Entries by aseansc

ASEAN Back in the Indo-Pacific Saddle

Written by: Seonyoung Yang

Indo-Pacific has been one of the most spoken buzzwords regionally and globally. Discourses for conceptualizing Indo-Pacific are still in progress. The rift caused by exacerbated US-China rivalry, the Ukraine crisis, and energy and food prices ensued complex enigmas for all stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly for ASEAN. This essay, therefore, analyses the embedded meaning of various Indo-Pacific strategies, including the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific, and suggests how ASEAN should maneuver the strategic reefs in Indo-Pacific.

The Asia’s Geopolitical Circumstances

The US-China tit-for-tat has gotten only worsened since the Ukraine crisis. The US, EU, and its allies have criticized Russia for its horrendous attack and supported Ukraine in an unprecedented manner not only in humanitarian aid but also militarily, albeit the very foundation of the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community, aiming to deter the war under any circumstances.

A mammoth in the room, China has never been quiet per se, but its tone and demand have been stronger over recent years. Xi Jinping even started proposing new initiatives such as Global Development Initiative to regain respect worldwide after overcoming a century of humiliation[1]. From the trajectory of power dynamics, though, it is natural to observe such frictions between existing and emerging ones.

In this inimical dynamic, small and middle countries across Indo-Pacific squirm to avoid being entrapped. Amitav Acharya (2021)[2] defined that “‘Asia’ was built by nationalists, ‘Asia-Pacific’ by economists, ‘East Asia’ by culturalists, whereas ‘Indo-Pacific’ by strategists’”. This definition is succinct yet clear to understand why some countries are in favor or against ‘Indo-Pacific’.

Paradigm Shift

Geographically speaking, China is nestled within the Asia-Pacific region. Since China prioritizes economic development for regional cooperation, such as Belt and Road Initiative, hence tenaciously sticks to Asia-Pacific. On the other hand, as defined by Archarya, Indo-Pacific, encompassing two vast oceans, the maritime strategy is a salient feature. It is worth remembering Wang Gungwu[3] (2019) argued that the maritime domain has been the historians’ and strategists’ core interest for colonial expansion leading to globalization and, furthermore “the focus of global power” (p 129).

Asia-Pacific is arguably obsolete, although China and Russia grapple with holding on to it. Wang (2019) also acutely analyzed that Indo-Pacific would shed more light than ever in the era of paradigm shift[4]. He further argued that ASEAN, therefore, would be given a central role and closely watched by superpowers in the Indo-Pacific domain[5]. Conceptual geographical shifts in parallel with paradigm shifts are being occurred. Therefore, we may need to put howling arguments aside but collect heads to think of paradigm shifts within Indo-Pacific and decode various strategies, outlooks, and frameworks available until today.

ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific

The champion of ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP)[6] is undoubtedly Indonesia. As the biggest archipelago in the world, encompassing the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, Indonesia’s ambition to become the global maritime fulcrum is intrinsic. Some naysayers quickly gnaw at the AOIP’s four main areas by belittling those as nothing an inch closer to so-called a strategy. The four main areas, namely maritime cooperation, connectivity, sustainable development and economic cooperation, and other areas, are indeed functional but clearly what ASEAN needs in high demand.

Pragmatists are dissatisfied with the progress of AOIP. They even vilified that incompetence as ASEAN’s chronic disease. The moderate argue that ASEAN threw a dummy in the name of AOIP to collect ideas and tighten its grip, a convening power, to explore, define and develop ideas of Indo-Pacific. Bearing such arguments, Endy Bayuni (2022)[7]calls on superpowers to reconsider Indo-Pacific as a multi-player poker game, not a duel chess game. ASEAN does not wish to judge but remains relevant within and beyond Indo-Pacific to exercise its leeway and leniency for every player, whether big or small, to take part without being neglected.

Earlier this year, Indonesia proposed to mainstream AOIP in all ASEAN-led mechanisms. Still veiled to dialogue partners, this would not be a meticulous manual. Instead, it would suggest a loose guideline allowing maximum flexibility among all parties interested in implementing AOIP with ASEAN on lead. Even though EAS is explicitly mentioned twice as the relevant implementing mechanism in the AOIP, this leaders-led forum does not befit the ASEAN’s initial plan, given the challenging geostrategic circumstances. Alternatively, ASEAN might begin its ‘mainstreaming’ AOIP by incorporating the four main areas in each ASEAN+1 mechanism. In doing so, ASEAN may have multiple options and means to concretize the AOIP. This choice, however, might lead to ambivalence which may turn out as competition among dialogue partners but overlapping and redundancy on the other hand.

