Editorial: Beggar thy ASEAN
The Jakarta Post   |  Fri, 02/27/2009 1:30 PM  |  Opinion 

Another year, another summit. By this time next week it is debatable whether 
anyone will have noticed that Southeast Asia's most powerful leaders had 
gathered for a round of meetings that were likely predictable and formulaic. 

In an era of change, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a 
dawdling monolith weighed down by expectations and its own ineffectiveness.

For three decades, ASEAN was a nationally important pillar because the status 
quo made it so. In other words, it was important not because of its natural 
significance but because it was positioned as part of the national narrative as 
defined by the state. 

Now with the state unable to define a dogma, the true value of ASEAN is coming 
under question. 
And well it should. 

The 14th ASEAN Summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, this coming weekend seems to be 
more of a showcase for the government of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva 
to have an international stage to legitimize his relatively young 
administration. After several cancellations due to the political upheaval in 
Thailand, it is important for the prime minister to restore some regional pride 
and reclaim Thailand's role as a regional player and one of the original 
founders of ASEAN.

Other than that, there is little expectation that the summit can produce 
substantial progress.
Routinity is a dangerous habit. Stuck in a cycle of meetings with a dependence 
on bureaucratic legalese, ASEAN is entrenched in the habit of habits: meetings, 
summits, declarations and statements. 

All are important, but in times of crisis and change, conformity is the foe in 
the needed creativity. 

Southeast Asia is in an era of crisis and change. ASEAN is reflecting neither. 

There is a sense of déjà vu as ASEAN, as it did in 1997-1998, remains hapless 
as the gloomy economic clouds gathers and the economic storm now hits regional 

The response of ASEAN member states to each other during this economic downturn 
has not been one of better thy neighbor, but beggar thy neighbor. 

Despite all its grand claims and structural achievements, ASEAN remains stuck 
in an old-world style of behavior irrelevant to the new generation of ASEAN 
citizens or the challenges they need to face. 

Wedged in protocol, there was no solid action from ASEAN over the plight of the 
Rohingya refugees. Silence is golden when political sensitivities are beholden. 

The glimmer of hope that remains is that flesh can placed on the imperfect 
skeletons of the ASEAN Charter. 

We believe the charter must be charged to become a living document that is 
amended and improved to eventually embody the values of its peoples. 

Noting the theme of this year's summit, "Charter for ASEAN Peoples", the Thai 
prime minister during a visit to Jakarta recently said, "The new ASEAN will 
work more closely with regional nonstate actors, be they parliamen-tarians, the 
private sector and civil society groups". 

To further enhance and promote people's participation in the ASEAN 
community-building process, ASEAN leaders, he said, would meet with 
representatives from these groups, including members of parliament, youth 
leaders and civil society organizations during the summit. 
All in the name of forging "an ASEAN citizenship among our people". 

We believe such courtesies are superficial and passé. 

The fact of the matter is in the last two decades - despite the grand speeches 
and cultural exchanges - ASEAN simply has not invested or even allowed a 
greater voice for the participation of nonstate and civil society actors. 

It may be time for ASEAN to fess up and concede that it is no more than a 
bureaucratic superstructure designed to facilitate relations between state 
power holders. 

Let go of the slogans and empty promises that lead its citizens to believe that 
this grouping is nothing more than a powwow to facilitate trade liberalization 
and sustain a peaceful hegemony in Southeast Asia. 

Sadly, Indonesia, which has invested so much in this grouping, will have the 
most to lose. Once a cornerstone of foreign policy, this wonderful assemblage 
is deteriorating into a liability for a values-based Indonesian foreign policy. 

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