In December 2022, the Indonesian government passed a law that penalizes sex outside marriage. This is only one of the many changes in the criminal code that observers warn of the increasing conservatism in the country.

Indonesia houses the largest Muslim population in the world and is also a republic whose democratic experiences and milestones have been widely studied by scholars within and beyond the region. This makes Indonesia a compelling case for reflection on the nexus and tensions between religion and democracy. Is religion compatible with democracy? What opportunities and challenges does the “Islamic Renaissance” entail in the country? Democracy on Religion

Liberal democracy espouses secularism, the separation of church and state, and freedom of religion. In an “ideal” democratic system, the state must not endorse nor support any specific religion while guaranteeing the free exercise of religion among citizens. This is essential in a democracy for many reasons. Religious freedom is a crucial civil right that enhances citizens’ individuality and relations with others. It stops one religion from dominating society, hence promoting diversity and co-existence. At the same time, it prevents policies from being framed according to religious beliefs, which may result in discrimination and repression of fundamental human rights.

Religion and its Tensions with Democracy: The Case of Indonesia

This is particularly important for Indonesia. While the country is predominantly Muslim, Indonesia also has many ethnolinguistic groups with different cultures and practices. It is a challenge in itself to build one nation with an immensely heterogeneous society. The diversity in the country resulted in years of ethnic conflict and violence. Even a religious minority, the Ahmadiyya, faces intimidation and oppression in the exercise of their faith. Indonesia’s dilemma points to the longstanding debate in human rights discourse and practice – are human rights universal, or are they relative to culture and local customs? While I am more inclined to support the former, it is important to be aware and carefully consider the context of a country when designing human rights advocacy and interventions.

However imperfect, the democratization process in Indonesia has assisted in facilitating efforts for reconciliation and balancing competing interests in the country. Recently, the President stunned the world when he acknowledged past grave human rights abuses in the country, including an anti-communist purge in the ’60s and the arrest of democracy activists during the Suharto presidency.

Indonesia sits in between secularism and theocracy. The country’s fundamental law espouses Pancasila, which is the foundational political theory of Indonesia. Through its five principles, Indonesian society believes in one God and aspires to create a just and civilized humanity, unity, democracy, and social justice for all. This tells us that, by principle, Indonesia gives importance to pluralism and citizenship. Scholars and practitioners of the law also adopt legal pluralism and believe that different legal systems are complementary rather than contradictory. For example, community practices and customs are considered along with national and local regulations in settling disputes and conflicts at the village level.

However, in recent years, Indonesia has seen the expanding role of Islam in the country’s social and political life. Aside from Islam being a “source of ethical and cultural guidance”, many Islamic organizations have secured formal power, which allows them to easily introduce measures within the state apparatus that cement their own interests. Hardliner Islamic groups have also proliferated, and fundamentalist thought and practices are becoming more and more widespread. Islamic identity politics have also been evident since Widodo coalesced with conservative Islamic factions and appointed Amin, an influential Islamic figure, as his vice president. The new penal code tends to be more religious than secular. This has implications for Indonesia’s supposed secularism and diversity. How can the Indonesian government best represent the interests and aspirations of all?

As Indonesia continues to modernize and extend its economic and political ascendancy in the region, rapid changes in its social relations and dynamics are also expected. This demands a more careful look at the kind of laws and “social controls” that the government enforces. Suppose conservative forces are forwarding laws in the name of protecting tradition and keeping Indonesian values in check. In that case, it should not be at the expense of fundamental civil and political liberties, nor should it be to repress vulnerable groups even further, such as women, LGBT+, and ethnic communities. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. Hence, political representation must reflect the diversity and vibrance of Indonesian society. If only one group dominates political and policy discourse, it ultimately jeopardizes the general will.

When religion becomes the yardstick for crafting rules and policies, it creates biases, whether intended or not. Propositions that are credible and necessary but “contradictory” to a certain religion may be rejected simply because they do not fit the personal convictions of decision-makers. Integrating religion into politics usually leads to oppressive and harmful policymaking. Religion is also a form of heuristics or cognitive shortcut that devalues deliberation and discussion. Instead of scrutinizing issues, people may resort to using their religion as the sole basis for their position on a particular matter. Democracies ought to be deliberative and pluralistic.

Human rights activists and organizations in Indonesia have sounded the alarm on many changes in the criminal code that could stifle individual freedoms and lead to setbacks in the country’s democratic progress. Aside from banning sex outside marriage, the government also reinstated laws that criminalize insulting the President and other state officials and institutions. They also increased the punishment for blasphemy. These laws can be disproportionately used against individuals and groups with legitimate criticisms and concerns about the government. It may also render already marginalized communities even more vulnerable. Religion, Populism, and Repression

This trend is not only unique to Indonesia. Much of the world has seen the rise of “nationalist” movements, often within the pretext of religion and safeguarding culture. India’s Modi has exhibited Hindu nationalist tendencies, which have meant greater intolerance against the Muslim minority in the country. Myanmar’s Tatmadaw has weaponized Buddhism to rally support from the public and account for its atrocities.

The use of religion to justify repressive and oppressive regimes is apparent. Religion is an effective tool to unify a group of people and subject them to a specific set of beliefs and values, which may be highly prejudiced and absurd. Religion acts as a moral compass that defines what is right and what is wrong. Because religion is subjective, it can easily be manipulated to serve political objectives. Populists and autocrats can bastardize religion to create a public enemy, instill an “us vs them” mentality, and sow further polarization.

Failed democracies thrive out of fear, whether it is real or manufactured. Religion can be a potent force to ingrain this fear. This hysteria against change and modernization is easy to whip up when people already have preexisting beliefs. It is not too difficult to segregate people and label them as the “other”. When this distinction is entrenched, it is convenient to normalize discrimination and violence.

It is said that Indonesia is a model for “Moderate Islam” when compared to the Middle East; the “Indonesian way” can complement Western values and democracy. It also has the potential to correct Islamophobia and promote Islam as a religion of peace. On the other hand, if Indonesia cannot find its balance and condone fundamentalist and hardliner Islamic groups to flourish, Indonesia will certainly regress in its hard-won democratic gains.

Religion has inherent contradictions with democracy. Subscribing to a religion and structuring a supposedly diverse society using its tenets is monopolistic and can bring about intolerance. It is paramount for democracies to ensure that civil, political, and socioeconomic rights are not deprived based on religion and other forms of cleavages. The access and exercise of power should be as widely distributed as possible. Public office should not be limited to certain political clans or religious organizations. For instance, at the village level, cultural and socioeconomic elites must share power and administration with vulnerable and historically marginalized groups. There are more reasons and illustrative cases, present and past, to posit that religion is more of a bane than a boon to democracy. At the moment in world history when (dis)information is fast and instant, we must maintain vigilance in dealing with autocratic agendas in the guise of “respecting” values and tradition. It is easier to believe and conform than to reflect and deliberate. But democracy dies when we rely on shortcuts to define what is good for us. Democracy dies, slowly and deliberately, when we allow a few to sabotage our freedoms and liberties to increase their own. Demagogues and despots are usually cunning and do things “in the name of God”.