Psychological approach

In order to decode ASEAN’s ways of thinking, psychological approaches might be useful. Richard Nisbett wrote an eye-opening book, ‘The Geography of Thoughts[8]‘. Long story short, he argued that Westerners, precisely Europeans, and North Americans tend to think they are in control of their surroundings. They often consider that the rules and laws governed in society are concluded from lengthy discussions and subsidiary decision-making processes. Therefore rules-based and lawful society should not be interfered with or distorted by any supremacy. Asians, on the other hand, think nothing is permanent; hence adaptability to change and environment is crucial rather than sticking to control. Rules and laws are therefore meant to be changed constantly. ASEAN, in this regard, is eager to create a conducive environment where different actors and ideas could be freely floated but not necessarily conflicted. ASEAN would like to be a respected moderator who can exercise adroitness and wisdom to encourage everyone, even dichotomous actors, to try to seek a middle way. Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC[9]) is a prime example in which ASEAN has paved the way to consolidate its identity and suggest means under six fundamental principles as a proactive regional group pursuing peace and prosperity. Established in 1976 by five founding member-states, 49 countries[10] are listed as high contracting parties within and beyond the region. TAC suggests six principles that are characterized as highly flexible yet adamant on sovereignty, independence, non-interference, and peaceful settlement. Accession to TAC is a prerequisite for any external parties to tie a knot with ASEAN. Such conditions optimize ASEAN’s leverages to set the agenda for starting businesses in ASEAN Way by maximizing flexibility and inclusivity. Leaving space for maneuvering is ASEAN’s disposition in diplomacy, which is more pronounced in dealing with external partners.

External partners’ contribution to the AOIP

Thus far, Japan, the US, Australia, and the EU, including France, Germany, and the Netherlands, have announced Indo-Pacific strategies. Among ASEAN Dialogue Partners, Japan[11] and India[12] adopted the Leaders’ Statement on pledging to seek concrete cooperation for implementing AOIP.

Dr Shofwan[13] argued that all major powers label strategies or frameworks for their Indo-Pacific concepts while ASEAN retains low-key, using a neutral term, ‘outlook’. Unlike AOIP, major powers’ strategies or initiatives outline values such as freedom, openness, and democracy. These liberal values are embedded in AOIP to some extent but not outspokenly. These values are selective depending on the areas of cooperation or even partners ASEAN wishes to work with. Clearly, options are vast and never limited.

The US allies and partners have published Indo-Pacific initiatives besides the Republic of Korea. The incumbent government has announced a plan to announce its own Indo-Pacific framework underpinning “a pivotal global state, with a focus on promoting freedom, peace, and prosperity based on Seoul’s liberal democratic values[14](Ramon Pacheco Pardo, 2022). Concerns and questions have loomed over the continuity of Korea’s full-fledged support to ASEAN under the New Southern Policy. Nevertheless, ASEAN is considered the centerpiece of its newly unveiled Indo-Pacific framework later this year.


Indo-Pacific is arguably the busiest area where multipolarity would be revealed sporadically. As long as ASEAN remains relevant as a regional group, harsh skepticism over ASEAN’s disunity or being a toothless talk shop would gradually fade away. How ASEAN could safely stay relevant in the Indo-Pacific realm lies in ASEAN’s wisdom. ASEAN needs to be more eclectic to garner various Indo-Pacific strategies and concepts to revisit and detail its very own AOIP step by step. ASEAN never rejected proposals from elsewhere bluntly, and it never will. Conflicting or coalescing into something better is up to ASEAN’s call. For the latter, ASEAN cautiously calculates its psychological strengths and weakness to converge various Indo-Pacific concepts on the ‘middle way’ to encourage ASEAN’s role in the era of paradigm shift.

About Writer:

  • Seonyoung Yang Senior Research Officer at the Mission of the Republic of Korea to ASEAN (2013-Present), MSc of EU Studies and Communication Science from Vrije Universiteit Brussel (2011-12), Graduate Diploma in International Relations from London School of Economics (2016-17), BA of Linguistics from University of East Anglia (2006-9)


