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Regionalism and Civil Society in ASEAN Region
Focusing on the practices of interaction between people representatives in civil society organizations and the ASEAN governments, this research attempts to answer two questions, i.e. how has the “Regionalism” been dealt with through the interaction between ASEAN Governments and the civil society organizations throughout the ASEAN Civil Society Conferences (ACSCs), and what have been the nature and character of the ACSCs in their interaction with the issues of Regionalism in ASEAN Forums. To this end the research collects the followings: (1) The circumstances around each conference, (2) All the seven Statements from seven ASEAN Civil Society Conferences from the first one in Kuala Lumpur (2005) to the last one in Jakarta (2011), (3) The trends and specific issues discussed in the statements of the conferences, and (4) Other relevant information, i.e. media reports, academic publications, etc. Technically the research is using the standard content analysis for a qualitative research in nature. Regionalism among the Governments of ASEAN has been triggered by a series of crises — financial troubles in 1997/98, inter-state haze, China’s and India’s rise as regional powers, democratization—that inspired the Hanoi Plan of Action (HAP) in 1998. This Hanoi Plan of Action covered economic cooperation and integration, science and technological cooperation, social and human resource development, regional peace and stability, and improved ASEAN’s role and stance in the international community. In 2004 the Hanoi Plan of Action was improved through the Vientiane Action Program (VAP) that set up specific areas of cooperation under three pillars of the ASEAN Community, namely the ASEAN Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community, and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. (Earlier in 2003 the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II or Bali Concord II reaffirmed the commitment of ASEAN members to Regionalism). Despite experts’ criticisms of the ASEAN dualism phenomenon (willingness to move towards an integrated ASEAN but reluctance to move away from the principles of non-interference), the Vientiane Action Program led ASEAN members towards a more comprehensive and complex Regionalism by accommodating some issues that had been rarely or never discussed before. More importantly, despite the vague definitions, scopes and degrees of participation given to the civil society organizations, the latter gained larger space to participate in the process of Regionalism. The circumstances of around each conference nevertheless support the criticisms against the truthfulness of ASEAN moves towards Regionalism. Earlier, ASEAN People’s Assembly or APA, which was organized in Batam, Indonesia in 2000, was attended by various elements of civil society in ASEAN. However, for some following reasons, critical observers considered the APA as a disguise for a top-down process initiated by ASEAN. First, the participants were decided merely by the ASEAN-Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN-ISIS), triggering a speculation that ASEAN-ISIS dictated the ASEAN People’s Assembly. Second, there was an alleged gap between ASEAN’s aims in engaging civil society and the civil society organizations’ expectation. ASEAN foresaw civil society as promoters of ASEAN existence and agenda among fellow civil society organizations. The civil society organizations remained hopeful to give inputs to the decisionmaking process within ASEAN (Collins 2008). Third, among 10 ASEAN members, around one half (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Singapore) was reluctant to build a
close relation with civil society (Collins 2008). In fact, when ASEAN-ISIS approached the ASEAN Foundation for funding the first ASEAN People’s Assembly in 1999 and 2000, both proposals were turned down, which reflected the resistance of the Senior Officials of ASEAN against APA. Moreover, Singapore that was scheduled to host the first APA had a ‘political reasons’ to move the venue to Batam, Indonesia (Caballero-Anthony 2005). The produced Statements from each ACSC also reveal inconsistencies not only on the reaction of the ASEAN leaders in their Statements in ASEAN Summits but also the illogical flow of issues from one ACSC to another. The intention to parallel the Statement of ACSC with the ASEAN Summit was fulfilled only once during the first ACSC in Kuala Lumpur (2005). The Statements of the second (Cebu the Philippines), third (Singapore), fifth (Thailand), and sixth ACSC (Vietnam) were denied access to the ASEAN Summits; the Statements of the fourth ACSC (Thailand) and seventh (Jakarta) were ‘delivered’ to the ASEAN leaders only during the pre-Summit ‘interface’ meetings between people representatives and the ASEAN leaders. The structure of these Statements was also set in inconsistent manner. The first three Statements of ACSCs were structured differently: list of areas for regional issues and a descriptive paragraph (Kuala Lumpur 2005), one part each for trends and challenges and for civil society commitment (Cebu 2006), and two big issues (ASEAN Regionalism and ASEAN Charter) (Singapore 2007). Only after the adoption of the ASEAN Charter in 2007 did the Statements follow the framework of the ASEAN Charter’s three pillars: Economic, Political-Security, and Socio-Cultural. The trends for the issues discussed—Political-Security, Economic, Socio-Cultural, Environment, and Regionalism—revealed some patterns. Firstly, the low consistency of Political-Security issues pointed out in the Statements appeared because there was only one issue consistently discussed through all seven conferences, i.e. Civil Liberties and Human Rights (urgency for ASEAN to have a human rights body). Secondly, a considerably low level of variety of the political-security issues was taking place in seven Statements of ACSC. The political-security issues were traditionally seen as the working area of state actors; the civil society organizations’ role in the issues in more to be the watchdog to the government activities. Thirdly, the wide variety of total number of Political-Security issues mentioned in the ACSCs from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta, except the one in Singapore and Vietnam. The two relatively non-democratic states covered only one set of issues on civil liberties and human rights. Fourthly, the depth of the proposed ideas appeared to be relatively profound, i.e. on political prisoners, lese majeste law, draconian laws, conflict situation, and gross human rights violation in certain ASEAN member states. Generally, the dynamics of the pillar of Political-Security has been influenced by five factors: four as weakening factors (intensity of issues, character of issue, character of host, and composition of participants) and only one as supporting factor (quality of participants). For the issues of Economy, the total number recommended throughout the seven ACSCs was fewer (61 issues) than that of the Political-Security issues (68 issues). The first trend of Economic issues, the consistency of issues mentioned, revealed only one set of issues consistently discussed, i.e. the aspect of regional mechanisms on trade, investment, and services. This single set of issues, however, lacked a direct linear connection from one ACSC to another. The issues raised in one conference are not necessarily responsive to those mentioned in the previous one. The issue on employment, for instance, was mentioned only on the first ACSC (Kuala Lumpur 2005) and the last ACSC (Jakarta 2011). The second trend, which was the level of variety of issues in Economic issues, was relatively high and thorough. The Economic issues covered 13 groups of issues such as trade and investment, role of civil society, corporate social responsibility, extractive industries,
agriculture, employment, fisheries, food, housing, poverty, tax, water, and the Millennium Development Goals—but not intellectual property rights. The third trend or the variety of the total number of the issues showed an interesting pattern in which almost 60 percent of all recommendation on Economic issues was targeting regulations, policies, or mechanisms. Peculiarly the variety of issues grew from zero issues in Singapore (2005) to 10 issues discussed in Jakarta ACSC (2011). The depth of the proposed ideas or the fourth trend in the Economic issues was varied. The ideas on regional mechanisms were generally given in great details while those on the Economic working area were not specified enough. Overall, the dynamics of the Economic pillar in the ACSCs had been influenced by three supportive factors (development of regional economic cooperation, formal adoption of Blueprints, and number of participants) and three weakening factors (economic development level of host, composition of participants, and quality of participants). For the issues of Socio-Cultural pillar, the number of recommendations in ACSC Statements was the highest (105 points of recommend), compared to the Political-Security (68 points), the Economic (61 points), the Environment (38 points), the Regionalism (41 points), and the Health Issues (23 points). The consistency of issues (the first trend) discussed for the Socio-Cultural wasrather low since only ‘women issues’ was discussed consistently throughout the seven ACSCs. The variety of the issues mentioned (the second trend) seemed to be high with 21 different sociocultural issues covered in the Statements. The variety of total number of issues had been relatively high: from two issues in the third ACSC (Singapore) to 14 issues in the seventh ACSC (Jakarta). The depth of the proposed ideas (the third trend) was rather high since the Statements were thoroughly written with extensive recommendations. Compared to the ideal ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint, the Socio-Cultural issues in the ACSCs covered less than 40 percent of all characteristics and elements of the ideal ASEAN SocioCultural Community 2015. With the Environment pillar considered as a ‘standing alone’ pillar, the recommendations of the ACSCs only cover two out of four characteristics, i.e. Social Welfare and Protection, and Social Justice and Rights, but not drug-free ASEAN (under Social Welfare and Protection) and Corporate Social