Evans, M. S. (2014). Religion and political decision making. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 53(1), 145–163. http://doi:10.1111/jssr.12088

Evans, T. (2012). Separation of Mosque and State in Indonesia. Policy, 27(4), 35–39.

Głodek, A., & Grzywacz, A. (2020). Indonesia – between religion and democracy, Warsaw: Boym Institute. Retrieved from

Jaffrey, S. (2020). Is Indonesia Becoming a Two-Tier Democracy?, Washington D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Jamaluddin, M., Chen, H. & Watson, A. (2022). Indonesia bans sex outside marriage as parliament passes sweeping new criminal code, Jakarta: CNN.

Klinken, G. v. (2019). Living in a Sacred Cosmos: Indonesia and the Future of Islam. Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia, 175(1), 81–135. http://doi:10.1111/jssr.12088

McWilliams, E. (2018). Democracy in Indonesia: A Progress Report, Washington D.C.: The Foreign Service Journal.

Nagda, A. (2020). The Diplomat. [Online] Available at:

Omelicheva, M. & Ahmed, R. (2018). Religion and politics: examining the impact of faith on political participation. Religion, State, and Society, 46(1), 4–25.

The World Factbook. (2023). Indonesia, s.l.: Central Intelligence Agency.

Wieringa, S. E. (2006). Islamization in Indonesia: Women Activists’ Discourses. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 32 (1), 40–27.



Short Biography:

Kay Conales is a student of the Asia Pacific-Master of Arts in Human Rights and Democratization of the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP) of Mahidol University (Thailand). She also studied in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences (FISIPOL) of APMA’s partner-university Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia). She can be reached through e-mail at

Redefining Commodities in International Trade: ASEAN Blue Carbon Initiative and Its Role in Navigating Climate Crisis in the Southeast Asia Region

Stepping further into the technological and industrial advancement age, the narration of sustainability in the international trade system has gained much attention from policymakers worldwide. Not only due to the climate crisis’s indiscriminate effect, which transverses beyond borders but also the highly disruptive implications for the international community’s economic activity, this agenda is being prioritized by governments. To make a long story short, states are looking for an answer to strike a balance in economic production, which is pivotal to our daily lives, and the climate crisis is irreversible damage. A recent initiative that has been put forward to solve these pressing issues is the carbon trading system, which places a cap and tax on corporations’ greenhouse emissions. In the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Blue Carbon ecosystem, which consists of mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows, holds massive potential to be the global hub for carbon sequestration and storage. This article aims to explore ASEAN’s potential to fulfill its leading role in the blue carbon economy agenda and how it may contribute to our collective struggle to halt the climate crisis.

Blue carbon can be understood as carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems. Scott & Lindsay (2022) stated in their writings that the ecosystem’s critical components are crucial in offsetting carbon

footprint excess as the water-logged soils can isolate and store more carbon per unit than a regular forest. Statistically, in an empirical study conducted by Gruber et al. (2019), 31% of our carbon emissions are effectively absorbed into the depths of our ocean each day. Its high percentage of efficacy surely promises a critically needed way out for actors around the world whose means of production are still in the range of carbon-intensive. In 2023, fossil fuel use and energy exploration will still top the list as the biggest carbon emitters by industry; its cheapness deters the motivation to rapidly change into green energy that requires more material resources in its exploration. Aside from the dilemma of unsustainable energy scarcity, like any other political economy field of study, the answer to the question “Who gets what, when, and how?” that indicates the ‘paradox of plenty’ remains blurry, and our inability to answer it with a degree of fairness could still drag us into the edge of climate crisis injustice. In response to this issue, ASEAN created a comprehensive framework that accentuates the potential of the region’s blue economy; here, blue carbon initiatives are identified as one of the supporting pillars.

ASEAN’s Blue Economy Framework puts the values of inclusivity, cross-sectoral approach, and sustainability as its guiding principles. Correlating to the issue at hand, in its Blue Conservation Management plan, ASEAN member states are looking to achieve a neutral carbon balance using their marine and coastal-based activities. Regular emissions and sequestration capability assessments are also integrated into its strategies, along with the nationally determined contribution (NDC) system, which gives member states room to find a fine line between exploitation and preservation. The culmination of all these aspects is crystallized in the Blue Growth objective, which emphasizes the role of the ocean as the state’s engine of growth (Eikeset et al., 2018). In the writer’s opinion, ASEAN’s initiative is paramount to our collective effort to mitigate the detrimental effects of economic production. This premise holds bits of truth in the fact that the region hosts the planet’s most significant share of mangroves and seagrass, with 37% and 23%, respectively (Stankovic et al., 2023). These two components play critical roles in offsetting carbon footprints; creating a system that puts these rising states’ aspirations at the center is important. After all, we can’t negate the harsh fact that not all states are in the same stages of industrialization and development, but the climate crisis still happens indiscriminately. That logic requires us to pursue solutions that are constructed from the principles of sustainability and empowerment to make sure no one gets left behind this time.

Among the member states, Indonesia is one of the countries that possesses the ability and capacity to spearhead the effort. Along with Brazil, Nigeria, and Mexico, Indonesia owns more than 25% of the world’s mangrove population, which could absorb roughly 3.14 billion metric tons of carbon (PgC) (Sulaiman & Lutfi, 2019). Things are also pretty much the same in the same state with our seagrass reserves. Based on that fact alone, surely the international community would expect Indonesia to set the tone in this joint effort to redefine commodities in our trade system. After all, modifying something that is heavily reliant on nature’s ability presents an untapped opportunity as well as a grave danger should we fail to prevent it from getting into exploitation. Reflecting on what has been going on for the past couple of years, corporations’ unwillingness to switch their methods of production proves to be quite a challenge in implementing the carbon trading system. Instead of integrating bits of environment-based modification into their economic affairs, most of them choose to pay for the excess and thus put into question the effectiveness of the newly introduced carbon offsetting scheme. At the end of the day, those selfish actions do not contribute much to the declining amount of carbon emitted that has been set as the primary objective. In correspondence with this intricate issue, the writer thinks that Indonesia could use its capacity to influence and drive certain ASEAN policies that balance complex day-to-day economic activities and environmental preservation.