  1. The Diplomat (2020, August 20), ‘China’s ‘Never Again’ Mentality,’ Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2020/08/chinas-never-again-mentality/
  2. Amitave Acharya (2021, July 8), Retrieved from https://twitter.com/amitavacharya/status/1413139276561145861
  3. Wang Gungwu (2019), ‘China Reconnects: Joining a Deep-rooted Past to a New World Order,’ Singapore: World Scientific, p. 129
  4. Ibid (2019: p. 161)
  5. Ibid (2019: p. 18)
  6. ASEAN Secretariat, ‘ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific’ (2019) Retrieved from https://asean.org/speechandstatement/asean-outlook-on-the-indo-pacific/
  7. Endy Bayuni (2022, July 19) ‘Poker, not chess, is the name of the game in the Indo-Pacific’ available on The Jakarta Post, Retrieved from https://www.thejakartapost.com/paper/2022/07/19/poker-not-chess-is-the-name-of-the-game-in-the-indo-pacific.html
  8. Richard E. Nisbett (2003), ‘The Geography of Thoughts: How Asians and Westerners think differently,’ New York: Free Press
  9. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (2020, November 12), ‘Joint Statement of the 23rd ASEAN-Japan Summit on Cooperation on ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,’ Retrieved from https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/100114942.pdf
  10. ASEAN Secretariat (2022, August 16), ‘Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC),’ Retrieved fromhttps://asean.org/our-communities/asean-political-security-community/outward-looking-community/treaty-of-amity-and-cooperation-in-southeast-asia-tac/#:~:text=The%20Treaty%20of%20Amity%20and,in%20the%20region%20and%20beyond
  11. ASEAN Secretariat (2021, October 28), ‘ASEAN-India Joint Statement on Cooperation on the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific for Peace, Stability, and Prosperity in the Region,’ Retrieved from https://asean.org/asean-india-joint-statement-on-cooperation-on-the-asean-outlook-on-the-indo-pacific-for-peace-stability-and-prosperity-in-the-region/
  12. Habibie Center Youtube (2022, July 6), ‘Talking ASEAN on “The US’ New Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Future of Taiwan’s Strait Stability,’ Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNXuEeJ66Rs
  13. Ramon Pacheco Pardo (2022) ‘South Korea as a global pivotal state: the role of partners’ https://brussels-school.be/publications/policy-briefs/south-korea-%E2%80%9Cglobal-pivotal-state%E2%80%9D-role-partners Brussels: CSDS Policy Brief 07/2022

ASC Commentaries | Cross-Border Digital Payment Integration: What Will We Achieve?

ASC Commentaries | Cross Border Digital Payment Integration: What Will We Achieve?

Ambassadorial Lecture on ASEAN-Egypt Outlook: Challenges and Future Prospects

On Monday, 29th November 2021, the ASEAN Studies Center held an Ambassadorial Lecture on ASEAN-Egypt Outlook: Challenges and Future Prospects. The lecture takes place online by streaming on ASEAN Studies Center UGM Youtube channel. The lecture session was delivered by H.E. Amb. Ashraf M. Sultan, the Ambassador of Egypt to ASEAN and Indonesia, accompanied by the Executive Director of ASEAN Studies Center UGM Dr. Dafri Agussalim M.A as the moderator.

The lecture highlighted several issues in the areas of Egypt-ASEAN relations. H.E. Amb. Ashraf M. Sultan started his speech by giving several brief remarks on what happened on Egypt lately after some political disturbances in 2011 and 2013 that showed the need of economic and social reforms to change many constants and introduce new practices. Moreover, the speech delivered by Ambassador Ashraf also highlighted the possibilities of qualitative bilateral exchange with ASEAN Countries in overcoming the Covid-19 Pandemic and further economic and social recoveries by sharing common sense on not neglecting the permanent goals on sustainable development program which designed to secure the welfare of the citizen in either Egypt or ASEAN Countries. Ambassador Ashraf mentioned that Egypt and ASEAN Countries needs to start discovering and creating the new knowledge to develop the capabilities on both sides to enter new markets and have more input and contribution to the world scientific and technical progress as well. Those initiation could be useful to find an appropriate format for extending cooperation and exchanging knowledge and best practices.

The lecture was followed by a Questions and Answers session by the participants. The talk was lively as participants were eager to raise questions on compelling topics regarding ASEAN-Egypt relations and their cooperation prospects. Among them were questions on the future initiatives and development to be exchanged between Egypt and ASEAN

In closing, the ASEAN-Egypt Oulook Ambassadorial Lecture, H.E. Amb. Ashraf M. Sultan concluded that ASEAN and Egypt are both developing economies and both are looking for more big spaces for technical cooperation in unusual fields and probably should not be in a traditional way that could be focused on trade and direct cooperation. The expanding of bilateral relations is possible to automatically expanding the investment and trade all the way. The challenges that could be faced by the cooperation between Egypt and ASEAN Countries should be addressed wisely and need to be accomplished more to give new initiative on Egypt-ASEAN relations.



