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Security and Democracy: The ASEAN Charter and the Dilemmas of Regionalism in South-

East Asia
Author(s): David Martin Jones
Source: International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 84, No.
4 (Jul., 2008), pp. 735-756
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Royal Institute of International Affairs
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Security and democracy:
the ASEAN charter and the dilemmas of

regionalism in South-East Asia


After forming the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967, the
founding member states established a formula for governing the relations between
them as well as their relations with states external to the region. Elaborated in
the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) of 1976 and reiterated in the Bali
Concord II of 2002, the formula established non-interference in the internal affairs
of member states as the premise of regional order.
Since the Asian financial crisis of 1997, however, and the subsequent internal
political changes that brought about a democratic transformation in the authori
tarian regime of Indonesia, the largest state of ASEAN and one of its founder
members, there has been pressure to modify the prevailing ASEAN norm and the
distinctive non-binding processes that govern the association's practice.
This pressure reflects a growing regional consciousness that the internal and
external security of the state have become increasingly interconnected. It also
coincides with the recognition, at least among the elites in the more developed
states of the grouping, that prospects for regional progress depend on, among
other things, the projection of a norm of political accountability into the regional
Furthermore, this consciousness accords with what the philosopher John Rawls
describes as

a recent dramatic shift in how many would like international law to be understood. Since
World War II international law has become stricter. It . . . tends to restrict a states right
to internal sovereignty. The role of human rights connects most obviously with the latter
change as part of the effort to provide a suitable definition and limit on a government's
internal sovereignty.2

It is in the context of this background notion of what a just, pluralist and

democratic community of South-East Asian states entails that recent attempts to
reform ASEAN may be situated. I shall turn first to this question before considering
why this prioritization of a democratic norm over the concern for security and
deeper economic integration in the fast-moving world of interconnected global
financial capitalism might undermine rather than enhance ASEAN integration.

John Rawls, The law of peoples (London: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 30.
2 Ibid.

International Affairs 84: 4 (2008) 735-756

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ASEAN as a post-national constellation

In the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis ASEAN launched a number of initia
tives to enhance the region's security and to project best managerial practice and
norms of good international citizenship on a wider scale. A case in point was the
ASEAN Plus Three mechanism, designed to involve China, Japan and South Korea
in a wider East Asian community. A series of visions and road-maps announced at
ASEAN meetings were central to this process. After 1997, ASEAN summits agreed
to a plethora of plans and protocols designed both to increase South-East Asian
integration and to establish a wider regional leadership role for the organization.3
The resulting documents ranged from relatively technical, sectoral protocols to
declarations that developed and refined the association's character, most notably
the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (or Bali Concord II), which established
a framework for the achievement of an integrated ASEAN community built on
the pillars of economic, security and socio-cultural cooperation and integration.
Other framework agreements, such as those that established an ASEAN Invest
ment Area (1998) and an ASEAN Development Fund (2005), were meant to give
financial substance to the association's Vision 2020, announced at the informal
Kuala Lumpur summit in 1997.4 A subsequent Hanoi Plan of Action and Vientiane
Action Programme were launched to strengthen macroeconomic and financial
cooperation, enhance economic integration, and promote the development of
science and technology in South-East Asia. Since 1997 the ASEAN process has
also established a structure governing ASEAN's external trade through framework
agreements for economic partnerships with Japan (2003) and India (2003) and a
Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity with China (2002).
Even more ambitiously, at ASEAN's 2005 summit in Kuala Lumpur, South-East
Asian leaders declared their intention to create a charter for the association?a
'crowning achievement' to be completed by the group's fortieth birthday in 2007.5
On schedule, in Singapore in November 2007, the heads of the member govern
ments signed the ASEAN charter, which will come into effect once all ten ASEAN
states have ratified it. Then, for the first time, ASEAN will acquire a legal person
ality of its own?an organizational identity separable from the identities of its
individual member states.
From one viewpoint, the ratified charter will simply affirm in legal form what
ASEAN has already become. The charter restates principles, goals and ideals
already contained in previous ASEAN agreements, including the foundational
ASEAN Declaration (1967) and the TAC (1976), and revalidates these and all of
ASEAN's other prior commitments.

3 The 'Table of ASEAN treaties/agreements and ratifications' updated to July 2005 reveals that, of the 138
agreements, declarations, memorandums of understanding, protocols and treaties governing inter-ASEAN
conduct or made between the organization and states external to it, 99 have been codified, ratified or declared
since 1997. See, accessed 21 Dec. 2007.
4 The Vision sought 'to enhance economic cooperation through economic development strategies'. See http://, accessed 12 July 2007.
5 See, accessed 13 July 2007.

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Security and democracy

Yet the charter is more than a reassertion of traditional practice. In addition to

reasserting the principles of regional cooperation, consensus, national sovereignty
and other mainstays of ASEAN rhetoric, it lists a novel goal among the organiza
tion's purposes: 'to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule
of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms'. In
other words, ASEAN now seems to promote two incompatible norms: one that
maintains the traditional formula of non-interference in internal affairs as the basis

of regional peace, and one that promotes democracy and fundamental freedoms.
Indeed, the simultaneous application of these norms, in a regional arrangement
where only a minority of states practise what might be construed as pluralistic
democracy, could promote incoherence rather than integration. How, we might
wonder, has this state of affairs come about?
The charter calls, somewhat ambiguously, for regional transformation. It seeks
a 'legal and institutional framework' for the 'promotion and protection of human
rights and fundamental freedoms', and commits the association to establishing 'a
human rights body'.7 In this, the charter echoes the more detailed recommenda
tions promulgated in The Report of the Eminent Persons' Group [EPG] on the ASEAN
Charter, published in December 2006. The report explicitly linked ASEAN's
continuing peace and stability to 'the active strengthening of democratic values,
good governance, [and the] rejection of unconstitutional and undemocratic change
of government'.9
To facilitate this transformation, the EPG additionally proposed that ASEAN's
procedure of non-binding consensus be changed. The report acknowledged that
the association's consensual style of decision-making had been helpful in reassuring
member states that their sovereignty and national interests would not be compro
mised; but, it continued, consensus should 'aid and not impede ASEAN's cohesion
and effectiveness'.I0 Reiterating the point more forcefully in its conclusion, the EPG
contended that 'ASEAN must establish a culture of honoring and implementing
its decisions and agreements and carrying them out in time'.11 To address this
longstanding weakness in ASEAN practice, the charter announced, again somewhat
ambivalently, an 'enhanced dispute settlement mechanism' and 'a formula for
flexible participation' in the building of an ASEAN economic community.12
The charter, then, not only enhances institutional capacity; it also seeks to
modify the norms that inform the association's diplomatic practices and facilitate
the eventual transformation of South-East Asia's sovereign and heterogeneous
states into a community governed by common rules. With a view to bringing

Charter of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (hereafter ASEAN charter), article i: 7, http://www., accessed 12 July 2007.
7 ASEAN charter, preamble and articles 14: 1, 14: 2.
8 The Report ofthe Eminent Persons' Group on the ASEAN Charter, http ://, accessed 16
Jan. 2008, p. 3.
9 Report ofthe Eminent Persons' Group, p. 3.
10 Report ofthe Eminent Persons' Group, paras 29 and 30, pp. 10-12.
11 Report ofthe Eminent Persons' Group, para. 44, p. 21.
12 The charter's article 21: 2 allows for the implementation of economic commitments by some member states?
'ASEAN minus X'?when all of the states cannot reach a consensus. See also article 24: 3.