Consequently, our action to put a price tag on the ocean means that marine and coastal protection should be at the top of the list of policy priorities. ASEAN, through its Blue Economy Framework, has planned on establishing marine protected areas, such as the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape and Coral Triangle Initiatives, to fulfill that mission. The organization aims to build a collaborative engagement between governments, NGOs, and local communities—three actors that have high stakes in how the coastal environment would be developed should it turn into a ‘carbon sink’. Moreover, this particular model of engagement that combines top-down and bottom-up approaches can also be seen as an effort to decentralize this carbon sequestration-centric issue. To achieve inclusive growth, equal rights of access to resources must be given to every actor so that they may contribute equally to the collective effort. This kind of political-economy arrangement, in the eyes of the writer, could be the entry point for ASEAN to lead in the global market. Humans and nature must be empowered equally to help us reach a state of sustainability in the future.


In conclusion, despite its commitment-related issue, ASEAN has managed to create a well-written plan for maximizing the potential of the blue economy in the region. Its top-down and bottom-up approach opens up an opportunity to create an inclusive environment to achieve sustainable growth. Concerning our responsibility towards the environment, ASEAN could take on the role of norm-setter to make sure inclusivity and sustainability are put into similar initiatives. This becomes increasingly important as this region possesses most of the untapped potential, and for years, it has been crucial for the local communities’ livelihood. Above all, no one should get left behind in the effort to find the balance between economic growth and nature protection.



Eikeset, A. M., Mazzarella, A. B., Davíðsdóttir, B., Klinger, D. H., Levin, S. A., Rovenskaya, E., & Stenseth, N. Chr. (2018). What is blue growth? The semantics of “Sustainable Development” of marine environments. Marine Policy, 87, 177–179.

Gruber, N., Clement, D., Carter, B. R., Feely, R. A., van Heuven, S., Hoppema, M., & Ishii,

  1. (2019). The oceanic sink for anthropogenic CO2 from 1994 to 2007. Science, 363(6432).

Scott, M., & Lindsey, R. (2022, September 29). Understanding blue carbon | NOAA

Stankovic, M., Mishra, A. K., Rahayu, Y. P., Lefcheck, J., Murdiyarso, D., Friess, D. A., Corkalo, M., Vukovic, T., Vanderklift, M. A., Farooq, S. H., Gaitan-Espitia, J. D., & Prathep, A. (2023). Blue carbon assessments of seagrass and mangrove ecosystems in South and Southeast Asia: Current progress and knowledge gaps. Science of the Total Environment, 904, 166618.

Sulaiman,  B.,  &  Lutfi,  M.  (2019).  COASTAL  COMMUNITY  PERCEPTION  OF

MANGROVES IN SULI SUBDISTRICT, LUWU. Jurnal Pendidikan IPA Indonesia, 8(4).


Short Biography:

Oktavianus Bima Saputra is an undergraduate in the Department of International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada.


ASEAN Chairmanship 2023: Indonesia’s Tendency to Solve the South China Sea Territorial Disputes

On 13 November 2022, the handover of ASEAN chairmanship from Cambodia to Indonesia was held at the ASEAN summit. Adopted the “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth” theme, Indonesia is responsible for one year of ASEAN’s chairmanship. At the ASEAN summit, Joko Widodo, the President of Indonesia, said that ASEAN should be a peaceful and stable area and a presenter for global stability (Southgate, 2023). Some agendas should be a concern in Indonesia’s chairmanship. One of those is the issue that ASEAN has always faced: the South China Sea disputes. The conflicting claims of ASEAN’s countries’ sovereignty have worsened the relationship between China and ASEAN. So, how will Indonesia react while connecting the interest of Indonesia’s foreign policy?

Current Status of the Territorial Disputes in The South China Sea 

The status of the South China Sea remains uncertain. The claim of ASEAN countries’ seas has been seen as an insult to countries’ sovereignty. Criticization until objection to the nine-dash line as a legal argument by China has been an agenda by ASEAN countries for years. Other countries, such as the United States, have stated their position to object to China’s claim by rejecting the claim of Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia seas (U.S. Department of State, 2020). Other than that, the USA has expressed its concern about how unlawful the claims are and how China has violated international law (U.S. Department of State, 2020).

The tension between ASEAN and China has gradually increased due to this issue. China has increasingly put its efforts into reclaiming the land by expanding the size of the lands, military installations, and ports, especially in the Paracel and Spratly Islands (Center for Preventive Action, 2022). China also has militarized Woody Island with its jet, radar system, and cruise missiles (Center for Preventive Action, 2022). The Philippines, as one of the ASEAN members, has had a long-time dispute and negotiation with China. In reaction to China’s continued incursions into areas of Phillippine-claimed waters in the South China Sea, the Philippines has increased its military presence and gathered U.S. military assistance in the region (Gomez, 2023).

How about Indonesia’s response? The new demarcation exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between Indonesia and Vietnam will resolve the illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing (Strangio, 2022). This demarcation is also seen as an important step in settling maritime disputes in the South China Sea. In its ASEAN chairmanship 2023, Indonesia has also started a code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea dispute (Reuters, 2023). This negotiation which has been ongoing for over 20 years, tried to be restarted by Indonesia. Even though the claim to proprietorship of territorial waters covers with Indonesian EEZ through the Natuna islands, Indonesia has frequently said that Indonesia is not a part of the South China Sea disputes (Pratama, 2023). Fact that China has sent a letter to stop Indonesia from drilling for oil and gas in Natuna and even sent Coast Guard to monitor it (Reuters, 2020), Indonesia reacted as if it is not an urgent thing. Indonesia responded and rejected the claim under the UNCLOS agreement saying that China’s claim had no legal basis (Reuters, 2020). While this scene happened in 2019, there are no further policies to China’s ego. This Indonesia’s silent treatment has indicated that Indonesia, with its interest in China’s policy, will not likely take serious steps to encounter China’s domination of the South China Sea.

Indonesia’s Current Foreign Policy: Tend to Align with China

A close relationship between China and Indonesia cannot be debated anymore. Under Joko Widodo’s chairmanship, a large investment cooperation called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has started. One of the most controversial projects, the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, is under the BRI investment (Fitriani, 2022). Electric vehicles, a lithium battery factory in Morowali, Jatigede dam, and other developments are also under the BRI investment (Fitriani, 2022). Other than that, the mining and energy industries receive the majority of Chinese investment in Indonesia. Indonesia had the most coal-fired power stations developed overseas by Chinese companies as of 2021. Besides, Indonesia and China are also good partners for their food security. The decision of Indonesia to ratify the China Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) shows satisfaction for China (Rahmat, 2022). The renewing agreement, Bilateral Economic and Trade Cooperation (BETC), that has been expired in April 2021, has also been an agenda of G20 between Indonesia and China (Rahmat, 2022). Based on these facts, it can be concluded that Indonesia’s interest has tended to favor China’s interest.