Report by Syukron Subkhi
Media and Publication Officer at ASEAN Studies Center UGM

#ASEAN #SoutheastAsia #ASEANStudiesCenter #ASC #UGM #Webinar #Dialogue #Egypt #EgyptEmbassy #EgyptASEAN #Prospects #Cooperation #InternationalRelations #ASEANDialogue #TAC #treatyofamityandcooperation

Time to Prepare Rowing between Two Great Islands Again

Since the mid of September 2021, there has always been news and columns about AUKUS in the mass media headlines. AUKUS, the trilateral military cooperation between Australia, the UK, and the USA would drive Australia to have nuclear-powered submarines in the next few years. Despite nuclear power being used as the power source of the submarine, it’s undeniable that nuclear-powered submarines would strengthen Australia’s navy capability significantly. 

AUKUS is also believed to have violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the Pacific region. Furthermore, it will trigger China to increase its military capabilities and lead it to cold-war 2.0, or even an open conflict in the region. The partnership would also strengthen the US presence in the Asia-Pacific region since the US formed an alliance named QUAD with India, Japan, and Australia in 2017 that has the most developed military capacity in the Asia-Pacific region excluding China. Hence, China would be surrounded by the allies of the USA in the South, East, and the Southwest. On the other hand, China only has Russia as its traditional ally in terms of security in the North. For China, it has no option other than to strengthen its military capacity to balance the USA and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region.

If the cold war or open conflict occurs between China and the USA and its allies, the arena would be in Southeast Asia as it is located between China and Australia. ASEAN countries are inferior compared to China, the USA, or Australia with their future nuclear-powered submarines. To describe this situation, Global Times published a fairly accurate illustration of the possibility of conflict in the Southeast Asia region. The Illustration depicts US-Australia and China as two elephants who are fighting on the grass. Meanwhile, the ASEAN countries are portrayed as the broken grass that receives the consequences of the battle between two countries plus Australia. From the illustration by the Global Times, we can assume that ASEAN countries will be adversely affected by the confrontation of the USA-Australia versus China. 

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration by : Chen Xia/Global Times 

It will be quite possible for ASEAN to get trapped in the security dilemma. Moreover, the security integration of ASEAN members is still relatively low compared to the EU, and its member states are far from standing on common ground in terms of diplomatic and defense policies. It is difficult for ASEAN member states to rely on the collective defense of ASEAN to seek collective security. They can only rely on independent military capacity-building and appropriate and independent diplomatic strategies. However, the military strength of ASEAN member states still seems incomparable to the military power of the USA, China, or even Australia with its future nuclear-powered submarines. The data published by the World Population Review shows that by 2021 ASEAN only has 14 submarines in total, of which six of them are owned by Vietnam, two units belong to Malaysia, one submarine from Myanmar, and five other submarines belong to Indonesia. This is such a crushing defeat where China has 74 and the USA has 66 submarines which are clearly more than the total number of submarines that ASEAN countries currently have. AUKUS will lead Australia to have more advanced submarines, which consequently will outperform ASEAN countries if they do not increase their military capacity. As a response to the possible security threats, the most viable action to do by each ASEAN member state is to strengthen their military capacity to secure their security. ASEAN should also strengthen its security integration in responding to AUKUS and the possibility of open war in the region.

Besides the military capacity, ASEAN centrality will also be tested by AUKUS. Each ASEAN member state shows different reactions towards the AUKUS. Ismail Sabri Yakob, the Malaysian Prime Minister expresses his concern on how AUKUS may possibly provoke other powers to act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea. Similar to Malaysia, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi emphasized that none of the ASEAN countries intends to intensify arms race and power projection in the region, which of course will threaten regional security stability. However, unlike Indonesia and Malaysia, the Philippines has shown its support for the formation of AUKUS in the region. A favorable statement was also stated by Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong, that AUKUS would contribute constructively to the peace and stability of the region and complement the regional architecture. By the responses of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, we can conclude that ASEAN countries have not been able to unite their voices in responding to the AUKUS cooperation. It is a result of the demand for protection and cooperation with the USA and different perceptions of China as a threat as well as a partner. On the one hand, China is one of the most strategic trade partners for ASEAN. China’s bilateral trade to ASEAN reaches 684 billion USD in 2020. On the other hand, China is also a threat to the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam. Thus, it is difficult for the ASEAN to take a common position over AUKUS.

