Thu, 11 Aug 1994

ASEAN at 27: Achievements and deficiencies

By C.P.F. Luhulima

JAKARTA (JP): Twenty-seven years ago this week, ASEAN's foreign ministers set out a number of major goals for the association.

The first was to reconcile intra-regional strife which characterized Southeast Asia in the shape of border and territorial disputes, ethnic conflicts and animosities, religious prejudices, and the fear of the bigger states by the smaller ones.

Second was to manage intra-regional relations and establish a Southeast Asian regional order on the basis of the social and economic systems of the member states and the territorial status quo.

Both goals were to be achieved through a third goal which was to speed up "the economic growth social progress and cultural development in the region". This goal was indeed more pronounced than the goal to "promote regional peace and stability".

However, ASEAN's founding fathers were strong believers in the link-up between economic and societal development. On the one hand they targeted affluence, on the other, peace and stability. They have emphasized this linkage time and again in their speeches and in the agreements they have signed since the association's establishment.

They were further determined, and this was their fourth goal, to "ensure their stability and security from external interference in any form or manifestation" and to "preserve their national identities in accordance with the ideals and aspirations of their people".

Now, after 27 years, let us try to assess whether the successes gained have fulfilled the goals which were set at ASEAN's establishment.

First ASEAN has succeeded in diffusing the intra-regional strife and preventing it from re-emerging to the point of physical conflict. However, ASEAN is still a long way from conflict resolution. The Sabah dispute between Malaysia and the Philippines has not been resolved. It has only been diffused and prevented from arising again. The case is the same with the Ligitan-Sipadan dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia.

Second, ASEAN has been successful in creating a sub-regional order in Southeast Asia. It has codified that order in a Declaration of the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (1971); its legal instrument, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (1976), and its military component, the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (1984).

ASEAN had never actually employed the Pacific Settlement of Disputes contained in the Treaty to solve the border and territorial issues. Now in the post-Cold War era ASEAN has instituted ZOPFAN's main format, the ASEAN Regional Forum (1994), to secure the recognition and respect for Southeast Asia as a security community. It has also been successful in making peace in Cambodia in cooperation with major outside powers, thus also highlighting ASEAN's peace-making role.

Third, ASEAN has also been successful in designing and implementing economic programs in the shape of the ASEAN Preferential Arrangement, the ASEAN Industrial Project, Industrial Complementing, Industrial Joint Ventures, Brand-to- Brand Complementing in the Automotive Industry and Enhancing ASEAN Economic Cooperation on the Common Effective Preferential Tariffs Scheme (1992).

In the field of functional cooperation, ASEAN had been successful in designing and implementing the Agreements on the Promotion of Cooperation in Mass Media and Cultural Activities (1969), on the Establishment of the ASEAN Cultural Fund (1978), on the ASEAN Environment, on the Advancement of Women in the ASEAN Region (1988), and a host of other programs and projects too numerous to list here.

Most of all however, ASEAN's successes have been in achieving and providing the intangibles so indispensable for stepping up cooperation and sustaining the cooperative spirit in the sub- region.

Also to be noted is the immensely well-developed mutual understanding over the years, the cordiality and friendship, the solidarity, the cohesion, the supremely ingrained awareness of the value of ASEAN, the ASEAN spirit, in the development of the political, security, economic and societal life of each ASEAN member country and the Association as a whole.

Without ASEAN, member countries would not have been able to achieve their high economic growth rates, the remarkable level of economic and societal progress, their national and regional resilience, the fundamental ingredients of ZOPFAN, and their respectable stature in international relations.

However, we should admit that ASEAN's tangible cooperative achievements have not amounted to very much. The border and territorial disputes have not been resolved, they still exist in a state of suppressed activity, while smoldering on and on. The attitudes towards ZOPFAN and the Nuclear Weapon Free Zone are still far from unified, despite the harmonized positions and the programs of action formulated.

ASEAN is still unable to formulate its position and provide substantive guidance to the ASEAN Regional Forum.

ASEAN's economic projects have not amounted to very much either. They have met with limited success, even after the Manila Summit (1987) provided for significant improvements to motivate expanded cooperation and activities.

The basic flaw in ASEAN economic cooperation schemes is that it started from the basic assumption that each ASEAN member state is willing to share its entire domestic market with the others. That was the major illusion.

Moreover, the size of the ASEAN market itself is not big enough to ensure the growth of an efficient and strong industrial sector.

Hence, the ASEAN economic cooperation schemes should be redesigned into an instrument to strengthen ASEAN's economies to successfully compete on the world market. ASEAN should be moving faster towards the goal of free flow of goods and investments in the region and should discard the preferential arrangements, thus stimulating the growth of internationally competitive industries.

It should thus retain its course of an outward-looking regional economic grouping, while being committed to developing AFTA in the next 15, preferably 10 years.

ASEAN will have to get its act together and prepare its basic positions on how to develop confidence and security building in the region.

This entails an exhaustive list of homework: preventive diplomacy and conflict management, particularly exchanges of military information, including arms procurement plans, as well as of maritime security issues and the setting up of joint programs to monitor Asia-Pacific sea lines of communications. In addition there are the tasks of limiting weapons proliferation and nuclear non-proliferation; of disciplining population growth, of enhancing human rights, of protecting the environment, alleviating poverty, disease and illiteracy and of constructive trade and investment policies, which also means how to implement ZOPFAN and NWFZ.

ASEAN will really have to proceed to shorten the transitional period of creating a free trade area from 15 to 10 years, and to include agriculture and services into the CEPT if it is to make optimal use of the World Trade Organization which is to succeed GATT at the beginning of next year.

ASEAN's experience has shown that intra-regional trade can only flourish as long as extra-regional trade thrives. AFTA will have to be developed against the background of worldwide trade liberalization.

Member countries will have to continue their deregulation processes and reform their economies. They will have to continue restructuring their industries and harmonize their investment policies and thus improve the regional investment climate and develop industrial selectivity.

The first set of measures will ensure the sustenance of ASEAN's remarkable economic performance. The second is to prevent income and welfare losses in the traditional industrial zones, which may produce strong resistance in some countries, or some segments of the economy.

The writer is a senior researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).