Recently India promised to ASEAN countries that it will soon finalise the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in services and investment.
News Analysis - PART 1
Formation of ASEAN
- ASEAN - Association of South East Asian Nations
- ASEAN was established with the signing of ASEAN Declaration(Bangkok Declaration) in Thailand on 8th August 1967.
[Note: There is no need to remember the date of joining(mentioned here because I had to plot them on MS Visio). Just remember the founding countries and the latest entrant].
- ASEAN was the first truly viable regional association of South East Asian countries.
[Note: Why regional grouping? Geographical proximities, policy co-ordination, economic complementarity political commitments and infrastructure developments stimulate the formulation of regional groupings.]
- ASEAN region's vital importance is because of its strategic location in midst of important sea lanes and its border with key states of China and India.
[Note: The South China Sea (SCS) joins the South East Asian states with the Western Pacific, functioning as the throat of global sea routes. More than 50% of the world's annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through this sea and 1/3rd of all maritime traffic. The oil transported through the Strait of Malacca from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is more than 6 times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times the amount that transits the Panama Canal. Roughly two-thirds of South Korea's energy supplies, nearly 60% of Japan's and Taiwan's energy supplies, and about 80% of China's crude-oil imports come through the South China Sea. Read my entire article on SCS here]
- Founded during the Cold War, ASEAN primary aim was to prevent the region’s involvement in the great power rivalry between USA and erstwhile USSR and enable ASEAN member states to focus in their internal affairs. Hence rather than creating a military alliance, South East Asian countries established an organization based on the principle of ‘non-interference’ in order to prevent unwanted foreign intervention in the members-states’ domestic affairs. ASEAN’s primary objective was political and security considerations rather than economic integration.
[Note:Why "non-interference" principle?
(1) ASEAN states(except Thailand) gained independence post World War-II and they were more concerned with nation-building than with promoting democratic rights. The "non-interference" policy enabled countries to concentrate on domestic matters, avoiding interference and criticism from other states that would have been obstacle to nation-building.
(2) ASEAN states(except Thailand) had colonial past and realising frequent attempts by China to export communism, they attached lot of importance to state sovereignty. They believed that State Sovereignty is the key element in ensuring regional as well as domestic stability. I think, something similar must have gone into the minds of our Indian leaders while formulating the foreign policy in its early post independence days, which resulted in Bandung Spirit (1955) and NAM (1961)]
(3) There were lot of conflicts going on between the ASEAN states like Konfrontasi(Indonesia Vs Malaysia), Singapore secession from Malaysia etc. and the founding members were concerned that some states might use the organisation(ASEAN) to revive the disputes they had. Hence "non-interference" principle suited well, for the organisation's interest is more for "conflict avoidance" among its members than "conflict resolution".
(4) During Cold War period, neither USA nor USSR wanted any of the third world countries to stay neutral. They were implicitly asked(or rather forced) to choose side - either Capitalist or Communist. One of the prime example is US involvement in Vietnam against Communist regime.]
What's Cold War? Cold war(1945-1991) of ideologies was fought between Democratic Capitalism(led by USA) and Communist Socialism(led by USSR) which had, at that time, divided the world into First world (USA, Western Europe and all other Capitalist allies); Second World(USSR and all Warsaw Pact Satellites, Cuba, China) and the Third World(all others, including India).]
- It was not until end of cold war (1991), then the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 and the wave of globalization, which changed the inclination of ASEAN to that for economic integration.
- ASEAN had developed norms and values for itself called the ‘ASEAN Way’ - diplomatic norms that encourages the member countries of ASEAN to seek an informal and incremental approach to co-operation through lengthy consultation and dialogue (consensus, least common denominator, non-interference, etc.)
- ASEAN Charter came into force in 2008 which gives legal personality to ASEAN and is enforceable.
- This charter includes mechanism to address issues related to human rights, migrant workers, women and children.
- It gives recognition to civil society - the right to participate
Challenges faced by ASEAN
- Challenge 1: Changes in ASEAN "non-interference" outlook
- Founded during Cold war days, ASEAN was well suited in its "non-interference" principle by not allowing Communism to take its roots and by allowing its member states to concentrate on nation building. But with the end of Cold War there was need for an organisation that could accommodate broader issues. As a result difference of opinion began to emerge. With the expansion of ASEAN membership, came the inevitable dilution of the organisation's cohesion. During the same time(end of cold war), Western countries foreign policy was increasingly characterized by the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights("Sau chuhe khake billi haj ko chali" type promotion)(In IR terminologies it's called Cosmopolitan norms). This had a significant impact on ASEAN’s relations with the European Community and the US. The West demanded that ASEAN be more compliant with those cosmopolitan norms. ASEAN's "non-interference" claims were diluted when it forced Vietnam(over idea of exporting Communism to other countries) and Cambodia(on its degrading human rights state) on toeing its line, before it could be inducted.
