia in 1997-98 as precedent for their decision.55 The concept of an ASEAN troika was discussed at a meeting of ASEAN senior officials held in Cha-am, Thailand in March 2000. According to press accounts,56 the meeting discussed two options: (1) a permanent troika modeled on the European Union comprising the immediate previous, present and future heads of the ASEAN Standing Committee or (2) a temporary troika to be set up on a case-by-case basis for a conflict to prevent negative impact on regional peace and stability. The meeting affirmed its support for a non-permanent troika to deal with “issues or crises that affect regional security” on a case-by-case basis but also upheld ASEAN’s principle of non-interference. Press reports also indicated, that “[t]he meeting did not discuss the terms of reference for the troika, but several countries said it must be flexible. The criteria for the dispatch of the troika must be based on whether or not the conflict will affect the security and stability of the region or individual
Thu, “Suy Dien Vung Ve (Clumsily Cooked-up Stories),” Quan Doi Nhan Dan, 17 October 1999, 3.
officials glossed over the difficulties they encountered in dealing with the Hun Sen regime. In an act of historical revisionism they asserted that the ASEAN troika had been a success.
Bhanravee Tansubhapol, “Thailand to Hose ASEAN Forum on ‘Preventive Diplomacy’,” The Bangkok Post, 12 March 2000; Sa-nguan Khumrungroj, “ASEAN Members Agree on Concept of Setting Up ‘Troika’ Team,” The Nation, 17 March 2000; and “Thai Official: Consensus Needed for ASEAN Troika System,” The Bangkok Post, 18 May 2000 .
31 members.”57 The meeting also reached general agreement that a consensus of all ten ASEAN foreign ministers would be required before the troika can be set up. The senior officials also recommended that the ASEAN troika would exercise its good offices only with the consent of all members and parties involved in a dispute. They also supported flexibility in the composition of the troika’s membership to prevent a conflict of interest arising in cases involving countries in a dispute. Further discussions on the concept of an ASEAN troika will be held by ASEAN foreign meeting at their forthcoming annual ministerial meeting in Thailand in July this year. CODE OF CONDUCT Six countries , including four ASEAN members, lay claim to territory in the South China Sea. China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim the entire area, while claims by Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei are more limited. From 1949 until 1974, the People’s Republic of China was not physically present in this area. In 1974 Chinese forces seized the southern Paracel islands from the Republic of Vietnam. It was only in 1988 that China moved to occupy features in the Spratly archipelago. In March of that year China occupied several features and successfully defeated Vietnam in a minor naval skirmish. In 1992 China became more assertive and occupied several more unpopulated features. Chinese actions appeared to be directed at undercutting Vietnamese claims. In 1995, however, China’s actions brought it into diplomatic confrontation with ASEAN as an organization. In that year Vietnam joined ASEAN. For the first time China and ASEAN shared a common border. More significantly, however, was China’s occupation of the Mischief Reef in late 1994, a feature located in waters claimed by the Philippines as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone. For the first time China was in physical confrontation with one of ASEAN’s founding members.
Sa-nguan Khumrungroj, “ASEAN Members Agree on Concept of Setting Up ‘Troika’ Team,” The Nation, 17 March 2000.
32 There have occasional incidents between ASEAN claimant states. Last year, for example, Malaysian air forces planes intercepted a Filipino reconnaissance aircraft and escorted it out of Malaysia’s air space. Vietnamese anti-aircraft gunners opened fire on a Filipino reconnaissance aircraft in a separate incident. Vietnamese fishermen have been identified as intruding into fishing waters claimed by the Philippines. Six of ASEAN’s ten members are not directly involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Indonesia, however, has used its good offices to host a series of informal workshops on the South China Sea. ASEAN’s enlargement in 1997 brought Myanmar into the ASEAN fold and thus extended ASEAN’s “border” with the People’s Republic. Political divisions have appeared in ASEAN about how to manage relations with China, particularly over conflicting claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines feels particularly aggrieved as a result of China’s occupation of Mischief Reef and subsequent uninhibited construction activities. The Philippines has also had to contend with the intrusion of Chinese fishing vessels into its EEZ, especially around Scarborough Shoal (a feature located to the north of the Spratlys). ASEAN responded to Chinese assertiveness in 1992 by issuing a Declaration of Concern. In 1995 ASEAN supported the Philippines when Chinese occupation of Mischief Reef became public. But in recent years, as China has consolidated its position on Mischief Reef, ASEAN has not lent the same political and diplomatic support to the Philippines as it did initially. This prompted the Philippines to rethink its policy. Consideration of a strategy for dealing with Chinese construction activities on Mischief Reef affair was decided at the first meeting of President Estrada’s National Security Council in January 1999. This meeting resolved “go public” with Mischief Reef question by raising it at regional and international fora. Manila’s new approach caused several ASEAN members to demur; it also sparked a robust diplomatic response from China.