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about such a transformation, the EPG recommended that ASEAN be given the
power 'to take measures to redress cases of serious breaches' of these new norms
and rules.13 And the charter does state, though again somewhat more cautiously
than the EPG report, that 'a serious breach of, or even mere 'non-compliance'
with, the charter 'shall be referred to the ASEAN Summit for decision'.14
The transformative politics elaborated in the EPG report, and codified in the
charter, anticipates a community of ASEAN peoples very different from the condi
tional and limited association that ASEAN's founding fathers envisaged in 1967. But
the question arises: Is such a political transformation feasible without dissolving the
original basis of association and fragmenting rather than unifying the region?

The democratic deficit and the South-East Asian security dilemma

Central to both the notion that democracy promotes security and the notion that
its norms can shape regions and states is the assumption that different, but desir
able, social, political and economic goods are inherently compatible and causally
related. This universalist perspective relegates state sovereignty and its political
and economic autonomy to a second-order concern. The promotion of human
rights and democracy ultimately trumps the sovereign authority of the state.
Progress towards a more democratic, transparent, tolerant and pluralist regional
order, as encapsulated in an ASEAN charter, represents, from this perspective,
a plausible basis for a reasonably just regional 'society of peoples'.15 We should
therefore consider whether such a normative transformation, pursued without
addressing the particular and dramatically different economic and political
problems confronting the collocation of states that compose South-East Asia,
might constitute a security dilemma rather than a solution to the problem of a
common ASEAN identity. We may approach this question in two ways: first, in
terms of the theory and sociology of international relations upon which ASEAN
is premised, and second, with reference to the particular needs of the ASEAN
member states' discrete political and economic development, together with the
impact of the rising power of China on the region's political economy.
Ultimately, assertion of the universal compatibility of security and democracy
assumes a process of historical development towards an equal, free and just condi
tion. It further maintains that international law, globalization of communications
and liberal or cosmopolitan state practice converge to this progressive end. Such a
condition does not currently prevail in East or South-East Asia.
There is, of course, some evidence to support the view that 'constitutionally
secure liberal states have yet to have recourse to war with one another', and that
they solve their disagreements by rational negotiation rather than power politics.1

13 Report of the Eminent Persons' Group, cap 44, p. 4.

14 See ASEAN charter, article 20, para. 4, p. 18.
15 John Rawls, The law of peoples (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 128.
16 See Michael Doyle, Ways of war and peace (New York: Norton, 1997), and 'Kant, liberal legacies and foreign
affairs', PAPA 12, Summer?Fall 1983, p. 213. See also John O'Neal and Bruce Russett, 'The classic liberals were
right: democracy, independence and conflict', International Studies Quarterly, June 1997.

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Security and democracy

This notwithstanding, relations between liberal democracies and non- or semi

democratic regimes of a monarchical, autocratic or authoritarian hue and single
party administration have rarely been easy.
In fact, the doctrine of normative convergence assumes that illiberal states are
unsustainable and must either transform themselves or be transformed by internal
or external forces. Given the normative predilection to substitute what ought to
be for what is in world politics, it is perhaps useful to reassess the character of the
security dilemmas that currently confront ASEAN policy-makers, identify the
foreign policy traditions that shape the response to these dilemmas, and consider
what an adequate ASEAN response to the demands of what Alain Mine terms the
'durable disorder' of the post-Cold War era might entail, in terms of the relative
merits of normative transformation and the piecemeal, instrumental project of
furthering deeper regional economic integration.17 In order to undertake this
evaluation, it is necessary to say something first about the structure of the inter
national political economy and the place that the South-East Asian states occupy
within it.

The structure of the post-Cold War world and the emergence of the net
work state
Philip Cerny has characterized the emerging post-Cold War politico-economic
structure as neo-medieval. By this he means a condition distinguished by overlap
ping jurisdictions and cross-cutting allegiances where the transnational character
of global exchanges undermines the traditional borders and allegiances of the
nation-state and 'de-concentrates' loyalty as it deracinates identities.1 New modes
of communication, most notably the internet, and the speed of physical and virtual
communication, have altered the character of political association and political
Meanwhile, what Walter Russell Mead terms millennial capital, driven by the
development since 1990 of global financial markets, has undermined both state
and regionally focused capitalism. The Fordist contract with the nation-state,
which assumed that both worker and manager remained within a territory and
even a locality, no longer holds. This change has, Mead further contends, under
mined a key support for the presumed harmonic convergence between capitalism
and the social-democratic state, and is recasting socio-economic relations locally
and globally in an unprecedented manner. The new world of mobile workers and
capital cannot be covered by a cradle-to-grave state-based welfare blanket. Instead
millennial capital, crudely depicted in terms of globalization and deregulation, is
actually about regulation to protect the existence and efficiency of markets and
permit wider access to their benefits. As Mead explains, 'national regulation may

17 Alain Mine, Ce monde qui vient (Paris: B. Grasset, 2004).

1 See Philip G. Cerny, 'Plurality, pluralism and power: elements of pluralist analysis in an age of globalization',
in Rainer Esifeld, ed., Socio-political pluralism, 'Pluralism: developments in the theory and practice of democ
racy', no. 16 (Opladen and Farmington Hills: Barbara Budrich for International Political Science Association
Research Committee, 2006), pp. 81?in.

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David Martin Jones

be decreasing, but the rise of millennial capitalism is creating new forms of inter
national regulation that simply did not exist in the past. Free trade agreements
(notably bilateral rather than multilateral or regional) are much more than trade
agreements: they create new transnational forms of regulation and justice.'19
At the same time, the demographic changes that are currently redefining the
social and political character of citizenship in the neo-medieval context of the
post-Fordist era also affect millennial capitalism. The globalized division of labour
and the disappearance of the blue-collar working class in global capital cities have
significant implications for the modern state and the region it inhabits. As popula
tion growth shrinks and goes into reverse in many of the developed democratic
states in Europe and East Asia, the social arrangements that informed the democratic
consensus and convergence era become unsustainable in practice.

Networked markets and administrative states: the response to

millennial capital
The neo-medieval framework facilitated by millennial capital is both trans
forming international political economy and, in the process, alienating elite and
mass constituencies around the world. Millennial capital has created an intercon
nected but by no means integrated world. Although this fluid condition promotes
multiple and cross-cutting allegiances, it has not undermined the state as a form of
political organization. Indeed, it is a particular variant of the nation-state model,
namely, the increasingly privatized, networked, market state (sometimes charac
terized as the Anglo-Saxon model), that has driven the process.
One of the notable features of the transformation of finance capital that dates
from the Thatcher and Reagan epochs and was continued in a more emollient
form by Clinton and Blair under the rubric of the third way is the manner in
which the market state has integrated global trade. It is the market state that has
brought about the neo-medieval condition; and it is the market state that is now
both enhanced in terms of growth and wealth and threatened by the global migra
tion and financial flows through its newly porous borders that it has facilitated.
How it subsequently conceives of both membership of its polity and its security
will depend on a range of responses that have come into focus since the terrorist
attacks of 9/11 and 7/7.
One consequence of this durable disorder is a heightened state investment in
security, both locally and globally. This, together with the globalization of the
labour market, in turn fuels privatization of social services like health, welfare,
education and pension provision. Inevitably, this structural change erodes the
polyarchic assumption of a political community based on shared participation in
the commons either at the state or the regional level.
Moreover, the market state's global networking with other states, both the
like-minded and the unlike-minded, is essentially bilateral or trilateral in terms of

19 Walter Russell Mead, Power, terror, peace and war: America's grand strategy in a world at risk (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 2004), p. 74.