Responsibilities. The dynamics of the Socio-Cultural pillar was affected by three supporting factors (character of the issues, the global trend, theparticipant’s involvement on the issues, and the number of conference participants) and one weakening factor (composition of participants). This research suggested two things to lessen the impact of the weakening factors: first, the ACSC needed to minimize the presence of international participants, government-owned NGOs, and academics, and second, the ACSC had to refer to the Socio-Cultural Blueprints to lead the discussions to support the socio-cultural goals set in the Blueprint. The pillar of the Environment, although had been raised since the first ACSC in Kuala Lumpur, was still considered as a new working field in ASEAN. The recommendations given on the Environmental issues were 43 paragraphs commenting on three sub-groups of issues, which were the working mechanisms, energy, and climate change. From all of the issues, one issue that was discussed the most throughout the seven ACSCs had been the proposal to institutionalize an ASEAN Environmental Community independently from the other three Communities. The issues of Regionalism were discussed by the civil society organizations in terms on how and towards which way Regionalism should move ahead. The people representatives had a very strong idea on what kind of regional community they would like to have in ASEAN; they put forward the unique diverse characters of the people in the region and proposed “Alternative Regionalism”. People representatives proposed an ASEAN Regionalism that E-mail: Hrwg.firstname.lastname@example.org
would be built on top of fundamental principles, i.e. people’s participation, adoption of basic universal values, adoption of UN bodies’ related conventions, and holistic right-based approach to “Development.”
Figure: ASEAN People’s Idea on “Alternative Regionalism”
•Particularly: Women & Youth, Indigenous People / Ethnic Minority, and CSOs •Mainly: Human Rights, Sustainable Development, Democracy, Transparency & Accountability
People's Participation in Decision Making Process
Adoption of Basic Universal Values (3,4,5,6,7)
Holistic rights-based approach on Development
Adoption of UN Bodies’ related Conventions
•Against unjust FTA, privatization •Reject neoliberal economic policies
•Mainly: ILO, UNFCCC, CEDAW, UNCRC, UNDRIP, the Refugee Convention & MDGs
The research concluded that all seven ACSC Statements indicated some interesting dynamics of people’s and the CSOs’ proposals on the Political-Security, Economic, and Socio-Cultural issues, as follow: a) The consistency of issues discussed in the seven Statements was relatively low, which revealed little connection between one conference and another. b) The variety of issues discussed in the seven ACSCs was relatively high and thorough to cover a wide-range of issues taking place in the region although the discussions were not holistic enough. c) The variety of total number of issues discussed in each conference was relatively high, which showed the inconsistency of the people’s interests in certain issues as well as the inconsistency of attention towards certain pillars. d) The people’s proposals mentioned in the Statements were relatively deep and meaningful. This study concluded that the ASEAN Regionalism had been dealt with by the CSOs, despite their enthusiasm and readiness, through the terms decided mostly by the ACSC hosts. Firstly, the significant growth in the number of conference participants from 120 participants in 2005 Kuala Lumpur’s ACSC to 1,300 in the last Jakarta’s Seventh ACSC highlighted the growing enthusiasm of the people and the CSOs to come and take part in the ACSCs. Secondly, the scope of the Statements included a wide-range of issues taking place at the street level of the region proved that the people from various backgrounds were eager to voice their concerns in a regional forum. Thirdly, the quality of the proposals, which in most of the cases was relatively thorough, showed that the people understood the issues being discussed and offered some solutions. Their contributions were generally constructive and contextual in the region.
The nature and characters of the ACSC Statements, which had been different from one pillar to another and one conference to another, were influenced by some aspects. These were the character of participants, the regional process, the character of host, the character of the issues, and the contemporary global trend. The aspect that affected positively the dynamics of the ACSC was the number of participant: the bigger the number of participants, the higher the number of proposal became. The aspects that affected negatively the dynamics of the ACSC were the composition of participants and character of host country. Whenever the number of academics, government-owned NGOs and international NGOs arose, the Statements became less fruitful and limited in variety and number. The character of the host became a counterproductive aspect to the dynamics of the discussion: economic issues were totally abandoned when the non-democratic, highly prosperous Singapore was the host.
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