At the ASEAN Think Tank Forum, which took place on the 6th to the 7th of August 2007, prominent members of ASEAN Think Tanks and NGOs came together at Orchard Hotel, Singapore, to discuss the topic: ‘ASEAN at 40: Achievements and Challenges.’ This event was organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), in conjunction with the Institute of Policy Studies, Singapore (IPS).
Pointing out in his opening remarks that ASEAN has accomplished much as a regional organisation, Mr Simon Tay, the chairman of the SIIA, stated that nevertheless, there are enormous challenges ahead. ASEAN should address these challenges with ‘humanity, humility and honour.’
Addressing the topic: ‘Taking Stock of ASEAN,’ the panellists ASEAN Secretary-General Mr Ong Keng Yong, Mr Jusuf Wanandi,(Senior Fellow, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Indonesia) and Mr Kavi Chongkittavorn (Assistant Group Editor, The Nation Group Media, Thailand) agree thatASEAN has been instrumental in defusing tension within the region, most notably, in ending the atrocities in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime. However, they feel that ASEAN is too reactive an organisation as ASEAN nations only act together in times of crises. Accordingly, they are of the view that ASEAN must transform itself into an integrated and proactive bloc in order to deal with increasingly complex global issues such as trans-national crimes, terrorism and climate change as well as regional matters such as Myanmar.
In the second panel in examining the rise of China and India and the implications of this phenomenon for ASEAN’s economy, the participants stated that ASEAN should strive towards the creation of a single market: an ASEAN Economic Community, to ensure the efficient allocation of resources for higher welfare and sustainable development in ASEAN as a whole. Such economic integration would enable ASEAN to compete with China and India on a more equal footing.
On the proposed ASEAN Charter which was extensively discussed during the third panel, the participants pointed out that this document would go some way towards making ASEAN more rules-based and institutionalised. This would in turn make the process more transparent and improve the accountability of national governments. It would also boost ASEAN efforts to form a political, security and socio-cultural community. However, this would only be the case if the wording of the charter, as it stands now, were not watered down by the national governments in the pursuance of their own interests rather than that of ASEAN and the region as a whole.
In the panel on the ASEAN Security Community (ASC), one of the three pillars of the Declaration of ASEAN Concord II, participants believe that the ASC must provide a comprehensive framework to consolidate existing cooperation amongst ASEAN countries in relation to security issues. In addition, the ASC must deal with issues of human security. The provisions on human rights in the proposed ASEAN Charter are a landmark development for human security, and it is thus essential that they be implemented by ASEAN governments.
On the environmental panel, the participants acknowledge the impact wrought by climate change. However, they do not agree with some of the measures adopted by ASEAN governments to deal with the problem such as the shift towards the use of nuclear power and bio-fuels in some ASEAN countries. Instead, they recommend that ASEAN nations should increase their reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, promote greater energy efficiency and implement measures to adapt to the consequences of climate change.
To further ASEAN’s interests and her standing in the world, panellists in the panel on ASEAN’s External Relations all agree that ASEAN must develop and maintain robust relationships with the world’s major powers such as the US, Russia, China and the European Union. To do so, ASEAN must provide a firm and common position on regional and global matters such as drug trafficking and climate change as the world’s strategic players are only willing to engage with ASEAN directly if she has a group position on such issues.
In closing, Mr Arun Mahizhnan, the Deputy Director of IPS pointed out that ASEAN Think Tanks must be more organised in their engagements with ASEAN governments. They must develop clear agendas on their adopted issues to get their message across to the relevant decision makers. Nonetheless, this does not mean that ASEAN Think Tanks have to agree on all issues; they should think independently and come up with their own solutions to pressing ASEAN problems.