Even though its principle of foreign policy, “bebas aktif” (independent and active), it is understandable for Indonesia to align with the Asian superpower, China. It is logical and pragmatic because China offers more chances than other major powers and has become the main driver of global economic growth. Since the signing agreement of the Indonesia-China Strategic Partnership in 2005, China has become Indonesia’s largest trading partner. Moreover, China and Indonesia also have the highest import and export growth rates among ASEAN nations. According to the National Bureau of Statistics and China Customs, China and Indonesia’s combined import and export volume climbed from $66.234 billion in 2012 to

$124.57 billion in 2021, with a detail of USD 31.951 billion to USD 63.923 billion, Indonesia exported more goods to China. Other than that, through the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, this bilateral trade has positively affected the expansion of some export commodities, such as palm oil and coal (Maria, 2022). The fact that both economies are complementary, with  China having advantages in manufacturing and technology while Indonesia is rich in agricultural and raw materials, has been seen as a bilateral mutual relationship. In the future years, China’s investment in Indonesia will keep increasing as it becomes a more significant trading partner for Indonesia. Therefore, it makes more sense to accept China’s emergence and work together to counter the challenges it poses than condemning it or excluding it, which will only feed great power rivalries that could jeopardize Indonesian interests in the long run.

During Indonesia’s presidency, ASEAN’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and promoting ASEAN’s economic growth will be the main agenda for the 2023 chairmanship (Southgate, 2023). These objectives can be seen in its eight flagship events, of which the Trade Ministry of Indonesia is responsible for four. These four flagship events, The ASEAN Online Sale Day, the ceremony of the RCEP, the launch of the new ASEAN tariff finder, and also the Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) agreement (ANTARA, 2023), have been seen as a focus on promoting ASEAN’s economic interest and strengthening the regional organization’s relevance in the global arena. These agendas align with Indonesia’s concern about its economic policy and also strengthen its relationship with China.

What is next?

Indonesia’s ignorance of the South China Sea dispute and Indonesia’s foreign policy tendency to China’s cooperation leads the writer to one conclusion: Indonesia will not likely finish the disputes between ASEAN members and China on the chairmanship of ASEAN. The dependency on China will guide Indonesia to enhance its foreign policy on the economy,

rather than solving the South China Sea issue. Despite numerous concerns about the stability of the area, Sulaiman (2019) argues that Indonesia is not developing a coalition to counter China’s expanding dominance in the South China Sea or improving its ability to project power. Indonesia’s interest has fallen into China’s hands. The strategic culture that affects Indonesia’s military and foreign policy thinking on threat perceptions and economic considerations results in under-balancing conduct, which restricts Indonesia’s alternatives in relation to China. China as a state is therefore not regarded as posing a significant, direct, or immediate threat that would require a prompt response and could damage Indonesia’s more significant interests. Moreover, the writer believes that Indonesia maintains its stance in position: Indonesia does not think that the issue is urgent to solve. Indonesia’s government is ignorant enough about the issue and currently does not have any intention to make policies to counter the unilateral recognition. Indonesia also has not been damaged enough to shift its foreign policy for the security of sovereignty. Therefore, Indonesia’s interest in the mutual economic relationship with China has made stagnancy on the issue, even in Indonesia’s year of ASEAN chairmanship.

Through the article, the writer believes that the settlement of South China Sea disputes will remain stagnated, not much different from the chairmanship of Cambodia. The interest between Indonesia and China has gradually strengthened and will obstruct the settlement of the issue, including foreign policy tendencies and economic reasons. Thus, Indonesia should not get swayed by the mutual relationship but view the issue with an objective perspective. The ASEAN region has got threatened enough to create a project power to encounter China’s power. Therefore, Indonesia needs to balance the security danger that China poses in the South China Sea by taking necessary steps, especially in its ASEAN chairmanship in 2023.


About Writer

Jefferson Davids Soasa is an undergraduate in the department of International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada.



ANTARA. (2023). Trade Ministry prepares 4 flagship events for ASEAN Chairmanship 2023. Antara News.

Center for Preventive Action. (2022). Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea. Global Conflict Tracker; Global Conflict Tracker.

Gomez, J. (2023). Philippines confronts Chinese diplomats over sea disputes. AP NEWS. b1f9ae5264c6ce9271a

Maria, C. (2022). The Impact of Trade Agreement and War on Specific Indonesia-China Bilateral Trade. Journal of Research on Business and Tourism.

Pratama, A. (2023). Indonesia’s Ambiguity in the South China Sea is Hampering its Interest. Modern Diplomacy. is-hampering-its-interest/

Rahmat, M. Z. (2022). China-Indonesia Relations in 2022: A Year in Review. Stratsea.

Reuters. (2020). Indonesia rejects China’s claims over South China Sea. Reuters. hinas-claims-over-south-china-sea-idUSKBN1Z01RE

Reuters. (2023). ASEAN chair Indonesia to intensify talks on code for South China Sea. Reuters.

Southgate, L. (2023). Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship: Promoting ASEAN Relevance in 2023?

Sulaiman, Y. (2019), What Threat? Leadership, Strategic Culture, and Indonesian Foreign Policy in the South China Sea. Asian Politics & Policy, 11: 606-622.

Strangio, S. (2022). After 12 Years, Indonesia and Vietnam Agree on EEZ Boundaries. boundaries/

U.S. Department of State. (2020). U.S. Position on Maritime Claims in the South China Sea. United States Department of State. dex.html

Williams, R. D. (2020). What did the U.S. accomplish with its South China Sea legal statement? Brookings. plish-with-its-south-china-sea-legal-statement/

Embracing ASEAN Economic Community 2025: Unlocking Prospects and Overcoming Obstacles in Indonesia

Imagine businesses of all sizes, effortlessly trading goods and services across ASEAN borders, tapping into diverse markets, and seizing growth opportunities. Picture investors eagerly exploring investment prospects in ASEAN, fueling economic growth and creating job opportunities. Envision entrepreneurs, armed with innovative ideas and regional market access, expanding their businesses and contributing to prosperity. The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint seeks to create such an environment, where businesses of all sizes can thrive and contribute to inclusive development in the region. The AEC Blueprint serves as a roadmap to transform this vision into reality, propelling ASEAN towards a new era of economic integration for inclusive development in the region.

The AEC Blueprint 2025 outlines five reinforcing characteristics for ASEAN’s economic integration, namely: (i) A Highly Integrated and Cohesive Economy; (ii) A Competitive, Innovative, and Dynamic ASEAN; (iii) Enhanced Connectivity and Sectoral Cooperation; (iv) A Resilient, Inclusive, People-Oriented, and People-Centered ASEAN; and (v) A Global ASEAN. These characteristics provide a roadmap for ASEAN’s economic integration efforts, emphasizing the need for integration, competitiveness, innovation, connectivity, inclusivity, resilience, and global engagement (ASEAN, 2015). We are currently two years away from achieving the dream, and as ASEAN continues to evolve as a regional bloc, the AEC Blueprint still presents both opportunities and challenges for member countries, including Indonesia, in its pursuit of greater economic cooperation towards 2025 and beyond. 

