The Future of ASEAN Cooperation

Manila, Philippines - With the recent Hague ruling favoring the Philippines on the issue of the South China Sea, the international community awaits the response of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In light of this, the Albert Del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRi) and Asia Society Philippines, in cooperation with the Asian Institute of Management, organized a forum titled “Renewing the Multilateral Response: Building an ASEAN Coalition of Concern” at the Asian Institute of Management last July 19, 2016.

Speakers examined the possibilities and limitations of an ASEAN coalition. The speakers were Murray Hiebert, Deputy Director of the Southeast Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies; A. Ibrahim Almuttaqi, Head of the ASEAN Studies Program, The Habibie Center; Amb. Orlando Mercado, Former Secretary of National Defense and Former Philippine Ambassador to ASEAN; M. C. Abad, Jr., Chairman, Institute for Strategic and Development Studies and Former Director, ASEAN Secretariat; Prof. Charmaine M. Willoughby, International Studies Department, De La Salle University; and Prof. Richard Heydarian, Political Science Department, De La Salle University.

Before the event proper, Sec. Albert F. Del Rosario gave the welcome remarks and emphasized the ability of ASEAN in finding a strong voice to reach common grounds despite the conflicts between its member states. Moderated by Prof. Federico Macaranas of AIM, the forum started with Mr. Hiebert’s analysis of ASEAN’s inability to come up with a complete joint statement due to the decline of its role in the region. He then suggested that it should know how to address bigger security issues, to look into the coalition formula, and to rethink its role in dealing with the challenges at hand.

Prof. Almuttaqi also pointed out ASEAN’s failed multi-lateral efforts as it lacks a joint statement: a crucial factor as the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration is not enforceable on its own and requires the good will of nation-states. After discussing the possibility of a coalition, he said that ASEAN must go beyond simple rhetoric and towards action to raise its relevance in response to the South China Sea decision.

Amb. Mercado believes that an ASEAN coalition demands that it acts as a monolithic and uniform organization and doing so may divide winners and losers instead of uniting them. Furthermore, Mr. Abad said that coalition building is always difficult for ASEAN and it should stick to realistic expectations.

On the other hand, Prof. Willoughby shared that pragmatic strategic partnerships may address anarchy and that developing new ways to resolve problems could le¬¬ad to confidence-building. The last speaker, Prof. Heydarian, noted that due to the favorable ruling, the Philippines now has good leverage. He also applauded Japan for calling on all concerned nation states for compliance.

Prof. Victor Andres C. Manhit, President of ADRi, concluded that ASEAN will continue being the hard core of politics as it continues to serve as a venue for powers to discuss priorities and challenges within the region.


Full presentations/text here:

A. Ibrahim Almuttaqi

Amb. Orlando Mercado

Prof. Charmaine M. Willoughby