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The ASEAN Community – Towards a More Rules-Based Organisation?

06 Apr The ASEAN Community – Towards a More Rules-Based Organisation?


ASEAN Finance Ministers and central bankers have wrapped up the 20th ASEAN Finance Ministers’ Meeting in Laos. Plans and deadlines to develop ASEAN’s post-2015 financial integration featured prominently on the agenda.

As ASEAN takes steps to realise its post-2015 ASEAN Community vision, it is important for the grouping to move towards a more rules-based organisation, one where legal decisions and processes triumph over political whims.

Though the ASEAN Charter provides the grouping with a legal framework, critics argue that the lack of punitive measures and enforcement has resulted in formal dispute settlements being less effective – undermining the principle of the rule of law.

However, the grouping does already have its own norms and rules. The ASEAN Way, the grouping’s preferred method for decision-making, has thus far acted as the bedrock for peace and stability in the region.

Through non-interference in domestic affairs, consultation and consensus, a degree of trust and confidence has been forged among ASEAN member states. By maintaining consensus, ASEAN member states are assured that their interests are protected. This has not only allowed for the grouping to gradually expand its agenda whilst increasing cooperation in the region, it has also been central to the lack of conflict within ASEAN.

The key question is not whether the establishment of the ASEAN Community at the end of 2015 will result in the grouping becoming a more rules-based organisation. Rather, the question is how to incorporate the ASEAN Way with the concept of a rules-based ASEAN.

Marrying the ASEAN Way with a rules-based ASEAN

In a sense, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) – one of the three pillars of the overall ASEAN Community – has acted as a precursor to this transformation. The AEC presents a rules-based framework for economic cooperation and liberalisation among the member states. The ASEAN Way is embedded in the AEC’s implementation process. When states use trade as a tool for economic growth, domestic rules tend to overlap with regional and international rules. As such, there is opportunity for the grouping to leverage on the AEC to promote a more rules-based ASEAN.

The region still requires more collective effort to build a concrete rules-based Community. But at the same time, ASEAN’s past efforts should not be overlooked. Though the ASEAN Way has been criticised, the grouping’s neutrality and non-threatening demeanour has resulted in it being the only credible facilitator in the region. Therefore it is important to find a balance between ASEAN’s existing institutional culture and the new drive to promote transparency and accountability within Southeast Asia.

Why ASEAN Must Remain Neutral on the South China Sea [The Diplomat, 31 March 2016]

ASEAN Cautiously Speeds Steps Toward Financial Integration [Nikkei Asian Review, 5 April 2016]

Photo Credit: ASEAN Secretariat