Unleashing Underestimated Economic Sector

The AEC Blueprint 2025 presents a plethora of opportunities for Indonesia. In essence, the blueprint creates greater market opportunities for ASEAN members. The integration of ASEAN markets under the AEC framework will hopefully drive Indonesia to improve competitiveness and efficiency for intra-ASEAN trade. This collective effort among ASEAN member countries has the potential to unlock underestimated economic sectors.

The services sector, despite its contribution of over 64.4% to the global GDP (World Bank, 2021b), has often been colloquially referred to as the “Cinderella sector”. This stems from the belief held by economists, industrial relations researchers, and innovation scholars who regard the sector as relatively unproductive compared to other sectors, despite its potential to bring significant value to the economy (Miles & Boden, 2015). In fact, William Baumol went so far as to suggest that the expansion of this low-productivity services sector could potentially hinder economic growth due to limited productivity improvement, potential labor cost savings, and price-inelastic demand (Baumol, 1967). This concept is now known as “Baumol disease”. Interestingly, the services sector’s share in Indonesia’s GDP is relatively high compared to other sectors, contributing 42.8% to its total GDP, highlighting the significant opportunities that can be tapped into for the economies (World Bank, 2021a).

However, Indonesia still faces challenges in its services sector, as indicated by the OECD’s Services Trade Restrictiveness Index. It reveals that Indonesia demonstrates high levels of restrictiveness, particularly in legal services (scoring 0.9), accounting (scoring 0.7), and telecommunication (scoring 0.6), where a score of zero indicates complete openness and a score of one indicates complete closure to foreign services (OECD, 2022). These restrictions can potentially limit the availability of high-quality services and productivity.  Opening up the services market can effectively address these quality issues and provide opportunities for Indonesia to access higher quality services from abroad, and of course benefiting other economic sectors as well. Just like goods, high-quality and efficient services do not necessarily have to be produced domestically. Services trade allows Indonesia to access the immediate benefits of better quality services from abroad which can support other economic sectors.

Enhancing Manufacture, Fisheries and Agriculture Sector

Indonesia, being the ASEAN country with the largest population and GDP, holds other significant opportunities from the AEC Blueprint. The country’s abundant natural resources, particularly in agriculture and fisheries, further amplify its potential for economic gains through the AEC. Despite these favorable demographic and economic factors, recent industrial performance in Indonesia has been subpar. The fisheries and agricultural sectors, in particular, face weak competitiveness within ASEAN. Additionally, Indonesia faces competition from Vietnam in prawns and textiles, as well as from Thailand in the automotive supply chain within ASEAN (Aswicahyono & Soedjito, 2016). To achieve competitiveness within ASEAN, Indonesia must focus on developing a robust manufacturing base and enhancing the quality of its human capital. However, the country is grappling with persistent challenges related to infrastructure, including logistics, energy supply, and transportation, as well as an inefficient bureaucracy and corrupt institutions.

Unfortunately, Indonesia’s Business Freedom Index by The Global Economy had a decline in its value from 71 in 2021 to 67 in 2022, giving Indonesia just 57th in the Business Freedom ranking amongst 175 countries (Global Economy, 2022). In addition to that, Indonesia only ranks 95th on the Corruption Perception Index (Global Economy, 2021), indicating that practices of administrative and political corruption are still high. In order to combat these problems, Indonesia should focus on improving the regulatory environment to enhance business freedom. This may include simplifying and streamlining business regulations, reducing bureaucratic red tape, and enhancing transparency and efficiency in administrative processes. This could help create a more conducive environment for businesses to operate, attract investment, and foster economic growth in strategic sectors like agriculture and fisheries, while also giving strict regulations to mitigate the practice of corruption.

A Shift to Green Economy

The AEC Blueprint 2025 indeed emphasizes the importance of environmental sustainability and the integration of green principles into the economic policies and practices of ASEAN member states; it is specifically stated in the second characteristic of its framework, “A Competitive, Innovative, and Dynamic ASEAN”. This includes efforts to reduce GHG emissions, promote renewable energy, enhance resource efficiency, and address climate change impacts. The Blueprint also encourages the adoption of sustainable production, consumption patterns, and the promotion of sustainable agriculture, forestry, and fisheries practices (ASEAN, 2015). But even so, its implementation to shift to a greener economy is not as good as its vision. In fact, The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the largest economic cooperation initiated by ASEAN countries to accomplish AEC’s visions, does not include a single chapter or regulation about the environmental consideration (CECPHILS, 2023). Provisions of RCEP for reducing tariffs could make non-renewable energies such as fossil fuel cheaper and more accessible to member countries. This may lead to an escalation in their utilization, particularly in Indonesia, which relies heavily on coal production and consumption. In addition, a recent study revealed that if all tariffs were eliminated among RCEP members, it could significantly increase approximately 3.1% in global carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion annually. This would effectively double the average annual growth rate of global CO2 emissions observed in the last decade (Tian et al., 2022).

Bright Future for Indonesia and ASEAN 

As ASEAN advances towards the realization of the AEC 2025, Indonesia faces a dual landscape of opportunities and challenges that must be addressed within a limited timeframe of approximately two years. While the AEC 2025 offers prospects for increased economic integration that could benefit Indonesia’s economy, challenges such as the need for structural reforms, increasing competitiveness, and environmental impact mitigation must be effectively navigated. Strategic planning, policy coordination, and stakeholder engagement are crucial for Indonesia to maximize the potential of the AEC 2025 and promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth. This will not only contribute to Indonesia’s prosperity and resilience but also to that of the broader ASEAN region.


