ASEAN Fusion: Southeast Asia's Future Role in World Affairs. (Interview)

By Huebner, David; Hsin, Honor | Harvard International Review, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

ASEAN Fusion: Southeast Asia's Future Role in World Affairs. (Interview)


Huebner, David, Hsin, Honor, Harvard International Review


Rodolfo Severino was Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from 1998 to 2002. His career in international organizations began in 1964 when he served as Information Assistant to the UN Information Center in Manila. From 1967 to 1974, he served in the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC. Since then, he has facilitated the reestablishment of normal relations between the Philippines and China as Charge d'Affaires at the Philippine Embassy in Beijing and has represented the Philippines as Ambassador to Malaysia. Prior to his appointment as ASEAN Secretary-General, he was Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Severino was educated at the Ateneo Manila University in the Philippines and earned a Master of Arts in International Relations from the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University. Senior Editors David Huebner and Honor Hsin spoke with Mr. Severino about ASEAN's successes and failures, as well as about its future role in world politics.

HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW:

What do you feel are some of the goals and challenges of ASEAN?

ASEAN has done a good job of creating a regional arena for conflicts and disputes to be managed in amicable and peaceful ways through dialogue, consultation, and confidence-building. ASEAN has also laid the foundation for regional economic integration and has set up mechanisms for dealing with regional problems. But ASEAN now has to make regional economic integration a reality because we are up against economies of a continental scale. We have to compete for markets and investment, and we cannot do that if we are operating as single, national markets--we must integrate our economies, And in order to do this, you have to not just remove barriers to trade, but also make products compatible and harmonize product standards, customs, and transportation linkages. One big obstacle to this is the absence of a single currency, but I do not see a common ASEAN currency in the works at this point. Financial policy needs to be better coordinated so that the uncertainties in doing business are reduced. That means we need t o have stronger institution to make sure that policies are formulated, adopted, complied with, and enforced and that any disputes are subject to accepted mechanisms. I see this as the next stage of ASEAN integration. That in itself will help to stabilize the region and give each country a stake in the progress of the region as a whole, reducing the likelihood of conflict.

ASEAN's approach to conflict intervention has also been a topic of debate. How has this discussion played out with regard to the situation in East Timor?

In January 1999, Indonesian President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie announced a referendum on autonomy. At that time, the Indonesian and Portuguese foreign ministers were working, under the auspices of the United Nations, on a system of autonomy for East Timor within Indonesia. ASEAN was not involved because the situation was handled by Indonesia and Portugal under the supervision of the United Nations; of course, the East Timorese factions were also involved. That was the situation in January, and then the United Nations came in to conduct the referendum in August 1999. The outcome reflected the majority's wish for autonomy. but violence subsequently broke out among people who were unhappy with the result.

A few days after the eruption of this violence, seven of ASEAN's leaders happened to be in Auckland, New Zealand for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, and they met to discuss the events in East Timor. Habibie was obviously not there, but the Indonesian representative appealed to ASEAN to take an active part in the international force that was to intervene. In the meantime, Australia was also mobilizing troops. They were quicker in getting there because their troops were in a better state of readiness, and they had the resources to deploy them. …

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