33 Differences between Manila and Beijing were aired at the first Sino-Philippines Expert Group Meeting on Confidence Building Measures in the South China Sea held in Manila in March 1999. While the two sides agreed to exercise selfrestraint, China once again rebuffed Philippine demands to dismantle its structures, halt further construction or allow access. President Estrada cancelled a scheduled visit to China in May in protest,58 and the Philippines then proceeded to raise the matter at various international fora. The question of Mischief Reef arose at the annual ASEAN-China political consultations held in Kunming in April. Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Lauro Baja proposed the adoption of a new regional code of conduct among both claimants and non-claimants. China successfully opposed this proposal. After this meeting, a frustrated Baja observed, “On Mischief Reef, we were left alone. The other countries said that while they sympathize and understand our situation, the issue is only a [bilateral] Philippines-China problem”. The Philippines was “an orphan” in Baja’s view. These remarks clearly indicated disarray in ASEAN ranks about how to respond to Chinese assertiveness. The Philippines and Vietnam drew up a draft code of conduct on the South China Sea for consideration by ASEAN. When it was first discussed by ASEAN senior officials prior to the annual ASEAN ministerial meeting in July 1999, it faced strong objections from Malaysia. The code was viewed as too legalistic and too much like a treaty. The senior officials then referred the draft to a working group headed by Thailand for later consideration. Shortly after, at the annual ASEAN-China dialogue, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan pledged that China would seriously consider a draft code of conduct for the
Sino-Philippine relations were further strained by a series of maritime incidents in the South China Sea in May-July 1999. Chinese naval vessels allegedly threatened a Philippine ship that had run aground in one incident. A Chinese fishing craft was sunk after colliding with Filipino naval vessels in another incident.
34 South China Sea by claimant states. As will be indicated below, the devil was in the detail.59 The Philippines then lobbied fellow ASEAN members to reach final agreement on a draft code of conduct. The Philippines strongly hoped that agreement could be reached in time for the ASEAN informal summit and ASEAN + 3 (China, Japan, South Korea) summit scheduled for late November 1999. On 24 th November ASEAN senior officials met and discussed the Philippines’ draft. This proved so contentious that a late night meeting had to be held between Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam to discuss Vietnamese insistence that the scope of the code be expanded to include the Paracel as well as Spratly Islands. After the Vietnamese proposal was accepted, a copy of the draft code was presented to Chinese officials and they promptly rejected it. When word of China’s actions leaked to the press, a Chinese spokesman declared that “ASEAN has not handed the Chinese side their draft document. On the contrary, not long ago, China gave ASEAN its draft” to which ASEAN has yet to respond. Nevertheless, the spokesman declared that China was willing to work with ASEAN “to formulate such a political document.” In light of Chinese reactions the matter was not raised formally at the ASEAN + 3 summit. However, the draft code was raised by President Estrada when he met Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji during a state visit on the eve of the summit. Zhu objected to the inclusion of the Paracel Islands and warned that China would not be
26th October, at the joint China-Philippines Expert Group on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) meeting in Beijing, China proposed three CBMs: notification of any joint military exercises held in disputed areas, attendance by Chinese officials as observers at joint military exercises, and humane treatment for arrested fishermen. The Philippines tabled a proposal for language training for officers stationed in disputed areas. The Chinese request for observer status was aimed at the U.S.-Philippines joint exercise Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) scheduled for February 2000. On 2nd November Beijing issued a warning cautioning against holding joint exercises aimed at China. On 3rd November a second Philippine naval ship ran aground on Scarborough Shoal. China was reportedly suspicious that these ship groundings were a new tactic designed to advance Filipino claims in the South China Sea. China therefore requested that the ships be removed prior to a state visit by Premier Zhu Rongji later that month. Due to the possibility that the ships would break up the Philippines was unable to comply.