About Writer

M. Tora Bhanu Pandito is an undergraduate student at the Faculty of Economics and Business of University of Brawijaya. His interests extend beyond the classroom, as he is deeply invested in foreign policy issues, writing research articles, and enhancing the creative economy. He had the privilege of serving as the Head of Creativepreneur for the Student Executive Board, leading several university initiatives aimed at empowering MSMEs and fostering entrepreneurship that promotes sustainable economy. Contact can be made through his email at


  1. ASEAN. (2015). ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025. In ASEAN Economic Community Scorecard.
  2. Aswicahyono, H., & Soedjito, A. (2016). Trade in Goods under the AEC: A New Map of Competitiveness for Indonesia. CSIS Working Paper Series No. 02 – 2016, (November). Retrieved from
  3. Baumol, W. J. (1967). Macroeconomics of Unbalanced Growth: The Anatomy of Urban Crisis. The American Economic Review, 57(3), 415–426. Retrieved from
  4. CECPHILS. (2023). The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and its impacts on the environment. Retrieved from
  5. Global Economy. (2021). Indonesia: Corruption perceptions – Transparency International.
  6. Global Economy. (2022). Indonesia: Business freedom. Retrieved from
  7. Miles, I., & Boden, M. (2015). Services and the Knowledge-Based Economy. New York: Routledge.
  8. OECD. (2022). Services Trade Restrictiveness Index. Retrieved May 26, 2023, from
  9. Tian, K., Zhang, Y., Li, Y., Ming, X., Jiang, S., Duan, H., … Wang, S. (2022). Regional trade agreement burdens global carbon emissions mitigation. Nature Communications, 13(1), 408.
  10. World Bank. (2021a). Indonesia Services (% of GDP).
  11. World Bank. (2021b). Services (% of GDP). Retrieved from

ASEAN’s Pathway to Sustainability Through Green Recovery Post-Pandemic Covid-19: Challenge and Opportunity

Written by Wahyu Candra Dewi

Striking in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly brought disruption to people’s livelihoods worldwide. Upon its initial announcement in March, the pandemic extended from a global health crisis into a global economic crisis that impacted countless nations, including ASEAN country member. As the virus spread at an unprecedented speed through human interaction, governments started to impose the policy of limiting people’s mobility and travel, causing numerous businesses to stop operating, which led to an economic downturn. After undergoing growth of around 4.4 percent in 2019, the financial situation in Southeast Asia countries declined by an average of 4 percent in the following year (Asian Development Bank, 2022b). The degree of severity varied amongst the nations. Thailand’s growth, for example, underwent a sharp contraction of 9.6 percent, while Malaysia’s economy was shrinking by 5.6 percent (Asian Development Bank, 2022b). Furthermore, according to Asia Development Bank’s calculation (2022), the pandemic Covid-19 had blotted out 9.3 million jobs which pushed 4.7 million people in the region into extreme poverty.

Nevertheless, the coronavirus outbreak was considered to create a one-a-lifetime opportunity, to change the trajectory of a country’s development. How the pandemic Covid-19 nearly drove Southeast Asia to the brink of recession showed the vulnerability of the current economic system (Hanns Seidel Foundation, 2021). Therefore, a change in today’s structure is needed to create a more resilient and sustainable economy. ASEAN governments are apparently aware of this present moment. Through ASEAN Summits in Ha Noi, Vietnam, on November 2020, country members formulated a recovery framework focusing on five key areas, including the effort to create a sustainable and resilient future referred to as Green Recovery (ASEAN Secretariat, 2020).

Green Recovery as A Pathway to Achieve Sustainability

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by 193 member states of the United Nations in 2015 and consisted of 17 goals and 169 targets which cover three pillars of sustainability: people, prosperity, and planet (Suriyankietkaew & Nimsai, 2021). Under the UN 2030 Agenda, member states are committed to eradicating poverty, reducing inequality, decoupling economic growth, dealing with climate change and environmental degradation, and creating a better world for future generations (United Nations, 2015). Until 2020, the countries in Southeast Asia were lagging in terms of achieving SDGs. Albeit a thriving economic growth, the region is characterized by high levels of inequality; a lack of social protection; a sizeable informal sector; a decline in peace, justice, and robust institutions; as well as an alarming level of ecosystem damage, biodiversity loss, and greenhouse gas emission (United Nations, 2020).

ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework showed how ASEAN governments have become more attentive toward sustainability goals and manifesting the effort to address the issue through Strategy Number 5: Advancing towards a More Sustainable and Resilient Futures. Looking deeper into the area of priorities, this strategy can be considered as another endeavor to pursue a chance for green recovery post-Covid-19The approach identifies seven sectors that need to be developed by country members to achieve sustainability and resiliency, including: (1) promoting sustainable development in all dimensions; (2) facilitating the transition towards sustainable energy; (3) building green infrastructure and addressing fundamental infrastructure gaps; (4) promoting sustainable and responsible investments; (5) promoting high-value industries, sustainability, and productivity in agriculture; (6) managing disaster risks and disaster management; and (7) promoting sustainable financing (ASEAN Secretariat, 2020).

Green recovery is perceived as a crucial step that needs to be taken as a pathway for building back the world after Covid-19, necessarily in Southeast Asia. Research conducted by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2020) showed how the coronavirus outbreak was closely related to environmental degradation. Numerous diseases that led to the pandemic came from microbes of animals that spilled over. With the desolation of many animals’ habitats, this spill-over will likely have a higher percentage in the future. As southeast Asia is located in a tropical area that is home to a wealth of biodiversity, this region would be more vulnerable to upcoming pandemics (Asian Development Bank, 2022a). Therefore, a recovery process that could ensure the repair of environmental damage would be needed to prevent future health crises and promote and protect sustainability.

According to Asian Development Bank (2022a), implementing green recovery can create more jobs, as every USD 1 million in government green spending would generate 7.49 full-time jobs in renewable infrastructures. The existence of renewable infrastructures could create a circular economy that would significantly impact the environment: cleaner energy and lower gas emission, leading to a greater chance of maintaining global temperature. Further, economic activities that take the environmental dimension into account are expected to prevent Southeast Asia’s GDP from declining by 25 percent in 2045 and would also increase the region’s competitiveness in the global market (Hanns Seidel Foundation, 2021). This way, the development trajectory would be more sustainable and long-lasting for future generations. However, the enforcement of green recovery in ASEAN is not without challenges.

Challenge and Opportunity for Implementing Green Recovery

Increasing environmental protection awareness amongst leaders in the region opens an enormous opportunity for executing green recovery. This concern is manifested in ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, created by ASEAN as a recovery guideline post-Covid 19. Some country members have also adopted green growth or have a framework to fight climate change. Cambodia and Vietnam, for example, have specifically employed green growth as part of the national development plan (OECD, 2022). The Philippines released National Framework Strategy for Climate Change 21-22, and Singapore launched Singapore Sustainable Development Blue Print (OECD, 2022) as part of the effort to combat environmental issues and sustain growth. These approaches showed that Southeast Asia countries already have a tendency to mainstream the ecological dimension into economic development.