Despite their different position in dealing with AUKUS, ASEAN member states made it clear that they refuse to take sides. As Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said, Southeast Asia wants peace and prosperity, reiterating a long-time stance that countries are against being forced to take sides in the US-China rivalry. If we go back to the past, the cold war was the reason for the ASEAN establishment in 1967. Five founding fathers countries of ASEAN gathered themselves in order to unite their “power” and avoid the cold war involvement. It was like, ASEAN rowing between two great islands in the past. The regional circumstances nowadays are different compared to how Southeast Asia was 54 years ago, which can be seen through how ASEAN countries seem more integrated now. Furthermore, ASEAN weaves the partnership with China, Australia, and the USA through the ASEAN+ mechanism. Therefore, the doors for dialogue are always open to prevent the bad scenarios related to the AUKUS. However,  along with the possibility of the cold war 2.0 between China and the USA, ASEAN must be prepared for rowing between two great islands again for the second time.

About Writer

  • Lucky Kardanardi is a Programme intern at ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada.  Lucky is also an associate writer of The Bridge Magazine. He holds the bachelor’s degree of Social Sciences majors in International Relations with particular focuses on Southeast Asian and European studies. 

Bincang ASEAN ReaLISM #3 | Reading, Learning, and Invesigating Southeast Asia through Movies

On Friday, 26th November 2021, ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada held a Bincang ASEAN – ReaLISM #3 “Reading, Learning, and Investigating Southeast Asia through Movies.” In this Bincang ASEAN, ASC UGM hosts a screening of Southeast Asia-related documentaries with Mr. Tunggul Wicaksono as the moderator. The event screened a documentary movie, entitled “ an Online Citizen” directed by Calum Stuart.

An Online Citizen by Calum Stuart - Cinemata

The “an Online Citizen Movie” is featuring Terry Xu, a chief editor, videographer, writer and webmaster of The Online Citizen, one of Singapore’s few independent media outlets. With a lean team and a tight budget, it’s a struggle to keep the entire enterprise afloat in an environment where mainstream media is government-controlled and the ruling party doesn’t look kindly upon dissent. But with the introduction of anti-“fake news” legislation that would allow government ministers to become arbiters of truth, the environment in Singapore might become tougher than it’s ever been.

To enliven the discussion, in this event, we invited Calum Stuart, the movie director itself, Kirsten Han, journalist based in Singapora, and Dr. Budi Irawanto, a Lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies UGM. The discussion about the “an Online Citizen” movie became more interesting with some Q&As and invited several perspective about freedom of press and journalism in Southeast Asia generally, due to issues of democratic repressive in the region.

#ASEAN #SoutheastAsia #ASEANStudiesCenter #ASC #UGM #BincangASEAN #ReaLISM #AnOnlineCitizen #Singapore #freedomofspeech #MovieScreening #Journalist

Bincang ASEAN – ReaLISM #1 | Reading, Learning, and Investigating Southeast Asia through Movies

On Wednesday, 29th September 2021, ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada held a Bincang ASEAN – ReaLISM #1 “Reading, Learning, and Investigating Southeast Asia through Movies.” In this Bincang ASEAN, ASC UGM hosts a screening of Southeast Asia-related documentaries with Muhammad Ammar Hidayahtulloh, M.Dev.Prac. as the discussion moderator. In the discussion, it is reviewing a documentary movie titled “Standing On The Edge of The Thorn”.

The discussion has invited Dr. Robert Lemelson, Ph.D., an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker of the movie, Indiana Puspa Dewi, S.S., MA, a Ph.D. Candidate in Linguistic Anthropology at School of Languages and Cultures University of Queensland, and Ninik Supartini, M.Si Developmental Psychologist and Gender Researcher at Robert Lemelson Foundation.

“Standing on the Edge of a Thorn” is an intimate portrait of a family in rural Indonesia grappling with poverty, mental illness, and participation in the sex trade. The movie has succeeded in portraying how gender violence issues happened. During the discussion, Dr. Robert Lemelson, Ph. D has highlighted that this movie has brought up the issue of gender violence, which was previously considered a taboo subject to be discussed by the public. Even though the problem is happening a lot and affects the psychology of other family members, it is still considered taboo to bring up this issue. Ninik Supartini, M. Si. has also stated her efforts to approach people to recognize gender violence. According to her, gender violence is a structural issue and requires a prolonged approach to resolve it. Indiana Puspa Dewi, S.S., MA, a Ph.D., has also stated the importance of maximizing the village’s cultural background and situation to handle cases of gender violence in the community. The discussion also became more interesting with the Q&A session with participants of this movie screening.