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Security and democracy

agreements to maximize trade, wealth and security. This trend has significantly
eroded regional and multilateral arrangements. The Asian financial crisis of 1997
and its repercussions, the spread of low-intensity violence, and the rise of China as
the globe's major manufacturer and consumer of natural resources have all contrib
uted to a loss of influence by Cold War and post-Cold War multilateral arrange
ments such as the UN, the EU, ASEAN, APEC and the WTO.

Administration and statecraft: the managerial alternative

At the same time as the post-Cold War era morphed from a Zeit without Geist to
a condition of durable disorder, a significant alternative to the market state has
evolved and adapted to the transnationalized, millennial capitalist, neo-medieval
order. In this context, a number of South-East Asian states offer sustainable versions
of polities that are non-liberal but friendly to millennial capital. Singapore, in
particular, offers the most plausible non-liberal mode of organization. Here, a
techno-mandarinate organizes all aspects of social and political life and distributes
the economic product of success via an administrative apparatus of state-licensed,
hierarchically ordered, ethno-religious community groups without the necessity
for politics based on autonomous civil actors freely articulating their interests in
a public forum. The state enterprisingly defines identities and entitlements and
distributes them according to a consensually agreed managerial formula. This
arrangement is oriented towards the global market while curtailing the space avail
able to those hallmarks of liberalism, civil society and political pluralism. Despite
the difficulties involved in exporting the model from the city-state of Singapore,
undoubtedly it?or its Malaysian United Malay National Organization (UMNO)
variant, and the one to which Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai party aspired
before the 'friendly' coup of September 2006?is evidently a formula that appeals
to a technocratic mindset generally, and provides an ideal type to which the fourth
generation leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) evidently aspires.
Such administrative state arrangements, moreover, may be more efficient in terms
of infrastructure-building, internal security and developmental coordination than
the relatively open market alternative.
In other words, the neo-medieval structure is hospitable to both the market state
and the administrative state. Given the evolving character of millennial capital,
what are the prospects for putative supranational communities like ASEAN which
since 1997, as the EPG Report acknowledges, has struggled to adjust to its implica

ASEAN and durable disorder

Durable disorder has had an ambivalent effect on both the growth prospects and
the amourpropre of ASEAN. Millennial capital initially bequeathed its blessings on
the emerging tiger economies of South-East Asia between 1985 and 1996, only to
demonstrate its inherent capriciousness in the course of the 1997 financial crisis.

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The consequences of that crisis, in terms of regional economic confidence and

levels of foreign direct investment, are still felt a decade after the event.20 Thus,
despite all the (largely rhetorical) declarations of intent to build an economic
community since the crisis, moves to create an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)
remain handicapped by non-tariff measures which, as a recent study demonstrates,
represent 'significant restrictions' upon intra-ASEAN trade.21 Despite the move
to establish a common effective preferential tariff system covering the ASEAN
goods sector, 'the export trade of all ASEAN countries is far more intensive with
non-ASEAN economies than it is with ASEAN itself'.22 ASEAN countries trade
more with the rest of the world than they do with each other, and the tendency
of the richer and more liberal ASEAN economies, Thailand and Singapore, to
form bilateral free trade agreements with trading partners outside the region, or
integrate sectors bilaterally within ASEAN, only exacerbates regional economic
variation.23 Consequently, the 'pattern of trade of all ASEAN countries shows
a low degree of interdependence' and seven of the ten ASEAN members have
negative trade balances with the other three.24
Moreover, 'the socio-economic disparities within and among countries in the
region' are both striking and increasing. The UNDP's Human Development Report
found that while in the more developed countries of Malaysia and Thailand
under 2 per cent of the population were in poverty, the corresponding figures for
Cambodia and Laos were 34 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.25 Consequently,
the greatest challenge facing regional integration lies in addressing the develop
ment divide, not the democratic deficit, among member states.
Furthermore, since the financial crisis the region, lacking integrated markets
in goods, services, financial manufacturing and labour, has lost its competitive
edge in terms of labour costs to China. Since 2000, having once been the world's
top investment destination, the region has witnessed a significant decline in FDI,
further compounding the problem of integration.2
The vagaries of millennial capital have also weakened and, in some cases, broken
the development pact between elite and masses at the state level, by which restric
tions upon political freedoms were accepted in order to mobilize inputs for state
directed, export-oriented growth. Regime change in Indonesia and Thailand,
political uncertainty in Malaysia and the Philippines, and a retreat to the jungle
city of Naypidaw by the military paranocracy that rules Myanmar, are some of the
more evident political consequences of the financial crisis.

20 See Denis Hew, ed., Brick by brick: the building of the ASEAN economic community (Singapore: Asia Pacific Press,
2007), pp. 2-3.
21 Lorrell C. de Dios, 'Non tariff barriers to trade in the ASEAN priority goods sector', in Hew, ed., Brick by brick,
p. 101.
22 See Rina Oktaviani, Amzul Rifin and Henry Reinhardt, 'A review of regional tariffs and trade in the ASEAN
priority goods sector', in Hew, ed., Brick by brick, p. 63.
23 de Dios, 'Non tariff barriers to trade', p. 98.
24 Denis Hew, 'Introduction', in Hew, ed., Brick by brick, p. 9.
25 Sen Rahul and Das Sanchita Basu, 'ASEAN's FTA negotiations with dialogue partners', in Hew, ed., Brick by
brick, p. 177.
2 Hew, 'Introduction', p. 2.

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Security and democracy

Durable disorder has also given plausibility to those who offer a radical, mille
narian, Islamist alternative to the uncertainties generated by governments seen
as too market-friendly. In South-East Asia, this strand is evident in the transna
tional movement Jemaah Islamiya, dedicated to building a Darul Islam Nusantara,
reinvigorated separatist movements in Thailand and the Philippines, and a political
Islam that uses the democratic process to advance programmes to clean up the
corrupt legacy left by the 'pharaonic' ambitions of a Mahathir or Suharto and
to introduce a new and not particularly democratic, tolerant or pluralist political
The prospect that appeared plausible at the end of the Cold War, of a benign
end of history in which justice, peace, public reason, democracy, economic growth
and market integration would come together in a realizable political project, seems
indefinitely postponed. In a world of cultural particularity and market-driven
insecurity, would greater democracy either enhance ASEAN's security or promote
economic and political integration?
The ASEAN charter's desire to strengthen regional democracy reflects the
influence exercised over the grouping by Indonesia, the largest and most populous
member state. Indonesia intimated its interest in changing ASEAN practice when
it hosted the grouping in 2004 and proposed a security community that would
promote human rights, democracy and transparent communication between
members. In this project Indonesia receives support from the Philippines and
Thailand, which have similarly embraced an uncertain democratic transition.
From this perspective, strengthening democracy would both promote regional
integration and bring the association out of the political and economic shadow cast
across the region by the People's Republic of China.
Such an agenda, however, does not suit the majority of states in the association
or accord with traditional understandings of either power or diplomacy. Pragma
tism, the art of the politically possible, rather than abstract right, has traditionally
been upheld as the distinguishing feature of regional statesmanship. In classical
political thought, the wealth and harmony of the people reflect the virtu or skill of
the ruler or political elites. This hierarchical understanding nevertheless entailed
mutual obligations on the part of both ruler and ruled.27 ASEAN practice reflects
this relational view of power, and emphasizes consensus among members while
recognizing the limits it places on the pace of regional integration.
The durability of ASEAN reflects the reality of Asian power relations. The
limited project its founders realized was what was possible in the contingent
circumstances of decolonization in South-East Asia. It was not the product of a
normative concern with the rule of law or the consequence of an abstract pursuit
of democratic ideals.