Nevertheless, the implementation of green recovery is being challenged by the absence of solid institutions that have the capacity to enforce the execution. The above-mentioned recovery framework is non-binding, which means that the decision to follow the guidelines is being referred back to the country member. ASEAN highly upholds the non-intervention principle as they prefer regional stability rather than enforcing values on unwilling countries, which could lead to rising tension. Therefore, non-compliance with the recovery framework would not inflict any consequences. Further, the transition into green infrastructures would need a long commitment and expensive investment. According to Asian Development Bank (2022a), green recovery would require USD 172 billion of capital annually by 2030. This would be a tough option for some developing countries in Southeast Asia with limited capital. The gain of the investment cannot be harvested immediately, even though the impact would be long-lasting. On the other hand, the government is confronted by demands from the domestic public for welfare that must be met promptly. With this dilemma, green recovery in Southeast Asia would still have a long way to go.

About Writer

  • Wahyu Candra Dewi is a graduate student in Universitas Gadjah Mada, majoring International Relations. She is interested in issues related to digital transformation, environment, and human security. Author can be contacted at


  1. ASEAN Secretariat. (2020). ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework. Ha Noi. Retrieved from
  2. Asian Development Bank. (2022a). Implementing Green Recovery in Southeast Asia. Manila.
  3. Asian Development Bank. (2022b). Southeast Asia Rising from the Pandemic. Manila. Retrieved from
  4. Hanns Seidel Foundation. (2021). Building Back Better: Southeast Asia’s Transition to Green Economy After Covid-19, Assessment and Recommendation for Parliamentarians. Vienna. Retrieved from
  5. IPBES. (2020). Workshop Report on Biodiversity and Pandemics of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Retrieved from
  6. OECD. (2022). Green Economy Transition in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. OECD.
  7. Suriyankietkaew, S., & Nimsai, S. (2021). COVID-19 Impacts and Sustainability Strategies for Regional Recovery in Southeast Asia: Challenges and Opportunities. Sustainability, 13(16), 8907.
  8. United Nations. (2015). Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Retrieved November 12, 2022, from Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations website:
  9. United Nations. (2020). Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on South-East Asia.

What’s Missing in the AHRD?: Synergizing with Civil Society Towards Better Human Rights Regime in ASEAN

Written by Gerald John C. Guillermo

Civil society has long been a bastion of service and advocacy—contributing to the development and uplifting of lives, particularly in marginalized and underprivileged sectors of society. The Southeast Asian region is a testament to the catalytic role that civil society plays in lobbying for positive sociopolitical and economic changes, most especially in human rights protection (Tadem, 2017). During the COVID-19 pandemic, civil society organizations (CSOs) have supported efforts to curb the effects of the pandemic, especially for the vulnerable and marginalized. Those CSOs involved in human rights and democratization have faced more constraints in operation and activities prior to the pandemic, but many have continued their advocacy to hold their government accountable (Nixon, 2020). 

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has embraced a shift toward a “people-oriented” approach, aiming to widen participation in civil society but restricting engagement which includes the establishment of an accreditation system and participation in informal consultations for CSOs (Gerard, 2014). Moreover, strict restrictions on the nature of participation and a limited set of issues up for discussion narrow cooperation with CSOs further, which results in discouraging participation from human rights-based CSOs. Therefore, the civic society narratives in ASEAN-sanctioned spaces are limited and controlled. 

This is particularly true with the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). The AHRD has been criticized for being a context-dependent human rights document subject to laws, local principles, and customs. In fact, during its declaration, various civil society organizations denounced the AHRD and that it “falls far below international standards” by undermining the universality of human rights principles (Article 19, 2012). Furthermore, the drafting process was controversial, such that CSOs were primarily excluded from the drafting process except for carefully managed “consultations” and representatives were still accountable to their government (Renshaw, 2013; Davies, 2014). The exclusion of civil society in the drafting process of the AHRD illustrates the limited effectiveness of CSOs’ advocacy in having an actual human rights protection mechanism in the ASEAN (Gomez & Ramcharan, 2012).  

However, civil society has moved forward and beyond the broken dynamics between CSOs and official ASEAN processes. For instance, CSOs all over the ASEAN region has maintained a robustly critical stance toward the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in its tenth year of founding and challenge them together with ASEAN to improve on acting on rights abuses (Hanara, 2019 & Forum Asia, 2019, as cited in Langlois, 2021). Moreover, in response to constraints on civil society participation, CSOs have developed “created spaces,” i.e., pursuing a political activity that bypasses regional and state actors such as with ASEAN-sanctioned modes of engagement and political arenas such as parallel activities, protests, and production and dissemination of critical knowledge (Jayasuriya & Rodan, 2007, as cited in Gerard, 2014) and supported by external actors (Sundrijo, Awigra, Safitri, Virajati, & Wening, 2020). 

While this seems as if parting ways between one of the moving spirits of the human rights agenda in the region, i.e., the civil society and the ASEAN, it is not the be-all and end-all scenario. There are ways for ASEAN to catch up to its commitment to human rights and live up to being “people-centered.” To develop and establish an institutional and normative human rights framework in the region, formal and genuine consultation mechanisms with the CSOs must be in place, which includes the establishment of formal complaints mechanisms in AICHR, expansion of the accreditation process for CSOs, particularly for human rights based CSOs, (Jones, 2019) and review of the effectiveness of the AHRD.  

The issues confronted by the Southeast Asian region, as surfaced in the recently concluded 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits, such as climate change, economy, peace, and security, are to be viewed not only at the state level but also in spaces where it matters—at the ground level. Recognizing the role of CSOs in helping solve such issues is one thing but engaging them more genuinely is another. ASEAN must support on-the-ground efforts of CSOs to mainstream human rights and connect networks of CSOs to promote understanding of particular issues with various stakeholders.  

Moreover, external organizations and stakeholders must support efforts for civil society to integrate and synergize with the broader organization of ASEAN. With ASEAN welcoming more external partners to pursue areas of cooperation, such international stakeholders must steer the discussion in crafting a more inclusive human rights regime in the region with the help of CSOs. 

Indeed, CSOs in the ASEAN region have been growing both in quantity and quality, constructively contributing to regionalism and strategically maneuvering against the institutional state-centrism of ASEAN through less structured mechanisms (Sundrijo et al., 2020). While CSOs have the means to navigate this “road less traveled,” it should not be that way. ASEAN must genuinely open its arms and confront the complex issue of human rights and “living” the AHRD, facing not only government dignitaries but listening to real people, real stories, and real lives, particularly the marginalized and the oppressed. 

*The views expressed in this article do not represent any of the organizations with which the author is affiliated. 