35 rushed on this issue. In late December Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon announced that China had agreed to hold talks with the Philippines on a code of conduct for the Spratly Islands only. On 15th March 2000, senior officials from China and ASEAN met in Thailand to discuss for the first time their respective draft codes of conduct for the South China Sea. ASEAN tabled a seven-point code, while China put forth a document containing twelve points.60 The preamble to the ASEAN draft reaffirmed ASEAN’s commitment to the Charter of the United Nations, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, the ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea, and the 1997 Joint Statement of the Meeting of the Heads of State/Government of the Member States of ASEAN and President of the People’s Republic of China. In contrast, the Chinese draft omitted any mention of the ASEAN TAC and Declaration on the South China Sea; it gave more weight to the 1997 joint statement between ASEAN and China. Both documents advocated nearly identical cooperation in such areas as: marine environmental protection, marine scientific research, safety of navigation and communication, search and rescue operations and combating transnational crime including, but not limited to, trafficking in illicit drugs, piracy and armed robbery at sea, and illegal traffic in arms. The Chinese draft included “exploration and exploitation of resources.” Both also urged selfrestraint and non-resort to the use or threat of force pending resolution of disputes. There are significant differences, however. One of the major ones is the scope of geographic coverage. The ASEAN draft defines “disputed areas” as including
36 the Spratlys and the Paracels, whereas the Chinese draft pointedly mentions only the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea. The status of Scarborough Shoal, located outside the Spratlys but in the Philippines’ EEZ, is unclear. For example, a ranking Filipino navy official recently revealed, “China doesn’t want us to erect military structures in an area frequented by their fishing vessels, so they blew up our structures there [on Scarborough Schoal] sometime last year.”61 If the scope of coverage were narrowed, China or any other claimant, would be free to take action elsewhere in the South China Sea. If the scope of coverage were expanded beyond the Spratly Islands, ASEAN members (such as Malaysia) could find themselves in conflict with one another about their construction activities. For example, point 2 in the ASEAN draft states, “[t]he parties concerned undertake to refrain from action of inhabiting or erecting structures in presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features in the Disputed Areas.” The Chinese draft is silent on this issue; it merely calls for the “exercise of self-restraint.” The Chinese draft addresses concerns not dealt with in the ASEAN document: the protection of fishermen and military exercises. Point 7 encourages the claimants “to develop bilateral fishery cooperation” and to
Refrain from use of threat of force, or taking coercive measures such as seizure, detention, or arrest, against fishing boats or other civilian vessels engaged in normal operation in the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “Regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” Draft, March 2000 and People’s Republic of China, “Code of Conduct on the South China Sea (Draft of the Chinese Side),”March 2000.
AFP. Manila, 23 April 2000.
disputed areas, nor against nationals of other countries thereon. Just and humane treatment shall be guaranteed to these nationals.
Point 9 of the Chinese draft reads:
Refrain from conducting any military exercises directed against other countries in the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, and from carrying out any dangerous and close-in military reconnaissance. Military patrol activities in the area shall be restricted.
Both of these points were aimed at curtailing Filipino naval activities in those areas of its Exclusive Economic Zone which fall within the geographic scope of the “Nansha Islands.” The recent announcement that India intends to conduct military exercises in the South China Sea with the Vietnamese navy in OctoberNovember must have heightened Chinese concerns.62 In its present form the ASEAN code is an open-ended document that provides for regular consultation and checking for compliance in order to build trust. Point 6 of the ASEAN draft calls for the claimants “to conduct consultations and dialogues concerning the Disputed Area [through] modalities to be agreed by them, including regular consultations on the observance of this Code of Conduct…” The ASEAN draft is vague on how disputes are to be settled; it calls on claimants “to resolve disputes relating to sovereignty or jurisdiction in the Disputed Area by peaceful means, without resort to the use of force or threat of the use of force…” The Chinese draft insists that disputes be settled on a bilateral basis: “[d]isputes relating to the Nansha Islands shall be resolved by
Shishir Gupta, “Indian Navy Plans to Conduct Exercise in South China Sea,” Hindustan Times, 24 April 2000. According to this report India also planned to conduct unilateral exercises in the South China Sea involving four or five warships, a Kilo-class submarine, and maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Japan, meanwhile, has expressed an interest in cooperative efforts with regional states to combat piracy in the South China Sea. The Japan Defense Agency and Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense are now studying bilateral cooperation on marine search and rescue operations for civilian ships in the South China Sea.