27 In Indonesia, for example, the traditional practice of bapakism (paternalism) involves more than just a
patron?client relationship: it also entails an understanding of cooperative (gotong royong) deference arrived
at via consensus (musyawarah). Similarly, in Thailand rule requires a leader's karuna to guide and illuminate
his otherwise insecure followers. See Lucian W. Pye, Asian power and politics: the cultural dimensions of authority
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1985), pp. 109?13. See also Roden Mas Koentjaraningrat, Javanese culture (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 39, on the magical (sakti) and theatrical aspects of traditional rule.

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In other words, ASEAN is a state-driven process rooted in consciousness of

relative power rather than a normatively regulated process. Moreover, its central
objective was, and remains, the pragmatic one of sustaining regional order. To
this end, as its first declaration announced, the participants constituted an associa
tion between states, and the entity they created has, despite its recent predilection
for communitarian rhetoric, sustained this intergovernmental character.2 Recent
declarations of a more inclusive, norm-changing modality have served only to
obscure this limited associative purpose.29
The original ASEAN states maintained both peace and impressive economic
growth from 1985 to 1997.3? By 1999 the association had expanded to encompass
Burma/Myanmar and the Indochinese states (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam), against
which it had been aligned between 1978 and 1991. Indeed, the accession of these
countries to the TAC after decades of contesting the regional order of South-East
Asia represented a significant, but by no means unproblematic, achievement of the
organization's state-driven, sovereignty-reinforcing pragmatism. As the former
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad observed in 2001: 'In essence, the
nations of Asean, both collectively and individually, have made significant contri
butions to the peace and stability of the region by their political pragmatism and
economic dynamism. While pursuing their national priorities, Asean governments
never fail to take into account the larger interest of the region.'31
ASEAN functions as a concert of regional states, whose associative endeavour
recognizes the primacy of regional order and stability for the independent and
interdependent growth ofthe region. This limited goal has enabled the states that
comprise the grouping to exploit the benefits of regional security for their discrete
developmental purposes. Would the promotion of democracy and human rights,
at the expense ofthe autonomy and sovereignty of member states, enhance growth
and increase regional Gemeinschaft and security?
In this context the ASEAN charter is, as we have seen, worryingly ambiva
lent. On the one hand, it seeks to reinforce the norm of non-interference and
state sovereignty upheld in ASEAN's 'milestone treaties'; but, at the same time,
the charter would undermine that principle over time via the promotion of
sovereignty-transcending norms of democracy, transparency and human rights.
Not only is this aspect of the charter theoretically incoherent, its implementa
tion would weaken the shared practice of independent state sovereignty as the

2 Michael Leifer, 'ASEAN's search for regional order', in Kin Wah Chin and Leo Suryadinata, eds, Michael
Leifer: selected works on South-East Asia (Singapore: Institute for South-East Asian Studies, 2005), p. 104. See also
Michael Leifer, 'The Indochina problem', in T. B. Millar and James Walter, eds, Asian-Pacific security after the
Cold War (St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1993), p. 68.
29 In this context, see the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II), Bali, Indonesia, 7 Oct. 2003,
which envisaged 'a dynamic, cohesive, resilient and integrated ASEAN community' (http://www.aseansec.
org/15159.htm, accessed 8 January 2008). See also 'ASEAN Vision 2020' (Hanoi, Dec. 1997), which envisaged
both a 'peaceful and stable South-East Asia . . . bound by a common regional identity' and the ASEAN
Regional Forum 'as an established means for confidence building and preventive diplomacy' (http://www., accessed 8 January 2008).
30 With the exception of the Philippines, where neither authoritarian nor democratic styles of government
succeeded in engineering significant economic growth.
31 Mahathir Mohamad, Reflections on ASEAN: selected speeches ofDr Mahathir Mohamad (Subang: Pelanduk, 2004),
p. 251.

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basis of regional order. There are two reasons why this might be the case. First,
the flexible, but conservative, character of South-East Asian political culture is
resistant both to abstract rationalism and to the universal norms such rationalism
entails; and second, even if it were not, change in the direction of democracy
in an environment of economic uncertainty would have centrifugal rather than
centripetal consequences for regional order. Given in particular, as we shall see,
the rising regional economic influence of China and its political commitment to
the principle of non-interference as the basis of good neighbourliness, the promo
tion of democracy would create a fault-line in the association between the more
developed and less developed states, driving the latter into China's evolving sphere
of influence.

ASEAN, political culture and democracy

Liberal democracy and its institutional fruit?political pluralism, an independent
judiciary, press freedom and individual rights?is not a plant indigenous to South
East Asia. Not so very long ago, a soi-disant Singapore School made much of the
distinctive Asian values, of an essentially non-liberal provenance, it considered
responsible for the remarkable political cohesion and economic development of
East Asia. No doubt this cultural distinctiveness was exaggerated for ideological
effect in the context of an eagerly anticipated Pacific Century; nevertheless, it is
evident that prudent single parties or the semangat of a man of prowess, whether
monarch, aristocrat or major-general, not liberal democratic values, have been
responsible for driving the development process in South-East Asia.32 In the contin
gent and uncertain circumstances of the Cold War, dominant single parties like
UMNO in Malaysia or the People's Action Party (PAP) in Singapore, benevolently
absolutist sultans in Brunei, monarchies with military and religious backing (such
as the reinvented Chakri dynasty in Thailand) or New Order corporatists (such as
Suharto in Indonesia) drew upon a variety of reinvented traditional understandings
to maintain a political and bureaucratic elite capable of moulding heterogeneous
populations to the requirements of export-oriented growth within the framework
of a development state model. The reinvented traditional understandings, which
differed from state to state, nevertheless shared a political emphasis that placed
order before abstract right and viewed the autonomous individual self of liberal
thought, released from a web of relationships, as a source of anxiety rather than
liberty. In this context, elections function as a procedure for endorsing the rational
rule of an elite technocracy rather than as a certain process that delivers uncertain

The downside of the elite-managed enterprise association state was the corrup
tion, cronyism and nepotism that the financial crisis exposed operating at various
levels of South-East Asian government?business relations. Lack of transparency
and of accountability have certainly had a negative effect upon the states comprising

32 Kishore Mahbubani has revived these ideas on East Asian style development in The new Asian hemisphere: the
irresistible shift of global power to the east (New York: Public Affairs, 2008).

