Reinventing ASEAN and redefining East Asia

Updated On: Jan 09, 2007

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar told an annual Indian conference on 7 January 2007 that India is increasingly becoming centre of East Asia.

He said, “it will no longer be possible to manage issues such as energy security or the security of major sea lanes without India’s active participation.”

India’s rising importance within East Asia meant that the region could no longer be examined merely by studying US-Japan-China relations. Instead, Jayakumar asserted, “Increasingly, Sino-IndiaIndia-Japan and US-India relations will move to the centre of the East Asian equation.”

The concept of East Asia which used to be defined by the ASEAN + Three (APT) process has been challenged since the launch of the East Asia summit (EAS) which brings IndiaAustralia and New Zealand into the equation.  India’s supposed prominence in East Asia is, as Jayakumar qualified, contingent on India’s continued ability to sustain its current growth momentum and building on its economic reform process.

Similarly, ASEAN would need to reinvent itself to retain its previous economic growth dynamic and continue on its economic reforms if it wanted to have a voice inEast Asia.

S Jayakumar provided more details of the recommendations (for the ASEAN Charter) the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) would be making to the ASEAN leaders at the upcoming ASEAN Summit. He warned, “If it continues to do more of the same, I think over a period of time, ASEAN will just become one of those organisations which will slowly fade into the sunset.”

Jayakumar explained that the critical problem facing ASEAN is “a gap between plans, vision and decisions, and the implementation of these visions and plans. There is a need for a culture of compliance and implementations of decisions, timelines and action plans.” To ensure that decisions were followed through, the EPG is proposing an effective system of monitoring compliance, enforcement and implementation of obligations and agreements made. Non-compliance would result in punitive measures such as suspension or temporary suspensions of rights or privileges of membership, including expulsion. 

Other changes included the posting of permanent representatives to ASEAN in Jakarta, biannual meetings of the ASEAN leaders instead of meeting annually; providing more resources to the ASEAN Secretary General by appointing four new duties; the establishment of three new councils of ministers to oversee cooperation in the political-security; economic and social-cultural areas.

A task group (which includes Singapore’s Ambassador-At-Large, Professor Tommy Koh) has been established to draft the ASEAN Charter. The draft is expected to be completed by the end of the year in time for the next ASEAN Summit.


India ‘To Have Central Role in East Asia’ (Straits Times, 8 January 2007)

ASEAN Must Reinvent Itself to Stay Relevant, Says Jaya (Business Times Singapore6 January 2007)

Bold Moves to Turn ASEAN Into Rules-Based Group (Straits Times, 6 January 2007)

Change or Become Irrelevant: Jayakumar (Today Singapore6 January 2007)