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ASEAN Regionalism: Economic and political integration in Southeast Asia By Justina Chen
In its motives for formation, ASEAN differs little from other regional unions such as the European Union, developing in the aftermath of multiple security crises in the 1960s: the Indonesian konfrontasi, Singapore’s separation from Malaysia and Philippines’ claim to Sabah. The first ASEAN summit in 1976, held nine years after the set-‐up of the Association, seemed to indicate the imminent failure of the project. Despite an inauspicious start, ASEAN has become the most successful regional grouping in Asia-‐Pacific. The structure, or lack of such, has become a defining characteristic of the Association along with the practice of non-‐ interference in member states’ internal affairs. This brief article highlights the milestones in the ASEAN regionalism project and the obstacles that remain in order to achieve the desired political and economic integration. Despite the initial aims of the Association to manage security concerns in the region, ASEAN has gradually progressed into fuller economic integration. Economic cooperation was placed high in the agenda during the first ASEAN Summit. Between 1976 and 1992, this cooperation took the form of large-‐scale industrial projects and Preferential Trading Arrangements. Each ASEAN country would adopt an industrial project using indigenous raw materials, which would then enjoy a monopoly in the ASEAN market. The Preferential Trading Arrangements facilitated this endeavor through mutual recognition of “margins of preference” in tariffs for the ASEAN Industrial Projects as well as a negotiated list of goods. It is worthwhile to note that economic cooperation in the initial years failed to take off due to conflicting national interests and a growing trend of economic liberalization in individual countries. The next wave of economic integration came in 1992 when the then six members of ASEAN pledged to achieve regional economic integration. The determination to achieve this was reflected in the 2003 Declaration of ASEAN Concord II which articulated the joint ambition to transform the region into “a single market and production base”. The four new members– Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia – were obliged to sign on to the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) Treaty and other economic agreements. Almost all intra-‐regional trade now is free of tariffs. Additionally, ASEAN has recognized the importance of removing non-‐tariff trade barriers in its quest to achieve a single ASEAN market. Various framework agreements and action programs have been adopted since 1992 aimed at moving the regional market towards integration. Among the matters encompassed by the agreements and 1
rule-‐based regional community in three dimensions: political/security. Trade liberalization is impeded by non-‐tariff trade barriers which remain firmly in place. There is a notable lack of political cohesion in the region. ASEAN has adopted regional policies on two significant matters: the issue of Indochinese asylum-‐seekers and resistance to Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia. economic and socio-‐cultural. the harmonization of product standards. manufacture or otherwise acquire. with states complying with their rulings. both occurring in the 1990s. station or transport nuclear weapons by any means. Economic and political integration will continue to evolve with the adoption of the ASEAN Charter. possess or have control over nuclear weapons. Economic integration has proven far more difficult to achieve than envisioned. mutual recognition of product testing. ASEAN regionalism has failed to deliver true economic and political integration. one of ASEAN’s greatest achievements to date is the realization of regional peace. the expansion of transportation linkages and liberalization of trade in services. the Charter enhances the institutional capacities of the Association by strengthening the role of the Secretariat and incorporates formalized dispute settlement mechanisms. The Charter also promises a more integrated. rejection of the use of force and non-‐interference in state’s internal affairs. important in creating a sense of solidarity. Some stirrings of a common political outlook have been observed. or test or use nuclear weapons". continuing problems of intra-‐regional transport facilities and uneven reform and coordination of local customs have further contributed to the problem. Additionally. 2 . Besides the few instances mentioned above. The International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea have settled bilateral territorial disputes in the past. The adoption of the Treaty of Amity during the first summit set out clear norms for inter-‐state relations such as the peaceful settlement of disputes. programs are: the adoption of common tariff nomenclatures. Varying product standards. It has also been united in its interactions with Beijing on South China Sea questions. All members as well as 14 non-‐ member states have acceded to the TAC and have largely applied the norms in practice. Regional security is also maintained through the ratification of the Treaty on Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-‐Free 1995 which obliges all member states not to "develop. In terms of political integration. the group has shown little leadership on political questions affecting the region such as the explosive situation in Myanmar and the question of changing demographics affecting migrant flows into certain countries. The Charter has allowed ASEAN to finally be recognized as an entity with standing in international law. Despite laudable successes.
