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Despite Setback, ASEAN Has Important Role

Breaching security, protestors push back the military at the ASEAN summit on April 11, 2009 in Pattaya, Thailand, forcing the summit's cancellation. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Breaching security, protestors push back the military at the ASEAN summit on April 11, 2009 in Pattaya, Thailand, forcing the summit's cancellation. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Some contemplate an economic and free trade agreement to encompass all of Asia. Others aspire to deal with hard security issues andbalance the rising powers through alliances. Some dream of pan-Asian economic integration with a common currency. There is desire for an intra-Asian development fund to stimulate the entire region.

ASEAN cannot deliver on many of these lofty ambitions in the short term. Such outcomes. even if desirable, are not within ASEAN's control.The obstacles lie more with the major and rising powers.

ASEAN should not pretend to drive the region ahead regardless of these obstacles. It can, and has, instead to manage the difficulties and differences, and move ahead as and when politics permits.

Socialising the states to a greater sense of regionalism is a long haul and a difficult undertaking; one that ASEAN takes seriously. Those who recommend abandoning ASEAN must bear the burden of showing that there is a ready alternative. They risk pulling apart a trulyi ndigenous effort at regionalism and pushing ASEAN closer to those, like China, which has said it will still support ASEAN.

We should hope first to see steady implementation in ASEAN's existing plans. Secondly, we must expect the organisation to continueto help keep the wider region at peace and to be inclusive, without contention among rising rivals. Thirdly, we can also hope for ASEAN to play a role in shaping Asian responses to the global crisis.

Asia is at something of a juncture in this crisis. While global in nature, and stemming from the West, increasing intra-Asian coordinationand cooperation is a key response. Just as it was after the 1997 crisis, ASEAN is the acceptable hub for this.

And if and when, as at Pattaya, ASEAN fails, we should take it seriously enough to call for the organisation to pick itself up and try again, because it matters.

Simon Tay is an Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow and is Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.