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ASEAN and tarnished their lustre for foreign investors. The crisis delegitimated
the New Order regime in Indonesia and occasioned yet another round of
constitution-writing in Thailand. Yet in both these cases, and in the Philippines as
well, subsequent democratization has created no obvious elite or mass enthusiasm
for liberal democracy, greater pluralism or the uncertain outcomes that it generates.
A brief examination of these ASEAN cases in the next section illustrates why.

State-led development and the regional democratization paradox

The Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand share a recent history of domination by
strong men rather than single parties. The military has, at various times, assumed
a significant role in their development. More recently, the political, business
and military elites of these states have, somewhat anxiously, become more open
to the possibility of multiparty politics as national economies have developed
and an urbanized middle class has pressed for democratic change and greater
This pressure became particularly acute in Indonesia in the wake of the financial
crisis. Although Indonesian democratization has proceeded somewhat uncertainly
since the country's first post-New Order elections in 1999, business, military,
political, religious and regional elites have nevertheless conditionally accepted
the political formula of certain electoral processes leading to uncertain political
outcomes. The country's first direct presidential elections of 2004 brought into
office the former General Susilo Bambang Yudhyono of the small Democrat Party
(PD). He rules in conjunction with Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, whose Golkar
party, representing the old bureaucratic and business elites, secured the highest
number of seats in the 2004 dewan rakyat (national parliament) elections.
This transition has not been without its political achievements. The government
has effectively managed the peace process in Aceh, and a Law on the Governance
of Aceh was passed by parliament in July 2006. While Papuan separatism remains
a problem, the government nevertheless appears to have contrived to negotiate
demands for greater regional autonomy without unduly compromising Jakarta's
This notwithstanding, the economy has struggled to attract overseas inves
tors since the meltdown of 1997. FDI fell by 44 per cent year on year between
January and September 2006.33 Inflation and unemployment remain high, and
domestic consumption and confidence remain low. Within institutions and across
the archipelago, at both central and regional government levels, corruption is well
documented and has been, if anything, exacerbated by devolution and democra
tization. Transparency International ranked Indonesia 137th out of 159 countries
surveyed in 2006, alongside Liberia.34
Significantly, the government has been widely criticized for its failure to move
more decisively against a large and sclerotic bureaucracy. At the same time, a heady

33 'Investors need incentives', Asia Monitor 17, 12 Dec. 2006.

34 Rebecca Weisser, 'SBY passes first tests', The Australian, 31 July 2006.

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mixture of corruption, inflation and poverty, in a climate of greater media freedom,

feeds the popularity of political Islam, as is reflected in the growing appeal of the
Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). The call of the PKS for transparency and for a
more stringent application of Islamic observance and anti-pornography legisla
tion has seen 30 of the country's 440 districts introduce elements of Shari'a law.
Meanwhile, the more apocalyptically inclined Jemaah Islamiyah and its affiliates
remain a worrying presence in democratizing Indonesia and continue to unsettle
relations between Christians and Muslim communities in Central Sulawesi.
Indeed, the process of democratization, coupled with economic uncertainty,
has unintentionally assisted the transnational ambition of a radical Islamism
that challenges the state-based regional order. More broadly, the promotion of
pluralism in South-East Asia has reinvigorated communalist attachments rather
than openness and tolerance. Regional statesmen of an older generation and more
pragmatic outlook were profoundly aware of this fact, having experienced inter
ethnic riots and interreligious tensions in the aftermath of decolonization in Singa
pore, Malaysia, and the Philippines, as well as Indonesia.
The Philippines offers a contemporary example of how tension between Chris
tian and Muslim communities has perennially disturbed domestic politics since
decolonization. Since 1986 People Power has intensified communal divisions as
the Catholic majority state continues to struggle with the separatist/communalist
demands of the Muslim south.
Separatism is not the only challenge to the fragile democracy that has struggled
to establish itself over the past 20 years. The current government of President
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has endured attempted coups and impeachment since her
contested victory in the presidential election of 2004. Allegations of election fraud
remain unanswered, and consequently the legitimacy of the President remains in
question. In a country where the appeal to People Power has overthrown unpop
ular rulers, Arroyo's opinion poll ratings remain abysmal, and her authority rests
increasingly on the support of the military high command, who in turn have to
manage discontent within the army's middle ranks. Such dependence of politics on
the military is a concern, given that the coup represents the unofficial mechanism
for ousting civilian rulers and changing constitutions in democratizing South-East
Asia. The Philippines witnessed the exposure of two coup attempts by middle
ranking officers in February and May 2006.
In Thailand the military, which pioneered the modern practice of the coup d'etat
in 1932, has been yet more influential in determining the political process. General
Sonthi's coup of 19 September 2006, ostensibly intended to restore democratic rule
and constitutional propriety, illustrated the continuing political fragility of one of
the more economically successful states of the region.
Tension escalated after 2001, as Thaksin Shinawatra developed an oligarchic hold
over the Thai political process, despite a constitution designed in 1997 to secure
the rule of law, with provisions for establishing independent commissions capable
of checking corruption and the arbitrary use of power. Under this 'democratic
charter' Thaksin, Thailand's biggest media conglomerate player, turned his Thai

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Rak Thai party into a powerful engine of corporatist control, consolidating power
through three election victories between 2001 and 2006. Via the classic South-East
Asian combination of money politics, paternalism and largesse, especially to the
rural north-east, Thailand was developing along the technocratically guided lines
of single-party rule favoured by its most successful ASEAN neighbours, Malaysia
and Singapore.
However, increasing political control exacerbated conflict between Thaksin and
Bangkok's increasingly demonstrative middle class, culminating in a snap election
in April which the opposition?somewhat problematically, from a democratic
perspective?boycotted. The election, which Thaksin won, did little to enhance
his authority.
The subsequent coup reflected a short-lived alliance between pro-democracy
groups, the Bangkok elites and those around the king and his privy council who
exercise a patrimonial hold over the Bangkok masses. While the privy council and
the military had become increasingly concerned with law and order, particularly
Thaksin's inept handling of the separatist Pattani Muslim insurgency in the south,
the Bangkok middle class wanted greater freedom of expression and government
In these circumstances the decision by the National Security Council in late
2006 to appoint an interim prime minister, to govern for a year under an interim
constitution, and nominate a 242-member legislative assembly, composed largely
of former military personnel, bureaucrats and academics, only exacerbated uncer
tainty. Civil society groups found themselves stuck between the rock that was
Thaksin and the hard place of reinvented elite guidance.
The fall and exile of Thaksin exposed a political dilemma. The middle classes
demanded a swift return to constitutional rule, yet new elections held in December
2007 only confirmed the mass appeal of Shinawatraism in the guise of Thaksin's
proxy, Samak Sandaravej's People Power Party.
The Thai elites have thus attempted to craft a political formula that combines
respect for the role of the monarchy and privy council with the liberal aspira
tions of the urban middle classes and the material needs of the rural masses while
excluding the possibility of single party dominance. Yet the electoral outcome,
in the form of a coalition headed by the People Power Party, has only generated
doubt about the stability of the latest constitution.
Evidently, as these three cases demonstrate, democratization does not neces
sarily afford greater security, enhance developmental prospects or attract foreign
What, then, of the very late-developing ASEAN states, all of authoritarian hue,
which have only recently subscribed to ASEAN on the grounds that it guaranteed
non-interference in their internal affairs?