38 the sovereign states directly concerned through bilateral friendly consultation and negotiations…” Neither draft is legally binding. Probably the most significant point of contention is the inclusion of the Paracels in the ASEAN draft. This places China and ASEAN on a diplomatic collision course. Vietnam insists that they be included. China insists otherwise. It is evident that there are differences within ASEAN on this issue. According to Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon, “if the area of coverage were limited to (the) Spratlys, I think that I would say that within three days, our diplomats would be able to find a set of words that would be acceptable to the contesting parties in the Spratlys.” ASEAN and Chinese senior officials met in Kuching, Malaysia from 25th-26th April 2000 and agreed to speed up the drafting of the South China Sea code of conduct. A drafting committee is scheduled to meet in Kuala Lumpur on 26 May to continue discussions.63 NEW FAULT LINES? The five original members of ASEAN were drawn together by a common fear of communism and uncertainty about western security guarantees for the region. The formation of ASEAN also represented the next stage in regionalism. Over the last three decades bilateral differences between ASEAN members have not erupted into armed conflict nor have these differences resulted in the emergence of antagonistic groupings within the association. ASEAN functions by dialogue and consensus. Indonesia emerged as the “natural leader” and led by an approach best characterized as “softly, softly.” If there were any fears of
Liu Zhenyan writing in Xing Xian Ribao [Bangkok], 29 April 2000, p. 7.
39 nascent differences growing into serious conflicts of interest, they focused on levels of development. After ASEAN’s enlargement in the 1990s this was expressed as a concern over differences between the “haves” (economically more developed states) and the “have nots” (economically less developed states).64 This paper presented three case studies, two dealing with the issue of constructive engagement, and the third dealing with ASEAN’s code of conduct on the South China Sea, to illustrate new challenges to ASEAN cohesion. The Myanmar and Cambodia case studies illustrate that new fault lines have appeared in ASEAN. These lines run between the “politically open states” and the “politically closed states.” The prospect of Myanmar’s membership precipitated a debate among ASEAN members and within ASEAN societies about its acceptability due to poor human rights record. A violent political upheaval in Cambodia raised similar concerns — should a country experiencing massive political instability be inducted as a member? In the case of Myanmar domestic forces in various ASEAN countries, including intellectuals, political parties and NGOs, played an important role in mobilizing public opinion to oppose Myanmar’s membership. This development stretched the traditional boundary of what constituted interference in another state’s internal affairs. This led Thailand and the Philippines, two of ASEAN’s most democratic states, to take the lead in proposing a reconceptualization of the principle of non-intervention. Thailand secured ASEAN endorsement for its policy of “constructive engagement” with Myanmar. In the case of Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand were appointed to an ASEAN troika to “constructively engage” the Hun Sen government. Their objective was to obtain
See the call by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for ASEAN to extend assistance “to its new but weaker members”; Bernama www-text, 11 April 2000.
