ASEAN Community and its Implication for Deepening Regional Integration

Ambassador Hae Moon Chung

Ambassador Hae Moon Chung, former Secretary-General of ASEAN-Korea Centre and close supporter of the Asia Society Korea Center, was kind enough to write a detailed article outlining the future of ASEAN and the establishment of the ASEAN Community. In his piece, Ambassador Chung spoke about how 2015 is a defining year for ASEAN as it looks to be a sharper instrument for the realization of peoples’ dreams while promoting more effective and responsive governance, better standards of living, strengthened environmental protection, further empowerment of women and greater opportunity for all. This fascinating insight from the Ambassador also highlights the launch of the ASEAN Community while talking about the major challenges that face ASEAN. The article concludes by giving a comprehensive overview of the Korea-ASEAN partnership.


ASEAN at a Crossroads
The eyes of the world will be on ASEAN in 2015, a historic year which will see the establishment of the ASEAN Community. The ASEAN Community will be comprised of three pillars; the ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. The emergence of the ASEAN Community embodies the aspirations of the founding fathers of ASEAN. It will serve as a beacon of inspiration for other regions, such as Northeast Asia and the wider East Asia. The unveiling of the ASEAN Community will make a compelling case for Northeast Asia to strengthen its resolve to work for building its own community and, at the same time, will reenergize the East Asia Community building process. Malaysia, the Chair of ASEAN 2015, has identified the creation of a truly ‘People-Centered ASEAN’ as the central element and overarching theme of its Chairmanship of ASEAN. A ‘People-Centered ASEAN’ will be a sharper instrument for the realization of peoples’ dreams, more effective and responsive governance, better standards of living, strengthened environmental protection, further empowerment of women and greater opportunity for all.

ASEAN-led East Asia Regional Cooperation
It is fair and safe to say that ASEAN has been playing a leading role in the evolving regional architecture in the East Asian region. ASEAN’s central role in East Asia regional cooperation has become more visible and conspicuous in the wake of 1997-98 foreign exchange crisis that struck countries in both North and South East Asia. ASEAN’s dominant role has been attributed in large measure by two main developments; the new geo-political and economic ramifications created by the Asian financial crisis, and the so called ‘Asia Paradox” phenomenon caused by the lack of trust among the three Northeast Asian countries of Korea, China and Japan. The East Asia financial crisis prompted ASEAN not only to solidify solidarity and cooperation among its members, but to open up a new era of cooperation with the countries in the Northeast Asia. ASEAN has forged dialogue partnership with ten major powers, including Korea, US, Japan, China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Russia and the European Union. The evolving regional architecture led by ASEAN includes ASEAN+I, ASEAN+3 and EAS at summit level, ASEAN Regional Forum at level of Foreign Ministers and ADMM-Plus at level of Defense Ministers. ASEAN+3(Korea, Japan and China) and East Asia Summit(ASEAN+3+Australia, New Zealand, India, +US, Russia) are two main vehicles driving the East Asia cooperation and integration leading up to building an eventual East Asia community.

Launch of the ASEAN Community
At the dawn of 2015, the year identified for accomplishing an integrated regional community for members of ASEAN, there is much curiosity about what has been accomplished. The reality on the ground does indicate that 2015 will be another signpost in ASEAN’s quest for regional integration. While the notion of an integrated region encompasses political, economic and socio-cultural dimensions, more focus has been on economic matters. The officials of ASEAN member states believe that an economically integrated ASEAN benefits all of its member nations. The community is designed to open up opportunities for people and businesses by creating an ASEAN with freer movement of goods, services, investments, skilled labor and capital. With the establishment of ASEAN as a single market and production base, ASEAN will unlock the potential to level the playing field with the world’s biggest economies. Harmonizing and standardizing trade and customs, processes and procedures will reduce transaction costs, making ASEAN even more attractive as an investment location and enhance export competitiveness.

The Future of ASEAN and Major Challenges Facing ASEAN
ASEAN will continuously engage the major regional and global powers in an effort to bolster its geo-political and geo-economic position. ASEAN is in need of support and cooperation from these dialogue partners in order to show steady economic growth amid very stable geo-strategic environment. In this process, ASEAN’s prestige will be further enhanced and its voice heard more attentively. At the same time, ASEAN will continue to concentrate on preparing for the launch of its Community at the end of the year, as the year 2015 progresses towards its watershed end.
The ASEAN Economic Community will further contribute to ASEAN serving as the growth engine for East Asia and even the world by creating an economic platform by which the economies of ASEAN will display an impressive and starring performance. The ASEAN Community is a work in progress which requires continuous refining and elaboration before it reaches a level of maturity.
The Community will step on the gas to accelerate the recent trends in the ASEAN economies which have shown an annual growth rate of between 5.5% and 6.5% over the years.

Korea-ASEAN Partnership
The year 1989 in which Korea opened dialogue with ASEAN was most auspicious in two respects; first, it marked the end of cold war between East and West as a result of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and second it witnessed the creation of APEC intended to promote the economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region. This historic transition in the international relations boded well for the incipient Korea-ASEAN Dialogue Relations which eventually has evolved into a mutually beneficial, prospering and strategic partnership. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the dialogue relations, Korea and ASEAN held the Commemorative Summit in Busan, Korea in December 2014. As a result, a blueprint of cooperation for the next 25 years was adopted. The Summit witnessed the upgrading and revitalization of the bilateral strategic partnership by which the maturity of Korea and ASEAN Dialogue enables the two sides to go so far as to deal with issues of regional as well as global concern.

ASEAN does believe that Korea’s development and growth model is more relevant to the individual member of ASEAN and ASEAN per se than other advanced countries in view of their current stages of development. This perception speaks volumes about the potential for cooperation between the two sides. ASEAN’s top priority has been given to the smooth launching of the Community at the end of this year, while simultaneously trying to enhance ASEAN connectivity together with reduction in development gaps. This is the very area where our partnership could make a real difference through the cooperative framework of Korea-Mekong Foreign Ministers Meeting.

Recently, ASEAN has emerged as an alternative to post-China and post-BRICS, on the back of its stunning economic resilience. This compels Korea to redouble its efforts to intensify the already deepening economic and trade cooperation with ASEAN. Looking ahead, Korea in Northeast Asia and ASEAN in Southeast Asia are in ideal positions to usher in a new era of East Asia cooperation and integration. Korea and ASEAN, together with China and Japan have maintained close collaboration aimed at enhancing and deepening community building endeavors in East Asia. One such concrete example came in the form of the East Asia Vision Group I which in 2001 came up with a vision of an East Asia community of Peace, Prosperity and Progress. A decade later, Korea and ASEAN again cooperated with China and Japan to recommend a new vision that reflected changes in the region’s political and economic environment. What can Korea and ASEAN do to build a desirable regional architecture? It is my firm conviction that the experiences of Korea and ASEAN in forging a successful partnership over more than a quarter century can help prompt countries in East Asia to embark on strenuous efforts towards translating the two visions into reality. It goes without saying that the valuable experiences will also be instrumental in having a positive impact on creating a breakthrough in Northeast Asia cooperation.