Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Article excerpt

During 2000, ASEAN continued the struggle to overcome perceptions of ineffectiveness by its main trading partners and sources of investment. Such perceptions were affecting the region's economic recovery. Foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to Southeast Asia were still significantly lower than the levels attained before the 1997 Asian financial crisis and analysts attributed this to incomplete banking and corporate restructuring, continued political instability in key regional countries, as well as the greater attractions of Northeast Asia as an investment destination, specifically in view of Beijing's impending membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"We must have less talk, more action", Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong declared after the fourth informal ASEAN Summit in Singapore in November 2000. The remark summed up the problem at this juncture of the regional organization's history.

There was no shortage of ideas, many of them good. The problem related to timely and meaningful implementation. The Singapore informal summit agreed to launch an Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) which would focus on education, worker training, and skills development, in order to narrow the economic divide within ASEAN and to enhance the competitiveness of the region. Although it is an essential scheme, it will have no immediate impact on ASEAN's standing in the world. The heads of government also signed an e-ASEAN Framework Agreement to move ASEAN into the New Economy. Among other things, it would help to develop a free trade area for goods, services, and investments for the info-communications and telecommunications industries within ASEAN. The ASEAN Eminent Persons Group --- Vision 2020, convened in June 1999, came out with its report containing a list of recommendations. They included the need to create "a dynamic and competitive" ASEAN region able to meet the challenges of globalization; as well as a "caring and responsive" ASEAN in which the development of civil society is to be encouraged.1 Implementation was to be over a safe span of twenty years.

The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), assembled earlier in July in Bangkok, encouraged non-Southeast Asian states, particularly the dialogue partners, to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation (TAC) as an expression of their commitment to the Treaty's purposes and principles. The AMM also reiterated its call to all nuclear weapons states to accede to the protocol to the treaty for a Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SEANWFZ). Given the realities of international power politics, in neither case were the responses, or non-responses, likely to be of more than symbolic import. The Draft Rules of Procedure for the High Council under the TAC were apparently still being worked out, but it is difficult to envisage members utilizing the High Council to settle disputes among themselves. The foreign ministers also approved a paper setting out the principles and purposes of an ASEAN Troika at ministerial level, and the procedures for its constitution. It is unlikely that the Troika will be able to function meaningfully, given the conditionalities likely to be demanded by members, in particular the newer ones, because of sensitivities about sovereignty and "interference" in domestic affairs. A code of conduct between ASEAN and China in relation to the South China Sea claims, which avoids the sovereignty issue, had still not been agreed upon. China may not want to sign a document unless it is watered down close to effeteness.

The foreign ministers reiterated their support for the territorial integrity of Indonesia, "which includes the Provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya (Papua)".2 On the Taiwan issue, they reaffirmed their "One China" policy, but without any call for the exercise of restraint on the part of both parties. Instead, on a matter of such importance to regional security as the cross-straits relationship, the ministers anaemically "expressed the hope to see positive developments". …

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