Asean mapping out a vision for 2045
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Asean mapping out a vision for 2045

A performance during the 27th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Nov 22, 2015. (Photo: AFP)
A performance during the 27th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Nov 22, 2015. (Photo: AFP)

Regional experts and scholars have been busy squeezing their brains to draft Asean's vision for the next two decades. They are already halfway there. However, a lot more needs to be done to ensure that the new Asean Community Post 2025 Vision, which will now run up to 2045, will fit the overall aspiration of Asean citizens, who currently number roughly 672 million.

Today, Asean is facing new challenges both inside and outside. Since Asean's inception 55 years ago, its main raison d'etre was to deal with external challenges -- to unite against the hegemonic ambitions of the great powers, to leverage the bloc's collective power, and to promote cooperation and well-being of the people.

At that time, the member countries seldom discussed their own problems as they were busy with nation-building.

Throughout Asean's history, the Cambodian conflict and now the Myanmar quagmire have been two regional issues in which all members became involved. The sources of their conflicts were domestic, with regional ramifications due to cross-border impacts.

However, of late, Asean members have been facing new dilemmas caused by conflicts abroad, negatively affecting Asean members' economic and human security.

During the Cold War, Asean, through thick and thin, survived. But under today's increasingly fierce rivalries between superpowers, being prepared to deal with unexpected and unintended consequences will be high on the Asean leaders' priorities.

Leaders must prepare to have a modus operandi to lessen the negative repercussions of the new world's disorder on the Asean Community.

When Asean was formed, the Bangkok Declaration stated succinctly that its main goals were "promoting regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law" and, secondly, "accelerating economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours".

Whether Asean has fulfilled these objectives depends on the eyes of the beholders. Most critics would agree the bloc remains a "half-full" glass rather than "half-empty". It is exactly the first notion the task force, officially known as High-Level Task Force on the Asean Community's Vision Post 2025, is trying to fulfil.

In retrospect, Asean has come a long way in planning for the future. Before the Asean leaders agreed to set up the task force to prepare for a vision beyond 2025, the bloc already had Asean Vision 2020, which was agreed on in 1997 when Asean had 10 members.

The objectives were clear -- the vision purposefully constructed "Asean as a concert of Southeast Asian nations, outward looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership with dynamic development and a community of caring societies".

Over those 23 years, three important milestones were accomplished. In 2003, at the Bali Summit, the Bali Concord II mandated that the Asean Community be set up comprising three areas of cooperation -- political and security, economic and social-cultural.

To proceed further, Asean also agreed in 2007 to establish the legal and institutional framework for Asean. The outcome is the Asean Charter, enforced since December 2008.

In 2015, the Asean leaders perceived the Asean Community as "politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible" to face future challenges and opportunities. With the grouping's growing international profile and influence, the Asean vision in 2025 is to promote Asean centrality to ensure that the community will remain peaceful, stable, vibrant, resilient, and sustainable.

The question to contemplate now is how Asean will look in 2045. The 20-member bloc, established in 2022, will have until December 2025 to draw up the vision.

The Thai representatives are Deputy Foreign Minister Vijavat Isarabhakdi and Dr Soonthorn Chaiyindeepum, Deputy Secretary to the Prime Minister.

After 12 meetings, five in 2022, and seven this year, the task force is working on the content. At the Asean summit in May at Labuan Bajo, the group held an interface with the Asean leaders.

The task force has identified core elements of the new vision, covering three pillars: coordinating and streamlining processes across political/security, economic, and socio-culture. However, one new area that will lead to debate is the topic of institutional reform in the Asean scheme of things.

Three key issues related to institutional reform are how to enhance the capacity of various Asean organs and the Asean Secretary General, to make timely responsive and decision-making processes, and to improve cross-sectoral coordination. Their next task will be to interface with stakeholders before they draft the vision.

Interacting with stakeholders from all walks of life will be crucial in developing a people-centred and people-oriented vision.

The non-governmental stakeholders have criticised Asean for ignoring their input and views. They have often blamed the bloc's so-called top-down decision-making process.

With the increased participation of civil society organisations in all aspects of the Asean Community, more input from this sector must be considered by Asean leaders and drafters.

So far, some keywords have emerged from the draft Asean vision, which will encompass Asean's priorities -- Asean Outlook on Indo-Pacific, major rivalry in Indo-Pacific, digital disruption, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, supply chains and regulatory excellence, sustainable green and blue economies and non-communicable disease.

According to informed sources in the task force, all these efforts are aimed at making Asean more nimble and agile in all circumstances to respond to future challenges, both predictable and unpredictable.

There will be a mid-term review of the new Asean vision in 2035 to update it as needed. Given the current geopolitical dynamic and competition, nobody can predict what Asean or the world will look like in 2045.

Kavi Chongkittavorn

A veteran journalist on regional affairs

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist on regional affairs

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