[Note: (1) There were distrust in ASEAN w.r.t Vietnam for exporting Communism to other countries. Hence it forced Vietnam in 1991 to adhere to Treaty of Amity and Co-operation(1976) before its membership request was considered.
(2)ASEAN was critical of poor human rights and slow democratic reforms in Myanmar and openly advocated for Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoner's release.
(3)Pol Pot had committed numerous atrocities on innocent Cambodians during his rule. Later things were corrected by outside interference and a court was established to try senior members of Khymer Rouge(Pol Pot and others). There was a question in GS Paper II(2010) on Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.]
- Asian financial crisis (1997-98) drew attention to the new settings of a globalized world and it seemed that the cooperation model structured around "non-interference" and prioritization of national sovereignty was not proving to be very effective. In the same year as the financial crisis, widespread atmospheric pollution resulting from the Indonesian forest fires, drew widespread protests from other ASEAN members because of the environmental problem it was having on the entire region. Such developments further questioned the "non-interference" principle and to what extent can ASEAN countries be mute spectator to things which are not in interest of the region.
[Note: In light of increasing interdependence among the member-states and the growing realization that norms of good governance(human rights, civil society rep) should be taken into account in order for the association to regain relevance and credibility among the region’s own citizens as well as on the broader global scene, a new approach of "enhanced interaction" under the aegis of its "non-interference" principle. In "enhanced interaction" approach, member-states are individually allowed to comment on the domestic affairs of neighbouring states when these have regional repercussions.]
- Challenge 2: Diverse political structure of ASEAN members - ASEAN is a grouping of states that have very diverse political systems. The member states have such diverse political systems that until they have some kind of common norms and values in their domestic social and political systems its very hard to co-operate regionally and internationally in any profound way. This is because the different nations sees the world in different ways, and its citizens are unable to relate from the basis of common understandings about how societies and political systems are organized.
Democracy – Indonesia, Thailand, SingaporeMilitary Authoritarian – Myanmar (slowly moving to parliamentary democracy under military leadership)Socialist Authoritarian (Communist) – Vietnam, LaosAbsolute Monarchy – Brunei
[Note:ASEAN Vs European Union(EU)
European Union has fairly strict requirements for potential members in terms of social and political systems. [Note: It's one of the reason for such low representation of Eastern European nations in EU.
ASEAN on the other hand, allowed in every nation, irrespective of their domestic political system, just on the basis of geographical proximity. This led to such anomaly situation like when Myanmar(non-democratic state) was brought into ASEAN, and on other hand we were seeing birth of the process of democratisation taking place in Indonesia.]
- Challenge 3: Growing influence of China -
- China has number of core interests that it considers non-negotiable and is even willing to use military force to protect them. These core interests include Chinese Sovereignty, its Socio-Economic Development, and Territorial Integrity with respect to Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. For ASEAN the worrying core interest of China is the socio economic development. This core interest suggests that China reserves the right to use force to protect the economic conditions and would have Chinese regime legitimacy.Given the high economic value of the South China Sea and the Mekong River, ASEAN is concerned over the possibility that China could use force to seize economic assets of its member states to help insulate its own regime from domestic instability, especially during periods of exceptional domestic crisis.
- Military modernization of China is also a growing concern within ASEAN member states and hence they have tried to align with USA and India to balance the growing influence of China.
- China’s growing influence was also evident in this years ASEAN summit(Chaired by Cambodia). In ASEAN history of 45 yrs, it was the 1st time when a joint communique was not issued as there was disagreement over the inclusion of text containing China’s disputes with ASEAN member states over South China Sea.
Major ASEAN future plans
- ASEAN has plans to setup ASEAN Community by 2015. Community consists of political-security, socio-cultural and economic community (called ASEAN Economic Community AEC, an attempt by ASEAN to create a third pole of the world after NAFTA and EU).
- Chiang Mai Initiative for Multilateralism (CMIM) with ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, South Korea) for currency swap agreements – shock absorbers during recessionary times.