40 a reordering of Cambodia’s domestic politics to conform to more acceptable “democratic norms.” ASEAN officials and defenders of “the ASEAN Way” categorically dismiss the notion that any new fault lines have appeared.65 Additionally, they argue that if there are any fault lines, they run between the original members and are based on long-standing differences.66 They also assert that no rifts have emerged between the old and new members. Indeed, ASEAN’s code of conduct on the South China Sea is cited as an example of cooperation between a new member (Vietnam) and an older member (the Philippines). ASEAN officials and supporters say the emergence of bilateral differences is normal and is not a sign that ASEAN cohesion is eroding. ASEAN’s enlargement in 1997 occurred simultaneously with ASEAN disarray over how to deal with the Indonesian haze problem and, more importantly, with the Asian financial and economic crisis.67 This has led one long-time observer to conclude:
For the world’s most successful developing-country association, all the hobgoblins have jumped out of the box at once, including: profound threats to Indonesia’s national unity; difficult elite transitions; overall poor ASEAN group dynamics between the old “core group” and the new members; an emerging contrast between “speak-your-mind” democratic and more authoritarian regimes; residual economic problems; enormous manufacturing and energy industry over-capacity; miserable local governance, insistent localism, and demands for new ways to slice the patronage pie; China’s broad and comprehensive emergence, including unanswered South China Sea provocations; the near-disappearance of sustained Japanese political and strategic leadership in Southeast Asia; the recurrence of high-profile ASEAN diplomatic failures and lingering intraASEAN disputes; and, most of all in the catalogue of multilateral failure, the disappointing performance of the ARF.68
on non-attributable remarks by the director of one of ASEAN’s leading strategic studies think tanks. For a discussion of these long-standing traditional differences see: N. Ganesan, Bilateral Tensions in Post-Cold War ASEAN. Pacific Strategic Papers no. 9. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1999. For a recent update see: Michael Richardson, “Forced Smiles in Southeast Asia, as Relations Turn Sour,” International Herald Tribune, 23 May 2000.
Ian Stewart, “ASEAN Pulled in Two Directions,” South China Morning Post, 19 July 1998. James Clad, ‘Fin de Siecle, Fin de l’ASEAN?’ Pacific Forum-CSIS, PacNet 9, March 3, 2000.
41 As a consequence of ASEAN’s enlargement a block of politically closed states has slowly emerged. Communist Vietnam, which prizes its independence and vociferously upholds the principle of non-interference, supported the admission of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar into ASEAN. It joined with Suharto’s Indonesia (and Mahathir’s Malaysia) in pressing for Myanmar’s early admission in July 1997. Once admitted, Laos and Myanmar then joined Vietnam in opposing Thailand’s “non-paper” on at the July 1998 AAM. The same trio also supported Cambodia’s admission later that year. Since Cambodia’s membership in ASEAN a block of four politically closed states is slowly taking shape. In light of internal ASEAN discussion revisiting its principle of non-interference, it is significant that on 20th October 1999 an informal summit meeting of the prime ministers of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam was held in Vientiane.69 Although Cambodia’s Foreign Minister made clear that the Indochinese leaders did not discuss ASEAN affairs “because they did not want to be seen as a club within a club,” the very fact such a meeting was held suggests a commonality of interests. All three Indochinese states are politically close to Myanmar and continue to consolidate their relations with the Yangoon regime, the State Peace and Development Council.70 ASEAN’s leadership dynamics have altered with passing of the Suharto regime in Indonesia. ASEAN’s cohesion has been weakened with the result that forging consensus on politically sensitive issues is more difficult. But these issues will not go away. The role of civil society groups including NGOs is likely to increase and assume a more transnational nature. Democratic governments in Bangkok and Manila will respond to these domestic pressures. So too will Indonesia’s leaders as long as the process of democratic consolidation continues. The inclusion of a democratic and activist East Timor could alter the
Mitton, “An Indochinese Caucus,” Asiaweek, 5 November 1999.
See the report of the visit of Vietnam’s Minister of Trade; Voice of Vietnam, Hanoi, 3 May 2000.
