Tackling Crisis the (new?) ASEAN way

Updated On: Jul 21, 2006

In the run-up to the ASEAN ministerial meeting, more ideas are being thrown up to improve the ability of ASEAN to respond to problems in the region.

A proposal that is under currently consideration is that of appointing permanent representatives to the ASEAN Secretariat. These representatives would play similar roles as the permanent representatives to United Nations. Such a move would be an upgrade of the existing Jakarta Contact Group where junior officials from the ASEAN members’ mission to Jakarta meet. This would hopefully reduce the costs of attending the huge number of ASEAN meetings (estimated at 400 a year).

Separately, two professors, Amitav Acharya and Jorge Dominguez, have written a persuasive article, proposing that the Eminent Person Group (EPG) of ASEAN consider three principles in the future development of institutionalisation in ASEAN. The EPG has been tasked to develop the new ASEAN Charter which is expected to strengthen ASEAN regional cooperation.

Acharya and Dominguez argue that first, the EPG had to find ways to strengthen and utilise existing institutions such as the High Council and Dispute Settlement Mechanism of AFTA to address regional issues. Second, ASEAN rules and institutions had to be adapted to meet changing threats and challenges that are often trans-boundary in nature. The “strict or narrow interpretation of non-interference” had to be changed. And finally, these new rules and institutions should be invoked or deployed automatically in the event of a regional crisis such as armed inter-state hostilities, unlawful ouster of government, acts of genocide or large scale loss of lives from political conflicts, pandemics, natural calamities, terrorist attacks and disruption of sea lanes.

Amitav and Dominguez’s proposals certainly deserve much greater consideration and if adopted could seriously addressed some of the ongoing issues plaguing the region – the problem with Myanmar, border tensions, ethnic and religious conflicts, environmental threats, etc.  

The problem of Myanmar is of course the most obvious example with the military regime handling of political opposition, insurgency movements that have cross border impact. Last week, a Thai military helicopter was shot near the Thai-Myanmar border during a Myanmar campaign against the Shan state military near the border.  The ongoing low-intensity civil war against various ethnic groups fighting for autonomy has resulted in refugees, many of whom are still living abroad. For instance, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees delegation has been in talks with the Myanmar government this week to discuss the return of another 20,000 Rohingyas refugees who are still in Bangladesh.

The ongoing violence in southern Thailand has killed more than 1,400 people since January 2004.  Indonesia has just gone through another tsunami, albeit on a smaller scale than the one in 2004.  Earlier in May 2005, an earthquake in Central Java killed more than 57,000 people and left tens-of-thousands homeless. The persistent rumours of coups in the Philippines and the ongoing political stalemate in Thailand.  All these issues if recognised as ASEAN problems rather than simply domestic ones might possibly get a hearing at ASEAN forums if Amitav and Dominguez’s suggestions do come true.


Myanmar to Confront Angry Neighbours, US at Asia Security Meeting (Agence France Presse, 20 July 2006)

Indonesia Tsunami Death Toll Climbs to 105, Nearly 130 Missing (Thai Press Reports, 20 July 2006)

Group Slams Government Decree for the South (The Nation [Thailand], 19 July 2006)

How ASEAN can Tackle Crises (The Straits Times, 19 July 2006)

ASEAN Mulls Appointing Permanent Representatives at Jakarta Secretariat (Malaysia General News, 19 July 2006)

UN Delegation Focuses On Rohingyas in Talks with Burma (BBC Monitoring Service, 19 July 2006)

ASEAN meet to Discuss Myanmar, North Korean (The Jakarta Post, 14 July 2006)