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Democratization and the post-Leninist party-state developmental model

Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos compete alongside a couple of African

states for the dubious honour of the countries with the lowest GDP on the planet.
Significantly, these most recent, conspicuously poorer and economically burdened
ASEAN members, currently groping their way out of the benighted economic
and political conditions that the various South-East Asian styles of communism
or socialism visited upon them, joined ASEAN to establish regional stability, gain
access to markets and attract FDI, not to participate in liberal democracy. Indeed,
there is little in the recent political practice of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to
suggest a burgeoning popular or elite interest in the polymorphous pluralism
afforded by liberal institutions.
By all measures, therefore, Cambodia, Laos, Burma/Myanmar and Vietnam
constitute a distinct group whose standard of living, GDP, human rights and
standards of rule-based governance are substantially below those of their ASEAN
partners. Thus Cambodia, which like Burma experienced a profoundly troubled
post-colonial history, has also found it difficult to adjust to the post-communist
East Asian world. Like its neighbour Laos, Cambodia is one ofthe poorest countries
in the world, according to the World Bank, with a gross national income per capita
of just US $38o.35
In this context, Prime Minister Hun Sen's growing control over parliament,
business and the press has effectively muzzled Cambodia's nascent civil society. A
defamation law passed by parliament in August 2006, which overrides parliamen
tary immunity, constituted in the view of the US ambassador an act of 'collective
self castration'.3 For Cambodian human rights activist Kem Sokha, Cambodia has
become a 'yo yo democracy' subject to prime ministerial whim.
However, all this notwithstanding, the stability of evolving single-party rule
has facilitated an accommodation between the government and its long-term critic
Sam Rainsy, whom King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned in February 2006. At the
same time the government has moved, albeit at a somewhat glacial pace, towards a
joint UN?Cambodian judicial tribunal to try the ageing remnants ofthe genocidal
Khmer Rouge regime responsible for the death of up to 2 million Cambodians
between 1975 and 1979. The tribunal began hearings in 2007. Thus, any prospect of
stability and economic development reflects the achievement of a democratically
questionable coalition government consisting of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's
Party and Prince Norodim Ranariddh's royalist Funcinpec, with power concen
trated increasingly in the office of the prime minister.
Laotian politics appears equally opaque and inscrutable. As in Cambodia, a
Marxist/Leninist/Maoist-inspired party, the Pathet Lao, seized power in 1975
and subsequently ruled the Lao People's Democratic Republic in the form of the
highly secretive Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). Unlike Cambodia, but

35 http ://, accessed 27

Sept. 2006.
3 'Investors need incentives'.

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like Vietnam, Laos under the LPRP, following the example of the Soviet Union,
adopted market-oriented reforms after 1986.
The LPRP, however, maintains strict control over the developmental process.
Former President Kamtay Siphandone opened the country to foreign aid but
maintained the party's authoritarian grip, declaring in 1995 that criticism of the
party was 'contrary to historical reality and the national interest'.37 The strategy
has not been wholly ineffective. Rising from an admittedly very low base, growth
since 2004 has averaged over 7 per cent per annum, and industrial production now
supersedes that of agriculture. Forecasts estimate that FDI directed to the mining
and hydropower sectors will reach $327 million by 2007.3
Moreover, since joining ASEAN in 1995, Laos has deepened economic ties with
Thailand, China and Vietnam. Nine-tenths of Lao trade is covered by ASEAN's
common effective preferential tariff scheme, and Laos stands to benefit greatly
from a deeper integration in the proposed AFTA. Already, two-way trade between
Laos and Vietnam has grown exponentially, totalling $688 million between 2001
and 2005, and Vietnam, which hosted APEC in November 2006, supported Laotian
membership of the grouping. This notwithstanding, China and Thailand remain
Vientiane's key economic partners.39
Significantly, elections in April 2006 to the 115-member national assembly saw
the LPRP maintain its absolute dominance of the institutional landscape. This was
no doubt helped by the fact that it is the only legal party. Moreover, a generational
reshuffle in party leadership reflects the fact that 'the regime is confident their
system is working'.40 As Martin Stuart-Fox observes, the developmental outlook
'is for continuing tight party control, resistance to any kind of political reform or
transparency, encouragement of foreign investment and dependence on foreign
Guidance by a single Leninist party that has adapted to the demands of the
market since 1986 also characterizes Vietnam's political and economic evolu
tion. Indeed, Vietnam affords something of a model for the transitional ASEAN
economies. Embarking on a policy of doi moi, or economic renovation, after 1986,
Vietnam joined ASEAN in 1995. Subsequently Vietnam integrated rapidly into the
global economy. Since 2002 it has registered the fastest growth in South-East Asia,
at over 8 per cent per annum, and in November 2006 hosted the annual meeting
of leaders of APEC, an organization it only joined in 1998. Vietnamese growth is,
like that of its more developed ASEAN partners, export-oriented and dependent
on FDI.

37 'Lao Communist Party chief steps down but reforms unlikely', Agence France Presse, 21 March 2006.
38 The Director General of the Department of Geology and Mines estimated that the country generated over
$200 million in mineral export revenues by the second quarter of 2006.
39 'Laos risk summary', Asia Monitor 17, 6 Aug. 2006. Thailand is particularly invested in Laotian infrastructure
and hydroelectric projects, and remains the landlocked state's primary commercial partner. See also Saw Swee
Hock, Sheng Lijun and Chin Kin Wah, eds, Asean?China relations: realities and prospects (Singapore: Institute for
South-East Asian Studies, 2005), p. 52.
40 'Lao Communist Party chief steps down but reforms unlikely'.
41 Quoted in Denis D. Gray, 'Communist Party to continue tight control over Laos', Associated Press, 22 March

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Ironically, the United States, the country against which the Vietnamese
Communist Party fought its war of liberation until 1975, is now its major trading
partner. The permanent normalizing of trade relations with the United States
in December 2006, a crucial precursor to Vietnam's entry into the WTO in late
2006, improved the country's growth prospects and enhanced its attractiveness to
foreign investors.42
The party has thus managed to sustain export-oriented development since 1986.
In April 2006, as in Laos, the party appointed a new guard of younger leaders
committed both to quickening the pace of the country's economic transforma
tion and to maintaining the party's control of the process. As Pham The Duyet,
chairman of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, explained, 'There cannot be any
multiparty system, it is a matter of principle.'43
The April 2006 party congress consequently devoted itself to enhancing 'party
leadership and combative strength'. This was not entirely surprising, as the congress
and the leadership reshuffle coincided with the revelation of a major corruption
scandal that permeated the upper echelons of the party.44 As Carl Thayer has
observed, the unaccountability of the party and politburo renders such struc
tural corruption a continuing drag on Vietnam's growth prospects. Yet notwith
standing this inevitable downside to party-led growth and the opacity that goes
with it, bureaucratically led development remains central to Vietnam's stability
and continuing attractiveness to FDI.
A similar case of non-liberal development producing overall utility-maximizing
outcomes could not be made for Burma/Myanmar's State Peace and Development
Council (SPDC). Myanmar's human rights record places it in the category of
'outlaw' or failed states. As the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice observed
in March 2006, Myanmar 'is now out of step with the entire modern experience
of the region'.45
The military junta that has ruled Myanmar since 1962 took the country into
ASEAN in 1997. ASEAN's constructive engagement with the SPDC since then has
failed to modify its arbitrary exercise of power.46 ASEAN has had minimal impact
upon the reclusive leadership of a state where 'child and forced labour is common.
Aid workers are treated with suspicion, foreign journalists are blacklisted, local
media is censored and giving information to outsiders is a jailable offence.'47
Indeed, since Senior General Than Shwe assumed chairmanship of the SPDC in
2002 the regime has become a virtual autocracy.