The discussion wrapped up with the importance of being brave to speak up about gender violence issues happening in the community. Other than that, it is also highlighted that cultural resources play a critical role in empowering women.

Report by Citta Azarine A
(Media Intern at ASC UGM)

#ASEAN #SoutheastAsia #ASEANStudiesCenter #ASC #UGM #Webinar #ReaLISM #MovieScreening #MovieDiscussion #StandingontheEdgeofaThorn

Focus Group Discussion ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation: “”The Role of ICT as a Tool in Mitigating Conflict and Fostering Peace”


Monday, 25 January 2021 ASEAN Studies Center UGM attended Focus Group Discussion (FGD) organized by ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation with the main theme “The Role of ICT as a Tool in Mitigating Conflict and Fostering Peace”. ASC UGM was represented by Tunggul Wicaksono, Pulung S. Perbawani, Treviliana Eka Putri, and Joash Elisha Stephen Tapiheru.

This FGD by ASEAN-IPR was held for the first time in a hybrid format, attended by representatives from the Governing Council, Advisory Body, AWPR, and numerous think-tanks from across ASEAN countries. The purpose of this FGD is to bring together various views on ICT empowerment in peace reconciliation as well as provide a platform for collaboration and cooperation among think tanks in the region.

After the FGD session, Executive Director of ASEAN-IPR H.E. Amb. I Gusti Wesaka Puja paid a visit to the ASC-UGM office and met with the Chancellor of Universitas Gadjah Mada Prof. Ir. Panut Mulyono at the UGM Balairung Rectorate Office.

#ASC #UGM #AseanStudiesCenter #ASEAN #webinarseries #covid19 #Monograph #BringingASEANCloserToYou #ASEAN_IPR #FGD #asean_ipr_fgd

Bincang ASEAN on ASC Monograph 2020 “Small States, Strong Societies: Essays on Covid-19 Responses in Southeast Asia”

Tuesday, 19th January 2021 ASEAN Studies Center UGM held the webinar series in Bincang ASEAN on ASC Monograph 2020, entitled “Small States, Strong Societies: Essays on Covid-19 Responses in Southeast Asia.”

The webinar invites the contributors alongside the editors which has different background and prespective to further discuss about the development end the difference responses between ASEAN Countries in handling the Covid-19 Pandemic outbreak.

Every chapter inside the monograph bringing a regional and cross-national perspective to understand the Covid-19 response. The monograph show that three aspects explain the inequality of Covid-19 responses in Southeast Asia: the differing degree of state capacity, the resilience of society, and the regional cooperation.

Thank you for participating in #BincangASEAN together with contributors and editors from ASC Monograph 2020. Hopefully this webinar able to increase our insights regarding the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in ASEAN countries.

Stay safe, and healthy!

#BincangASEAN #ASC #UGM #AseanStudiesCenter #ASEAN #webinarseries #covid19 #Monograph #BringingASEANCloserToYou

Theorizing a College of Southeast Asia

By Truston Yu (Photo: Vindur, Polish Wikipedia)

For seven decades, the College of Europe has produced distinguished alumni members who had gone on to take up important posts in the European Union (EU) and its member states. With an increasing demand for ASEAN young talents well-versed in the region, could there be a “College of Southeast Asia” in the future? With Europe as an example, this article theorizes the creation of a postgraduate institution of similar nature in the Southeast Asian context.

The College of Europe was established in 1949 as one of the results of the 1948 Congress of Europe in The Hague. It was supported by significant figures from postwar Europe, such as Spanish diplomat Salvador de Madariaga and British prime minister Winston Churchill. The first campus is in Bruges, Belgium, where students study law, politics, or economics in an EU context. A second campus was established in Natolin (Warsaw) after the fall of the Berlin Wall, offering interdisciplinary programs. Both campuses offer year-long master degrees.

Under what is called the “College Formula”, students spend ten months living and studying together in an intensive yet nurturing environment. There are around 340 students in Bruges and 130 in Natolin, making for a tight-knit community. Despite the short duration of the program, there is a solid alumni network across cohorts and countries. For non-European audiences, one of the most well-known alumnus would be Former British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

As of today, the College’s existence may seem perfectly logical and reasonable; yet it is worth noting that at the time of its inception, conflict was still perceived to be the norm in the European continent. Memories of a war-torn Europe were still very fresh, and the creation of such a College was at the time a radical initiative. It has been several decades since the last time a war was fought between countries in Southeast Asia, the execution of such a project would be far less controversial here. In fact, the creation of this College would go in line with ongoing efforts of the ASEAN Community and the Narrative of ASEAN Identity.