42 decision-making dynamics even more. The trajectory of political transition in Malaysia in the post-Mahathir era is problematic.71 Further intra-mural differences in ASEAN could see the emergence of a loose caucus of the four politically closed states. They are likely to assert themselves when issues relating to human rights, governance and democratization are raised. The are also most likely to oppose the involvement of an ASEAN troika in any matter which directly or indirectly touches upon their sovereignty. The third case study, the forging of an ASEAN consensus on a South China Sea code of conduct seemingly presents evidence to the contrary. That is, it represents an example of cooperation between an old and democratic member (the Philippines) and a new and non-democratic member (Vietnam).72 As Jose Almonte has argued, it is vital that ASEAN “speak with one voice” on the South China Sea or risk “balkanization.”73 In other words, ASEAN must stand united in support of its present draft code and not succumb to Chinese pressures (which Almonte argues will become even greater than they are at present) to drive a wedge between Vietnam and the other states on the Paracel issue. There are parallels between Vietnam’s position on the Paracels and the
officials have voiced their objections to Indonesian criticism of the treatment of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the friendly reception given his wife, Wan Azizah, leader of the National Justice Party of Malaysia (keADILan). For example, after Amien Rais, head of Indonesia’s People’s Consultative Assembly (the MPR) said that Anwar Ibrahim should be treated as a “political prisoner” and not a common criminal, he earned this rebuke from Malaysian Senator Datuk Zainuddin Maidin: “Amien should see the democratic practices from the perspective of regional stability and Asian values. Amien should also realise the immature leadership of his country viewed by Malaysians to have failed to respect the Asean’s policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of member countries,” Bernama [Kuala Lumpur], www-text, 19 May 2000. See also: Malaysiakini [Petaling Jaya], www-text, 13 May; Jawa Pos [Surabaya], internet version-www, 15 May; Bali Post [Denpasar], internet versionwww, 16 May; Malaysiakini [Petaling Jaya], www-text, 16 May; The Star [Kuala Lumpur], internet version-www, 18 May; Bernama [Kuala Lumpur], www-text, 18 May; Utusan Malaysia [Kuala Lumpur], internet version-www, 19 May; The Star [Kuala Lumpur], internet versionwww, 19 May; and Utusan Malaysia [Kuala Lumpur], internet version, 22 May 2000.
Besides drafting the code of conduct, Vietnam and the Philippines have conducted two joint surveys of natural resources in the South China Sea. See: Associated Press, Hanoi, 25 May 2000. The first survey was conducted in April 1996 and was paid for by the Philippines government. The second survey was paid for by the Vietnamese government.
Jose T. Almonte, ‘Speak with One Voice on the South China Sea,” Pacific Forum-CSIS PacNet 11, March 17, 2000.
43 case of Myanmar and human rights. In both instances ASEAN has forged a consensus position to work as a united front with external powers. For example, ASEAN has resisted attempts by the US and the EU to discriminate against Myanmar in official meetings between the EU and ASEAN and the US and ASEAN. In a similar vein, ASEAN has reached a consensus position on the South China Sea code of conduct but it remains to be seen whether ASEAN cohesion on this issue will be maintained in the face of Chinese pressure. If ASEAN unity falters on either of these two issues, it runs the risk of reinforcing the tendency for the closed political states to caucus together. The new fault lines that are emerging in ASEAN call into question the ability of ASEAN to remain firmly in “the driver’s seat” in the ASEAN Regional Forum. ASEAN’s inability to provide direction on regional security issues will only result in other countries taking the lead, either inside the ARF or unilaterally outside the ARF. The ARF is presently stymied over how to move from phase one (confidence building measures) to phase two (preventive diplomacy). ASEAN’s endorsement of discussions on the ASEAN troika concept appears a positive step in this direction, coming after its failure to act during the crisis in East Timor. But it remains to be seen if ASEAN’s politically closed states will give their blessings to either of these proposals since to do so would weaken the norm of non-interference in another country’s internal affairs. A recent review of ASEAN cooperation in the realm of foreign policy offered this balanced conclusion:
Notwithstanding a high degree of external cohesion, decision-makers in the ASEAN countries have shown reluctance to abide by the norms of consultation and consensus. The need to harness support and external pressures explains best the only modestly high degree of norm compliance. Put starkly, the “ASEAN way” has proven to be a myth. As an international actor, ASEAN has constituted a community of convenience based on functional considerations rather than a community of shared visions. These findings case doubts on optimistic accounts of ASEAN as an emerging security community. On the other hand, optimism can be derived from the fact that ASEAN has been able to arrive at common positions and present a cohesive front towards outside powers even when beset by internal disagreements. ASEAN’s behaviour bespeaks of a latent reservoir of “wefeeling” that could provide the seed for a community in the future. However, for the time
being it remains imperative for ASEAN to maintain agreement on matters of fundamental principles, as they have to date constituted the pillars of co-operation.74
But as this paper has attempted to demonstrate, one of ASEAN’s fundamental principles, non-interference, is increasingly coming under challenge by ASEAN’s politically open states.
Ingo Nischalke, ‘Insights from ASEAN’s Foreign Policy Co-operation: The “ASEAN Way, a Real Spirit or a Phantom?’ Contemporary Southeast Asia, 22(1), April 2000, 107.
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