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ASEAN Community gains initial achievements but challenges ahead

Update: September, 15/2016 - 10:38

HÀ NỘI – A year since its inception, the ASEAN Community (AC) has gained encouraging achievements but also faces many challenges, heard a workshop held in Hà Nội yesterday.

On December 31st 2015, the ASEAN Community was officially established with three pillars: the ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC), the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).

Stressing the achievements of the APSC pillar, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyễn Thị Thanh Thủy, from the Faculty of International Studies of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, cited the implementation of the ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint 2025, including the development of a reporting and monitoring system with a focus on qualitative analysis and impact assessment.

She noted the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) as a consultative body integral to the ASEAN structure and its role as the overarching human rights institution in ASEAN, the ongoing efforts of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) in promoting reconciliation, conflict management, conflict resolution and peace building in the region, and the official inauguration of the ASEAN Regional Mine Action Centre Headquarters in Phnom Penh, which serves as the regional centre of excellence in addressing the humanitarian aspects of explosive remnants of war. 

In maritime co-operation, she said ASEAN member states underscored the importance of strengthening regional co-operation and promoting mutual trust to ensure peace and security as well as safety of sea lanes, freedom of navigation and over flight and unimpeded commerce through, inter alia, capacity building, exchange of experiences and information, sharing of best practices and co-ordination on cross-cutting/cross-pillar issues.

Another point is co-operation in Non-Traditional Security Issues for the AC, such as human trafficking or animal trafficking and cybercrimes, she said.

Achievements were also made in defence and security co-operation with progress in advancing defence co-operation and promoting dialogue on defence and security matter.  

However, she said, maritime co-operation had more constraints than other fields and this was one of the big challenges of the APSC.

“These constraints result from differences in national interests and benefits among member states, the impact on national benefits of each country also lead to different points of views in dealing with issues. Meanwhile, maritime co-operation is a very complicated issue that requires the co-ordination of many different co-operation mechanisms from all member States.

“Another reason is strong influences from outside countries. A clear example of this is the conflict in the East Sea (South China Sea). For many years, China has been in conflict over sovereignty in the East Sea with member states, including Việt Nam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei,” she said.

A final ruling was issued by an international tribunal in The Hague in July this year on the lawsuit filed by the Philippines rejected China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. However, at the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Laos later on July 24, there was not any formal reaction towards the ruling.

“This is a failure of the ASEAN member states to solve conflicts in the East Sea,” she said.

Another challenge is pressure from outside countries on member states such as China and the US so it would be difficult for ASEAN member states to reach the same point of view in dealing with a big issue, she said.

However, the principle of consensus had stopped some forums from meeting expectations, she said, adding that ASEAN should reconsider the application of the principle of consensus so that it would not be abused for national benefits of member countries.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Trần Khánh, former Director of the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies noted the influence of powerful countries on ASEAN communities in recent years, particularly China and the US.

The influence of those countries had two sides. On one hand, it created motivation for the ASEAN Community to improve its competitiveness. On the other hand, it could cause separation within the community, he said.

To tap new opportunities and overcome challenges, it was essential for ASEAN to strengthen their internal unity and adjust their “rules of game”, including the principle of consensus.  

However, some delegates said that there had not been many changes since the AC was established.                        

Muhadi Sugiono, a Senior Lecturer from Universitas Gadjah Mada of Indonesia, an expert in ASEAN study, said almost one year after ASEAN Community was launched, most ASEAN people did not feel that there had been any change.

“Life goes on normally and the AC does not seem to exist with them. It is a big challenge for the governments of ASEAN member countries to make sure that their people are really ready for an AC,” he said.

“The AC will come, not very suddenly, but slowly and in stages. ASEAN Governments need to promote and increase awareness of the coming of AC as well as opportunities and challenges that an AC will bring about,” he said. - VNS

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