[Bài bình luận] Thinking ASEAN: ‘ASEAN at 50: Towards a Regional Security Institution for Southeast Asia’

Trung tâm Nghiên cứu Quốc tế xin trân trọng giới thiệu Bài bình luận của TS. Trương Minh Huy Vũ, Giám đốc Trung tâm Nghiên cứu Quốc tế (SCIS), "ASEAN at 50: Towards a Regional Security Institution for Southeast Asia", được đăng trên bản tin "Thinking ASEAN" số ra tháng 10, năm 2017. Bài viết đề cập đến vấn đề 50 năm ASEAN, hướng đến một tổ chức thể chế an ninh khu vực cho Đông Nam Á, và xem xét cách thức ASEAN có thể nâng cao hiệu quả và ảnh hưởng của mình.


Since the end of the Cold War, regional multilateralism with ASEAN at its core has been institutionalized by bureaucratic protocols, which often lead to stagnation in decision-making process. All of the actors have always been diplomatically neutral in their engagement with others, trying to stay away from any political intricacies and conflicts. The “ASEAN way”, in which member states have tacitly adhered to many implicit diplomatic protocols and the famous noninterference principle, was proven to be effective on the economic front in the early decades following the birth of the organization.


Given the interest in great power peace, one of the most efficient ways to maximize the use of power is to institutionalize it. Institutionalization - according to many international relations theorists - can be identified as the process of constructing norms and rules to govern certain actors’ behaviours, in order to form all social interactions in a law-based order. In other words, it is an attempt at building laws and regulations with an aim to stipulate, control behaviours, and ensure that each social relationship is regulated by legal modalities.

From the point of view of ASEAN, they conform to “institutionalization” mechanism with three goals. The process of building regulations and joining institutions creates exchange platforms for parties to express their opinions. The shortage of these forums and organizations causes decision-making to be unilateral, solely controlled by powers or resolved by power balance. ASEAN has shown on many occasions that in order to be regarded as a center in the regional political structure, there is still much work to be done. Multilateral arrangements with ASEAN as a central figure, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) or the East Asia Summit (EAS), still play minor roles in the region’s political and security arenas. It is better, of course, for regional leaders to set up forums and communicate with each other. Nevertheless, after two decades of multilateralism, regional security is still facing more challenges than ever before.

A fundamental problem with ASEAN is a lack of unity in terms of “threat perceptions” vis-à-vis China. However, the overwhelming priority for ASEAN is to resolve its own internal disparities, which have restricted the bloc’s actions against China as well as its ability to engage other major powers in a peaceful South China Sea dispute settlement. Last April, at the 30th ASEAN Summit in the Philippines, a joint statement was released without mentioning “land reclamation and militarization”— words that have been used in several previous joint statements by the bloc to express concern among member states about China’s artificial islands and its actions in the South China Sea. Critics were quick to target primarily the Philippines and President Rodrigo Duterte, claiming that the Philippines was deliberately mitigating the South China Sea issue for China’s sake. As a consequence, ASEAN has set a low threshold for the next joint statement.

ASEAN countries continue to look forward to the process of developing the Code of Conduct. Indonesia, one of the core members, has opposed the participation of powers and has also expressed its desire to discuss joint statements among member states before discussing with China. The Philippines, which chaired the summit this year, has taken certain steps in China’s concessions and has reached a soft approach in speeding up the development of the code. The country has decided neither to mention the award in the arbitration case between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea, nor to discuss China’s escalating actions in the meeting. At the same time, the Philippines held bilateral talks with China in May and has also issued a final draft at the ASE Ministerial Meeting in August in Manila.

Since 2009, the lack of normative order in the South China Sea has been paving the way for legal and academic fireworks. That’s why the ruling issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 has offered a chance for ASEAN as an organization of countries in Southeast Asia and ASEAN member countries to reassess its policy options in order to respond to the opportunities and challenges arising in the post-arbitration context. When gathered together, ASEAN remains an important factor. Maritime Southeast Asian states may also become particularly important in China’s implementation of its Maritime Silk Road strategy. ASEAN could use this strategy as leverage to expand its agendas in shaping the engagement of both Beijing and Washington, thereby promoting its own regional integration programs as well as other economic and security interests.

It is also a time for core ASEAN countries to boost its relationships with other regional claimants and encourage ASEAN centrality. The first target should be Philippines - Vietnam - Malaysia - Indonesia strategic cooperation. The broader significance of Philippines- Vietnam- Malaysia- Indonesia partnership, however, lies in how it fits into a broader network of informal alliances on China’s periphery. These four states should develop and adopt a common position on various aspects of the law of the sea in the South China Sea based on the award. For ASEAN, operating in the context of a regional power shift, normative and legal approaches were and will remain the most feasible solution in dealing with stronger nations.

The South China Sea is only a small piece of the whole strategic picture, which is rooted in regional and global power shifts. It is reflected in the accommodated rise of China and the ongoing negotiation of a new regional order between China and the United States. In the wake of an emerging international order, power constituents in terms of resources such as economic and military capabilities might not be the only explanatory variables shaping outcomes. Other elements such as recognition and acceptance can generate long-lasting social control and sustainable leadership. Ensuring the engagement of multinational institutions and settling conflicts according to the global community’s undertaken laws build a certain foundation which helps legitimatize appropriate actions as well as illegitimatize attitudes reversing the common commitment.

ASEAN must first and foremost decide to share its abundant political burden equally amongst member states and at the same time find ways to diffuse some of its political capital in order to bring about long term stability. A simple step would greatly improve the effectiveness and influence of ASEAN as a regional organization: establishing majority vote mechanism. Or in a less divisive manner, all essential decisions of the organization should be made on the basis of a two thirds vote. A different approach could be resolving the negative effects of decision making based on consensus. Veto power shall be removed. Institutionalizing the rule of “ASEAN minus (country) X”, a formula for flexible participation instead of consensus mechanism, would be critical for the future of ASEAN as a core of regional security institutions.


TS. Trương Minh Huy Vũ, Giám đốc SCIS


Toàn văn Thinking ASEAN số ra tháng 10 năm 2017, vui lòng xem tại đây

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