In some sense, the College of Europe could be seen as an academy for civil servants serving in the European domain. Henri Brugmans, a former Rector of the College of Europe in Bruges, believed that one of the purposes of their purposes was to “train an elite of young executives for Europe”. Indeed, many graduates have gone on to take up executive roles in organs under the EU framework, or enter the foreign service of their home countries with a focus on EU affairs. However, this is not absolute, and there are still others who chose different paths, such as think tanks and consultancies.

With ASEAN integration taking place at an exponential rate, there would certainly be greater demand for staff members in ASEAN affairs: whether it is in the ASEAN Secretariat and associated entities, the respective directorates under the foreign ministries of ASEAN member states, or even non-governmental organizations and private corporations.

Southeast Asia is, without doubt, the most diverse region on earth in many ways: countries differ in language, religion, political systems, and many other categories. Such diversity requires a nuanced understanding of the region, especially for those whose work is related to specific countries or the ASEAN as a whole. When external parties like Korea and Taiwan have been stepping up their engagement and research on Southeast Asia, this region also needs to train more local professionals with regional expertise – it could only make sense that Southeast Asians ourselves must get to know our own region better than foreign observers. Southeast Asian governments, particularly, could benefit from equipping their brightest young professionals with a regional vision.

Due to both internal and external factors, there is a clear urgency for such a College. This College would also equip classes of regional-minded students with the expertise and connections to take over the reins of an increasingly interconnected ASEAN; Naturally, graduates of the College would act as de facto regional ambassadors to spread the word of Southeast Asia to the domestic populace as well as foreign audiences. For non-Southeast Asian students, the College is an entry-point for them to get to know this region from within.

During Singapore’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2018, the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore began an initiative known as the ASEAN Law Academy. The Academy is a “cross-disciplinary master’s level intensive course aimed at those working in the fields of politics and governance, economics and law.” It appears to be the closest resemblance to something like a College of Europe, but at a shorter and smaller scale geared towards established professionals.

A College of Southeast Asia could be set up from scratch or based on existing institutions. The S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), for example, has long been seen as an institution for aspiring diplomats and strategists of the region. The ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, also based in Singapore, is renowned as the world’s leading institution for Southeast Asian Studies. At any rate, the expertise is already well-established, there needs to be an institution with institutionalized degree programs utilizing the existing resources.

Perhaps most importantly, what would a College of Southeast Asia experience look like for its students? I had the honor of interviewing Emma Vermunicht, recent alumna, and former Student President of the Natolin campus. In Emma’s opinion, the best part of the College of Europe lies not in the coursework per se but the whole community in general. “For the academics, I could have gone to any other institution,” It was the community-building experience that is irreplaceable: “We had just 138 students in our cohort, coming from all different countries.” In many ways, this community reflects what real life is like in the EU.”

A College of Southeast Asia must be able to offer its students something beyond academic skills and knowledge. After all, there are already prominent institutions on Southeast Asian Studies such as Kyoto University and the University of Sydney, and their longstanding tradition in the field would attract students with academic interest. Like the College of Europe, the Southeast Asian counterpart must endeavor to create a conducive community on campus for students, which extends into an alumni network as they graduate. It could also serve as a feeder for internships and officer positions in organs such as the ASEAN Secretariat, the ASEAN Foundation, and other affiliated entities such as the Master of Arts in Transatlantic Affairs (MATA) between the College of Europe and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the United States, the College of Southeast Asia may feature partnerships that allow for comparative studies.

With imaginations based on the College of Europe, this article has painted a picture of a hypothetical College of Southeast Asia. Irrespective of the precise form this may take place, the creation of a postgraduate institution on Southeast Asian affairs would be tremendously helpful towards nurturing a new class of young professionals to lead the region.

Truston Yu is a research assistant at the University of Hong Kong. Their research interests include Southeast Asian Studies and the teaching of this discipline. They could be reached at their e-mail: trustonyuofficial@gmail.com

A Switzerland Model for Timor-Leste? Prospects of Differentiated Integration in ASEAN

By Truston Yu (Photo: VOA)

Nearly two decades have passed since Timor-Leste became Southeast Asia’s youngest country, their quest for membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) remains in limbo. Could a model like Switzerland in the European Union (EU) be a feasible solution for Timor-Leste’s relationship with the ASEAN? This article examines the idea first proposed by veteran diplomat Barry Desker, looking into case examples in Europe and prospecting its application in Southeast Asia. The concept of “differentiated integration”, in particular, is of interest within this discussion.

