RSIS-CNA Panel Discussion Programme: Will There be an ASEAN 5 Years From Now?

Jakarta, 24 August 2016—On 24 August 2016, the ASEAN Foundation hosted the fourth live recording of the RSIS-CNA “Think Tank” Panel Discussion Programme, with the pressing question “Will There be an ASEAN 5 Years From Now?” as the theme. The show will be broadcasted on 31 August 2016 at 8:00 pm. RSIS-CNA has been organizing a total of six episodes to raise critical queries on ASEAN.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), formed in 1967, has been one of the major platforms fostering international cooperation among the regional states and external players. Since 1967, the regional and global landscapes have changed significantly. Southeast Asia is now facing several internal and external challenges, such as domestic leadership change and big powers’ dynamics in the region. Moreover, globalisation enables non-state actors to increasingly influence government policies and actions. These bring up a pressing issue of “who governs?” against this backdrop. This session explored the following questions: (1) What would ASEAN look like in the next 5 years? (2) Will there even be ASEAN? (3) Will ASEAN be a relevant regional governance institution? and (4) What needs to be addressed to make the organisation an effective governing body?[1]

The panel consisted of: 1) Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit, Assistant Professor at the Centre for Multilateralism Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; 2) John Pang, Senior Fellow at the RSIS; 3) Sanchita Basu Das, Fellow and Lead Researcher, Economic Affairs, ASEAN Studies Centre, and Coordinator, Singapore APEC Study Centre Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) – Yusof Ishak Institute; and 4) Shanti Shamdasani, President, ASEAN International Advocacy, and member of the Board of Governors, Amcham Indonesia.

Panellists of the session pointed out the key that holds ASEAN together: “the ASEAN Way.” Pitakdumrongkit and Pang mentioned that the questions of various economic and political issues within the region eventually led to the rigid and elitist manner of ASEAN. The way of conduct in ASEAN that is elitist, with the tendency of deliberation behind “closed doors,” is both the determining factor of progress thus far and the challenge for moving forward in ASEAN. Shamdasani argued that ASEAN can move forward if there is a “Plan B” that addresses and promotes democracy while accommodating the economic needs of member states. Das, on the other hand, questioned if “Plan B” is the best way to move forward as it is the opposite of “the ASEAN Way.” It could also break ASEAN apart.

The session left one critical consideration for the audience and ASEAN leaders. Without a binding commitment, which translates to conceding some part of each state’s sovereignty, then the existence of ASEAN for the next five years would not yield advancement in the economic and political spheres. Engagement that involves the people of ASEAN and leaders must be initiated and fostered immediately.

[1] Synopsis, S. Rajartnam School of International Studies Event Invitation: “Will There be an ASEAN 5 YEARS From Now?” Jakarta, Indonesia (24 August 2016).