If it is empowered to study and make recommendations on vital issues. common history or language. The first is the issue of regional identity. notably: agreeing upon and adhering to norms of inter-‐state behavior. Economic integration will not progress. it will be best placed to propose integrated regional viewpoints. despite formal frameworks and action plans. To this end. without political will. The Association’s achievements over the past four decades are numerous. commitment to 3 . made up of a combination of islands and continental components. a new monitoring office (the ASEAN Integration Monitoring Office) has been set up to strengthen the capacity of the ASEAN Secretariat to monitor the process of regional integration. The ideal institution to present the ASEAN outlook on regional integration issues is the Secretariat. or widen the gap between the two. it will have to come up with a strong. In order for ASEAN to come up with common positions on political issues that affect transboundary interests such as further integration and the environment. Disregard of the identity issue will allow stronger conflicting national interests and competition to overwhelm the integration process. Another contributing factor is the varying colonial influence in the region. which aims at achieving greater overall ASEAN connectivity through a comprehensive plan for implementation. The Secretariat should be enabled to formulate cogent and coherent positions on regional issues through increased powers and clear mechanisms for the development and implementation of policies. ASEAN has proven its critics wrong by moving beyond its unpromising roots into a new season of deeper integration. without full comprehension of the inter-‐relation between the two. shared identity to bind the region into a cohesive bloc. Much is still to be done and it remains to be seen if the ASEAN Community Roadmap will serve to bridge the processes of economic and political integration. the lack of which has been linked to states making decisions out of national interest rather than considering the implications on the community as a whole. No clear Southeast Asian identity exists. with countries being more inclined to form political linkages on the basis of their national economic stakes in regionalism. It is proposed that two major challenges to ASEAN regionalism must be addressed. The ASEAN Charter and the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community 2009-‐2015 serve as welcome assertions of the Association’s intent to foster greater interconnectedness. The second challenge that must be addressed is the tendency of the Association to pursue both economic integration and political cohesion as disparate aims. Some attempt has already been made in this regard through the adoption of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity in 2010. leading to diverse levels of development among countries. with people sharing little by way of culture. The explanation for this lies in the geographical characteristics of Southeast Asia. fostering regional security. It is equally true that regional economic integration forms a vital basis for political cohesion.
org/wordpress/wp-‐ content/uploads/2008/03/alternative_regionalism.pdf> accessed 26 April 2012. December 2010. which will take top-‐level policies and greater engagement with the ASEAN peoples themselves. LE THU. 395-‐405. Asia-‐Pacific Journal of Social Sciences Special Issue No. Contemporary Southeast Asia. ‘Many Faces and One Identity?: ASEAN in the Case of Human Rights Regime’. 4 . Fourth EU-‐ASEAN Think Tank Dialogue “EU and ASEAN – Integration and Solidarity” European Parliament. 29 Issue 3. ‘Contrasting the European Union and ASEAN Integration and Solidarity’. Chin Kin Wah. Severino. the process of regionalism cannot continue to be seen as one where political cohesion and economic integration take place in disjunction. Vol. It will need to work out the question of regional identity. (Joint publication of AFA and AsiaDHRRA) < http://asiadhrra. Dec 2007. 406-‐423. 56-‐70. Contemporary Southeast Asia.29 Issue 3. References Rodolfo C. regional economic cooperation and providing a platform for regional and international dialogue in certain sectors. ‘Building People-‐Oriented and Participatory Alternative Regionalism Models in Southeast Asia: An Exploratory Study’.1. Elenita Daño. ASEAN is reaching a transformational intersection in its history and stands to gain from its strength as a region in facing the challenges of a global world. ‘ASEAN Beyond Forty: Towards Political and Economic Integration’. Also. Vol. Brussels. Ultimately. Dec 2007. Dr. Ludo Cuyvers. Huong. ‘Introduction: ASEAN – Facing the Fifth Decade’. 25-‐26 November 2002.
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