It has been over four decades since Timor-Leste first expressed its intent in joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Much has happened in the years between: East Timor was annexed by Indonesia until it regained its independence 27 years later following a period of transitional UN administration; ASEAN membership doubled; the ASEAN Charter was drafted in 2007, and the ASEAN Community was launched in 2015. However, little progress has been made regarding Dili’s accession to the Southeast Asian bloc.

The ASEAN Charter’s Article 6 Admission of New Members outlines the criteria for an aspiring country to be admitted into the ASEAN. It is non-debatable that Timor-Leste has already fulfilled the first three; the final one that remains is criterion (d) Ability and willingness to carry out obligations of Membership.

Timor-Leste is Southeast Asia’s smallest economy, with a GDP of only one-tenth of Cambodia, the smallest economy in ASEAN. However, all members must contribute an equal amount to the ASEAN budget, and this would certainly be a bigger burden to this young country than it is to other neighbors in Southeast Asia. As former ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong stated, ASEAN member states attend over a thousand meetings of various nature each year. Attendance itself is already a rather demanding task, not to mention that member states must share the workload of hosting ASEAN Summits and other events.

Ambassador Barry Desker, senior Singaporean diplomat and the Founding Dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), proposed the idea of a “Switzerland model” for Timor-Leste in ASEAN. I had the opportunity of speaking with him personally at an academic conference in Singapore, July 2019. Desker envisioned a solution in which Timor-Leste could participate in ASEAN frameworks without having to comply with the rather high expectations membership entails.

Differentiated integration describes the phenomenon in which member states have varying levels of commitment and participation in different aspects of the organization. The official definition set out in the European Commission’s GLOSSARY: The reform of the European Union in 150 definitions is as follows:

Differentiated integration means a process of integration in which the Member States opt to move forward at different speeds and/or towards different objectives, in contrast to the notion of a monolithic bloc of States pursuing identical objectives at a single speed.

This definition of differentiated integration, however, does not include non-member states. They are addressed in Article 8 of the Treaty of the European Union:

The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation.

There are differential treatments and expectations on member states and other countries with close relations. It is the state of “not completely within, not completely without” which Desker envisions would be the way forward for Timor-Leste’s inclusion into ASEAN.

There are variations of this pertaining to the European Union: The most well-known cases would be members of the European Free Trade Association like Switzerland and Norway; there are also microstates like Andorra and Monaco; finally, we have Central European Free Trade Agreement member states such as Romania which eventually left CEFTA and joined the EU, as well Serbia which is considered to be first in line as the next member to join EU.

ASEAN differs from the EU in the sense that it emphasizes the equality between member states. Unanimity is central to the ASEAN Way – everyone is equal in voting (and vetoing) rights. While the EU is accustomed to “tailor-made plans” designed to meet the needs and capacities of different countries, this would be a major hurdle for ASEAN.

Though Desker coined the idea of a “Switzerland model” as it is the most well-known example of a non-member state being highly integrated into the EU, Dili’s circumstances are more homologous to the CEFTA members. As the Balkan countries, Timor-Leste is the one lagging behind the regional average, and preparatory efforts for accession have focused on capacity building. Thus, the Timor-Leste model would actually be closer to a “Serbia model”.

In fact, elements of differentiated integration could already be seen in Southeast Asia, with Timor-Leste’s inclusion in the ASEAN Annual Meeting of Foreign Ministers (AMM) and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). ASEAN may further include Timor-Leste in more multilateral meetings regarding various aspects of cooperation.

In the face of Timor-Leste’s long quest for ASEAN membership, there are three courses of action: immediate membership, indefinite rejection, and differentiated integration. Not only is a differentiated integration model ideal for Timor-Leste’s gradual inclusion into ASEAN, but the current mode of Timor-Leste’s involvement with the regional bloc is also already demonstrating elements of differentiated integration. Admittedly, the length of this article does not allow for a deeper examination of the ASEAN and EU’s complexity. There remain many more technicalities to be discussed under this topic, such as whether the model would be an intermediary or permanent, or which of the three ASEAN Community pillars Dili will be given access to first. Nevertheless, differentiated integration, in a broad sense, presents a new framework for understanding the possibilities for Timor-Leste in ASEAN, breaking the binary and the deadlock in the status quo.

Truston Yu is a research assistant at the University of Hong Kong. Their research interests include Southeast Asian Studies and Timor-Leste’s accession to ASEAN.

They could be reached at their e-mail: trustonyuofficial@gmail.com