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Exercising Leadership in ASEAN

Updated On: Mar 27, 2007

Jusuf Wanandi, Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees of the influential Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta wrote a commentary in the Jakarta Post, chastising the Indonesian President for not exercising leadership in ASEAN.

He asserted that Yudhoyono’s excuse of domestic problems for not attending both the ASEAN Plus Three and East Asia Summits, was weak. He also criticized Yudhoyono for not showing self-restraint in various bilateral issues involving other ASEAN states such as abrupt termination of sale of sand to Singapore andIndonesia’s reaction to Malaysia over the issue of the Ambalat territorial claims.

Wanandi called for Yudhoyono to focus on ASEAN rather than “dabbling in the problems of North Korea’s proliferation and the complex issue of the Middle East.” Instead Yudhoyono should concentrate on the problems of South Thailand, support Malaysia’s efforts in assisting the Philippines with the latter’s settlement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and push Myanmar towards greater political development. Only with Indonesia’s leadership would ASEAN be able to play its role in making the East Asian community a reality.

Wanandi’s call for Indonesia to focus more on ASEAN, rather than be distracted by domestic and global concerns might have come too late. The Indonesian government has shown its willingness to jeopardize another regional project due to its domestic concerns.

In 2002, the ASEAN governments agreed to build a regional gas pipeline called the Trans ASEAN Gas Pipeline (TAGP) which would link up ASEAN’s key natural gas distribution centres with the pipeline structures connecting the natural gas sources in the Gulf of ThailandSumatra and Indonesia’s Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. However, Indonesia which holds the largest gas reserves (of approximately 182.5 trillion cubic feet) in ASEAN, has recently decided to use a larger portion of its gas output domestically to reduce its own reliance on imported oil. It is also considering not renewing its gas export contracts with MalaysiaSingaporeand its Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) with JapanTaiwan and South Korea. This domestic policy is likely to have an adverse regional ramification, calling the TAGP agreement into question.

While Indonesia is grappling with its role in ASEAN, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister S Jayakumar has called for greater political will by the leaders of ASEAN to adopt and incorporate into the ASEAN Charter a set of sweeping reforms recommended by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG). He said that if about 80% of the EPG’s recommendations were to be incorporated, “then we will see ASEAN in a better position - more disciplined and moving more to a rules-based organisation and positioning itself better to deal with challenges of the coming decade.”

Both Wanandi’s and Jayakumar’s calls are aimed at exhorting the ASEAN members to look beyond their own immediate domestic political concerns to longer-term regional ones. However, ASEAN’s track record thus far does not provide much assurance that their calls will be heeded.   (26 March 2007)

Sources:

Change in RI Gas Policy May Affect Ambitious ASEAN Pipeline Plan (Jakarta Post, 26 March 2007)

ASEAN Reforms Require Political Will: Jaya (Straits Times, 24 March 2007)

Indonesia Key to Forming East Asian Community (Jakarta Post, 22 March 2007)