42 'US, Vietnam hail vote to normalize trade relations', Financial Times, 12 Dec. 2006.
43 'Vietnam Congress mixes old with new', http ://
asia-pacific/49417, accessed 29 Sept. 2006.
44 The scandal, revealed in the normally docile state-controlled press, centred upon the Transport Ministry
project management bureau known as PMU-18, which manages over $2 billion worth of infrastructure
contracts. Rather than building roads, senior members of the ministry instead gambled over US$7 million on
European soccer matches.
45 Anthony Paul, 'Myanmar's capital: a bunker too far?' Straits Times, 24 March 2006.
4 It took power when the military junta cancelled the 1990 election result, which gave a landslide victory to the
opposition National League for Democracy.
47 Connie Levett, 'A land where freedom is a dirty word', Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 2006.

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Transparency International lists Myanmar as one of the world's most corrupt

states. Motivated by a mixture of suspicion and astrology, the SPDC moved the
capital in 2005 from Yangon (Rangoon) to a heavily fortified site at Naypidaw, 400
kilometres inland. This retreat into the jungle reflects the junta's siege mentality,
as the country faces financial meltdown.4 Even before the cyclone that ravaged
the Irrawaddy delta in May 2008, the military had evolved a distinctively paranoid
style that would reject foreign aid and ignore the plight of its subjects rather than
expose the country to the media coverage that would accompany humanitarian
Would, it might reasonably be asked, a more robust ASEAN charter and
mechanism of enforcement transform the politics of what is evidently a failed and
delusional regime? Somewhat embarrassingly, in November 2007 ASEAN found
itself launching its charter, which progressively embraced the norms of democracy
and human rights among its members, including Myanmar, just as the SPDC was
engaging in a brutal crackdown on opponents of the regime seeking, by peaceful
means, to achieve the norms the charter ostensibly advanced. The problem here is
that the only pressure that ASEAN could exert upon the junta is expulsion from
the association for failing to implement charter obligations.
However, even in the face of the junta's complete disregard of its responsibility
to protect its people in the Irrawaddy delta in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, this is a
course that ASEAN refuses to contemplate. Instead, ASEAN devised a face-saving
'mechanism' to enable foreign aid to enter Myanmar under ostensible ASEAN
supervision. As Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo explained, 'it does not
make sense for us to work on the basis of forcing aid upon Myanmar because that
will create unnecessary complications'.49

ASEAN norms and the rise of China

Expelling Burma, as Yeo recognizes, would fragment regional order without

necessarily changing the SPDC regime. Significantly, the SPDC declined the
chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006 rather than relinquish any aspect of its arbitrary
grip. In this, it has the covert support of the People's Republic of China. This is
significant not only for the regime's survival, but also for the cohesion of ASEAN,
given the growing impact of China since 1997 upon the political economy of the
South-East Asian states. In this context, in January 2006 the SPDC concluded a
contract to supply natural gas from the Bay of Bengal to southern China. Unlike
the international community and some supporters of the ASEAN charter, China
has no problem with the Myanmar regime, and even if it did, it would avoid inter
ference in the internal affairs of a neighbouring state.
Thus, while there is external pressure from the UN, the EU and the United
States for ASEAN to adopt a more proactive approach to issues of governance and

4 Sean Turnell, 'Burma's economy 2004 crisis making stagnation', in Trevor Wilson, ed., Myanmar's long road to
national reconciliation (Singapore: Asia?Pacific Press,), p. 77.
49 See Lee Siew Hua, 'Myanmar to accept global aid via ASEAN', Straits Times, 20 May 2008.

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human rights, particularly in Myanmar, to do so would not only contravene the

principle of non-interference that has over time secured and extended the basis of
regional stability, demonstrably the sine qua non of South-East Asia's development;
it would also go against Chinese inclinations and foreign policy objectives.
China, like the late-developing post-communist states in the grouping, has
adapted, after some notable tergiversations, to the collegial and non-binding
consensual style of ASEAN, in the process developing a new economic and diplo
matic approach towards the region since the financial crisis of 1997. The 2002
ASEAN 'Declaration on the conduct of the parties in the South China Sea', which
sought to resolve disputes over maritime claims between a number of ASEAN
states and China, peacefully reflected this evolving policy of 'good neighbour
liness'. Sino-ASEAN trade also expanded dramatically. Subsequently, China
joined the ASEAN Plus Three grouping and the East Asian Summit mechanism.
It also agreed a framework for economic cooperation as the basis for a forthcoming
ASEAN?China free trade agreement.50
China's rise has not, however, been an unmixed blessing for ASEAN, for
which it represents an economic threat as well as an opportunity.51 On the plus
side, China offers the prospect of a burgeoning market for ASEAN that may in
time lessen both ASEAN's and China's 'over dependence on developed markets'
in Europe and the United States.52 China's growth has also fuelled demand for
South-East Asian natural resources?palm oil from Malaysia, and oil and natural
gas from Indonesia?as well as affording access to financial and other services from
Singapore and Thailand.
However, China's growth has sucked FDI out of ASEAN. As the World Investment
Report shows, FDI flows into South-East Asia declined between 2000 and 2003, 'with
repayments of intra-company loans by foreign affiliates... a feature of the decline, as
was the increased competition from China'. By contrast, FDI in China rose dramati
cally.53 Moreover, reciprocal FDI flows between ASEAN and China are asymmet
rical. Thus, while the wealthier ASEAN states, notably Singapore, increasingly
invest in China, China invests little in ASEAN. Significantly, where it does invest it
invests strategically, in the poorer ASEAN states that abut southern China.54
This trading relationship is premised on China's comfort with the ASEAN
TAC, which aligns with its own five principles of peaceful coexistence outlined by
Zhou Enlai in 1955. Altering the terms of the regional pact that has both reinforced
state sovereignty and fulfilled its limited task of achieving and extending regional
stability and, more recently, shaping China's behaviour towards the region, would
therefore potentially undermine this achievement, discourage foreign investment
and set back development in the region.

50 Suthiphand Chirathivat, 'ASEAN-China FTA: opportunities, modalities and prospects,' in Saw, Sheng and
Chin, ASEAN-China relations, p. 240. The FTA affects the original members of ASEAN plus Brunei from 2010,
the more recent members from 2015.
51 Suthiphand, 'ASEAN-China FTA', p. 230.
52 Shen Danyang, 'ASEAN?China FTA', in Saw, Sheng and Chin, ASEAN?China relations, p. 220.
53 Thus FDI in ASEAN fell from US$15 billion to US$14 billion between 2001 and 2002, while FDI in China rose
to US$53 billion over the same period. See UNCTAD, World Investment Report (Geneva, 2003), p. 41.
54 Suthiphand, 'ASEAN-China FTA', p. 235.

