Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

ASEAN's Ninth Summit: Solidifying Regional Cohesion, Advancing External Linkages

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

ASEAN's Ninth Summit: Solidifying Regional Cohesion, Advancing External Linkages

Article excerpt

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held its Ninth Summit in October 2003. The Summit, held in Bali, was notable for its announcement of an ASEAN Community, or Bali Concord II, which is to establish a security community, on economic community and of social community. These agreements are largely statements of intent, while the fleshing out of policy detail will have to occur at a later date. An Indonesian proposal to establish an ASEAN peacekeeping force, as part of the security community, has not been welcomed in all quarters. But despite the media coverage of ASEAN's Bali Concord II, the Bali Summit was particularly notable for the external linkages that ASEAN further solidified. The leaders of China, India, Japan and South Korea were all in attendance, and China and India acceded to ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation during the Summit. Clearly all four Asian powers are increasingly wing Jar Southeast Asia's attention.


Since the late 1990s, ASEAN, previously held up as a model regional organization, has attracted a great deal of bad press for its failure to find regional solutions to a growing number of problems. (1) Perhaps too much has been expected of an organization that was originally set up as a diplomatic community--namely to coordinate approaches on some key foreign policy issues--and now films itself confronted by a number of new challenges. ASEAN's Ninth Summit did, however, achieve some concrete gains and marks a useful juncture to assess the status of ASEAN.

From 7-8 October 2003, ASEAN leaders meet for the Ninth Summit to establish the "Bali Concord II". Bali was also, notably, the location of ASEAN's first concord agreement in 1976 which codified a code of non-interference. The location of the summit in Bali, the scene of Indonesia's worst single act of terrorism a year prior to the meeting, was also an important vote of confidence from the ASEAN leaders in Indonesia's progress on checking domestic terrorism. While terrorism might be the greatest immediate challenge to confront ASEAN since the end of the Cold War, a host of long-term diplomatic, security and economic issues remain on ASEAN's agenda.

At the summit ASEAN leaders spoke of peace, integration and prosperity, with President Megawati speaking of the Bali Concord II as a "watershed" in the history of ASEAN that would produce stability for the next two generations. (2) ASEAN officials spoke of increasing harmonization, open regionalism, new modes of operation within ASEAN and so on. Rhetoric from ASEAN leaders, as well as invited guests from China, Japan, South Korea and India, made a great play on the eventual creation of free trade--but the details are, as yet, scant. So what did ASEAN achieve at its latest summit? While the rhetoric was overblown, something not unknown with ASEAN circles, the Ninth Summit did produce some useful outcomes. ASEAN did agree to more comprehensive security and economic integration, which will, however slowly, come into being in the coming decades. But the lasting significance will be ASEAN's relationships with key actors in wider Asia. The Ninth Summit's true achievement has been a concerted attempt to draw Northeast Asia and India further into its embrace.

Regionalism in Southeast Asia

As a regional organization, the consensus on ASEAN through to the early 1990s amongst many scholars and journalists was that it was a body without parallel in the developing world. ASEAN's success in quickly settling--even if not fully resolving--an array of border disputes between member states and coordinating foreign policy on key issues (most notably Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia) may be unique. Lauded for its success during the Cold War years, ASEAN, since the late 1990s, has faced a barrage of international criticism for failing to respond to new challenges. (3) It is not uncommon in Southeast Asia itself to hear the criticism that ASEAN is barely alive but unwilling to die. …

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