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Democratic norms versus economic realities

With the benefit of hindsight it is now clear that the Asian financial crisis of 1997
afforded a salutary example of how different the post-Cold War era of millennial
capital is from its statist predecessor.55 In the wake of the crisis it was assumed
that the East and South-East Asian development model needed radical political
and economic restructuring. This was both the condition and the substance of
IMF prescriptions for bailing out the liquidity-challenged Thai and Indonesian
economies after 1997.
In the post-1997 global economic environment, the ruling elites of both high
performing and less vibrant South-East Asian economies adjusted to a new world
order of footloose and relatively cheap money, and an emerging transnational
condition, increasingly financially and economically interconnected but by no
means integrated.
Durable disorder, has, moreover, rendered developing and developed South
East Asia more, rather than less, dependent upon, anxious about and exposed to the
vagaries of the fast-moving world of stock exchanges that never sleep and the need
to attract FDI to sustain growth. Regimes that successfully adapt to the new global
political economy must cultivate political stability and a degree of transparency,
remain open to the market, and possess the techno-managerial capacity to adjust
flexibly both to the risks?the epiphenomenal downside of the new condition?
and the opportunities for growth and trade offered by increased connectivity.5
Certainly since 1997 we can identify South-East Asian states adjusting the shape
of the state, with varying degrees of competence, to the testing requirements
of this new environment. The regimes range from the autocratic military junta
ruling Myanmar, through uncertain coalitions in Cambodia, former communist
parties adjusting to the market in Laos and Vietnam, presidential or parliamentary
constitutional systems with multiparty assemblies in the Philippines, Indonesia
and, since 2007, Thailand, and consolidated parliamentary systems dominated by a
single party in both Malaysia and Singapore, to an absolute sultanate in Brunei.
South-East Asia, has, therefore, adjusted with difficulty to the financial crisis of
1997. The outcome has demonstrated a cultural preference for an administrative
rather than a liberal, pluralist or democratic state system as the basis for managing
the effects of millennial capital. This non-liberal model, however, cannot be purely
autocratic, autarkic, secretive or unaccountable. The failing state of Myanmar and
the developmental difficulties faced by Cambodia and even Vietnam illustrate the
limitations of such an approach. At the same time, a multiparty model with a liberal
constitution has failed to demonstrate its effectiveness. The recent history of the
Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia evinces an elite suspicion of this democratic
The most successful model is a technocratic, administrative one that embraces
flexible and pragmatic leadership by a dominant party, subject to a mechanism of
regular elections and a degree of economic transparency. Classically exemplified by
55 Mead, Power, terror, peace and war, pp. 73?7.
56 The threats posed include transnational terror, crime, and increased environmental and biological risk.

International Affairs 84: 4, 2008
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Security and democracy

the city-state of Singapore (although its lineaments are apparent also in Malaysia,
Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam), the model offers a form of
non-liberal administration that requires controlled or responsible media; regular
elections; market accountability; and technocratic guidance over time to achieve
developmental targets. Indeed, Singapore's successful mix of social and political
control with a degree of transparency and economic accountability represents a
stable long-term developmental model. The political formula achieved recognizes
a felt need to maintain cohesion in the face of global and regional uncertainty. The
strategy reflects an elite pact that combines ethnic, religious, economic and military
interests in a developmental coalition. This pact is one which other economically
progressive states of South-East Asia seek to craft in their own polities.
It is not a formula that the promotion of abstract democratic values normatively,
or supranationally, will evidently enhance. Instead of strengthening democracy,
ASEAN urgently needs to achieve an integrated South-East Asian market. In
other words, ASEAN chartism should focus on designing an effective institutional
structure rather than on promoting idealist abstractions. A 'stable, prosperous and
highly competitive ASEAN region in which there is a free flow of goods, services
[and] investment', the ostensible aim of the Declaration of ASEAN Concord in
2003, requires an impartially administered framework of rules.57
Currently, however, ASEAN is hindered by a fragmented market character
ized by 'high transaction costs, and an unpredictable policy environment'.58 As the
Report of the Eminent Persons Group on the ASEAN Charter (2006) lamented, 'ASEAN's
problem is not one of lack of vision, ideas or action plans. The problem is one
of ensuring compliance.'59 Here, ASEAN processes of non-binding consensus
only reinforce its member states' continuing dependence on external markets
and FDI, inhibiting the creation of a potentially integrated region of 550 million

The absence of a common market for consumption or investment, to

with low levels of intra-industry trade, means that economic integration is u
Without effective enforcement mechanisms, the more developed member
such as Singapore and Thailand, form free trade agreements with trading pa
outside the region, while the less developed states?Cambodia, Laos, My
Burma and Vietnam?are drawn increasingly into China's sphere of inf
through emerging arrangements like the Greater Mekong subregion,
embraces southern China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietn
The pull of a rising China since 1997 has only intensified centrifugal press
within ASEAN. Mitigating this trend requires not democratic advocacy but m
deepening between ASEAN's economic core and its less developed periph

57 Bali Concord II, B i.

58 The quotation is from the McKinsey report, commissioned in 2002, whose findings were en
Report of the Eminent Persons' Group, p. 12: see, accessed 7 January 2008
59 Report of the Eminent Persons' Group, p. 3.

International Affairs 84:4, 2008
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David Martin f ones

Regional order built contingently upon the pragmatic decisions of state elites
has been the condition for regional growth and development in South-East Asia.
The realization of this order represents both an important achievement in itself,
recognized as such by an earlier generation of statesmen, and the establishment
of a basis on which the association's widely disparate member states could each
pursue export-oriented growth and political development in its own culturally
distinct manner. The sovereignty of the member state has been the condition of
this successful, growth-oriented order. Moreover, it was the prudent behaviour
of state elites building on the distinct cultural traditions, experiences and practices
of the region, seeking to achieve a regime that was practicable in the circum
stances rather than to pursue abstract norms, reason or any commitment to a
historically realizable ideological process, that achieved this order.
The abstract application of norms of democratic accountability and interna
tional law via a supranational ASEAN mechanism would erode the state sover
eignty central to the stability of this pragmatically achieved condition. Making the
state basis of the order conform to an abstract rational standard would in practice
create uncertainty among the organization's membership and, while no doubt
improving levels of democracy, would not necessarily enhance security. Given that
the most successfully developed members of ASEAN follow non-liberal modes of
political organization, and that liberal democracy has done little to secure stability,
justice or growth in the developmental practice of those states that have toyed
with it, there is no reason to expect the promotion of liberal democracy through
an ASEAN charter might enhance its success. It might even promote disintegra
tion rather than the wished-for integrated community: first, because democracy
promotion would facilitate the activities of those non-liberal communalist senti
ments that seek to recast the political boundaries and political values of the region
by cultivating democratic means in order to achieve radically destabilizing ends;
and second, because it would mark a democratizing fault-line between the less and
more developed ASEAN states, paradoxically undermining in the process the very
aims of the charter.
Given China's size and growing regional hegemony, recourse to ASEAN charter
mechanisms to strengthen democracy would not evidently improve the prospects
for ASEAN's political or economic integration. Therefore, ASEAN needs more
urgently to devote its attention to what is both economically feasible and utility
maximizing in South-East Asia. To the extent that it modifies norms as part of a
disposition to improve upon what it has achieved, it needs to do this in the light
of its practical experience. In this context, enhancing mechanisms that promote
the integration of a single market are more in keeping with the prudential ends
of building regional cooperation than any abstract rationalist assault on the sover
eignty of member states.

International Affairs 84: 4, 2008
? 2008 The Author(s). Journal Compilation ? 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/The Royal Institute of International Affairs

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