About Writer: 

  • Gerald John C. Guillermo is a Juris Doctor student at the University of the Philippines College of Law. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, with a Minor Degree in Development Management at the Ateneo de Manila University. His areas of skills and interests include youth, public policy, international relations, governance, and law. Contact


  1. Article 19. (2012). Civil Society Denounces Adoption of Flawed ASEAN Human Rights Declaration: AHRD falls far below international standards.  
  2. Davies, M. (2014). An Agreement to Disagree: The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and the Absence of Regional Identity in Southeast Asia. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 33(3). 107–129.  
  3. Gerard, K. (2014). ASEAN and civil society activities in ‘created spaces’: The limits of liberty, The Pacific Review, 27:2, 265-287, 
  4. Gomez, J. & Ramcharan, R. (2012). ASEAN needs formal civil society engagement mechanism on human rights. Asia Centre.  
  5. Jones, D. (2019). ASEAN’S Human Rights Conundrum: An Analysis Of The Failures Of The ASEAN System For Promoting Human Rights (Bachelor’s dissertation).  
  6. Langlois, A. (2021). Human rights in Southeast Asia: ASEAN’s rights regime after its first decade. Journal of Human Rights, 20(2), 151-157. 
  7. Nixon, N. (2020). Civil Society in Southeast Asia During the Covid-19 Pandemic. The Asia Foundation.  
  8. Renshaw, C. (2013). The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration 2012. Human Rights Law Review, 13(3), 557-579. 
  9. Sundrijo, D. A., Awigra, D., Safitri, D., Virajati, K., & Wening, P.P.P. (2020). Civil Society Participation in ASEAN Regionalism Strengthening the Capacity of ACSC/APF to Advocate the Interest of the People of Southeast Asia. Human Rights Working Group. 
  10. Tadem, E. (2017). New Perspectives on Civil Society Engagement with ASEAN. Heinrich Böll Stiftung. 

ASEAN’s Human Rights Promises and Pitfalls: Is the ASEAN Effective in Advancing its Human Rights Agenda?

Written by Arvhie Santos


When the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) first recognized the concept of human rights in the ASEAN Charter promulgated in 2007, which led to the formation of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in 2009, and subsequently the body’s adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) on 2012, it did so with the promise that Southeast Asian citizens shall enjoy the same rights and freedoms that all other peoples around the world are endowed with. 

This promise has been in grave peril with the flurry of human rights abuses in the Southeast Asian region for the past years. Any hope that ASEAN’s adoption of the AHRD presaged a new era of regional responsiveness to human rights violations was seemingly short-lived. This paper argues that while the adoption of the AHRD has set the stage for a formal human rights discourse in the region, little progress has been made since then for various reasons.  

ASEAN’s Effectiveness in Advancing its Human Rights Agenda  

  • The promises set forth through the AHRD and the AICHR 

The AHRD was created by the AICHR with the goal of upholding the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR) while also bearing in mind the region’s socio-economic, political, and cultural particularities in which the AHRD will be operationalized.1 To a certain extent, the AICHR was successful in attaining this goal. ASEAN member-states affirmed therein all the civil and political rights, and all of the economic, social, and cultural rights, in the UDHR.2 The AHRD even included clauses or provisions not circumscribed in the latter, such as one that relates the problem of child labor,3 the rights of those suffering from communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS,4 as well as the right to development, which must be exercised in a manner consistent with other human rights.5 

AHRD was seen as a significant achievement in the region because it reflected the shared commitment and explicit consent of the ASEAN Member-States, through the AICHR, notwithstanding its heterogeneous political and cultural dispositions, to a formal human rights systems and set of principles. Hence, the significance of AHRD as a human rights text emanates mainly from the fact that it represents the AICHR’s first step at human rights standard-setting.6 For this reason, it carries substantial political weight and normative value. 

The issue of human rights in the region has gained legitimacy by being incorporated into the AHRD. Thus, it has effectively placed the importance of human rights in the sphere of ASEAN discourse. The AHRD has become a starting point for the development of regional human rights norms. Establishing rights institutions and authorizing the use of rights language legitimizes norms that protect dissent and political contestation, in turn aiding the kinds of contestatory rights politics that press for the realization of these norms in regional and domestic political life.7 

From an optimistic point of view, AHRD is regarded as a preliminary to a serious regional-level effort to promote and protect the rights set out in the UDHR.8 It laid the groundwork for the passage of subsequent international treaties and independent mechanisms for a stronger realization and protection of Southeast Asian citizens’ human rights. However, for all of ASEAN’s “commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms,”9 the many pitfalls surrounding its human rights architecture have allowed the continuous perpetration of human rights atrocities within its Member-States with few repercussions. 

  • The general situation of human rights in the region 

Home to the world’s newest regional human rights system, it seems Southeast Asia is back to being a “club for dictators” with the onslaught of human rights violations in recent years. In Brunei Darussalam, the entry into force of its new revised Penal Code would result in human rights violations because it allows the punishment of homosexuality, adultery, and rape with the death penalty.10 In Cambodia, authorities have pursued a heavy crackdown against the media.11 As in the case of two of the reporters of Cambodia Daily newspaper who were investigated for baseless charges of “incitement.”12 Indonesia was urged to halt threats and intimidation against human rights defender Veronica Koman and her family.13 

 In Laos, human rights activists Ms. Lodkham Thammavong, Mr. Soukane Chaithad, and Mr. Somphone Phimmasone have been deprived of their liberty and their right to a fair and free trial for more than five years since their arrest.14 In Myanmar (Burma), military units carried out a large-scale ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim population through arbitrary detention, massacres, mass arson, and sexual violence.15 In Malaysia, violence against the LGBT community has been pervasive, with the murder of a transgender woman Sameera Krishnan in February 2018 and the rape and murder of T. Nhaveen in June of the same year, to name a few.16 

 In the Philippines, more than 120 children, including a one-year-old, were killed during Former President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” According to a report, most were killed while in the company of adults who were the supposed target or were deliberately shot as proxies.17 In neighboring Thailand, serious human rights concerns continue to persist, highlighted by its recent refoulement of asylum seekers who are seen as illegal migrants subject to arrest and deportation to Cambodia, where their lives and freedom would be at risk.18 In Viet Nam, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly have seriously deteriorated with the increasing number of journalists and rights defenders who have been arbitrarily detained.19 

  • The pitfalls and insights 

The lack of human rights progress in the region for the past decade magnifies the shortcomings of the AICHR and the AHRD to produce “the full realization of human dignity and the attainment of a higher quality of life for ASEAN peoples.”20 For one, the culture of ASEAN foreign relations generally does not encourage an establishment of cooperative approaches that would interfere with member-states domestic affairs. The ‘ASEAN way’ emphasizes that consensual decision-making and non-interference—including in the form of criticism towards human rights violations—in the internal affairs of fellow ASEAN member-states are overriding principles of intra-ASEAN relations.21 

Hence, as the institution responsible for the promotion of human rights, the AICHR must be guided by the principles of non-interference, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and respect for independence. These principles are deemed in conflict with the international human rights standards as enshrined in the UDHR and the Vienna Declaration, such as universality, interdependence, indivisibility, and interrelatedness of all human rights.22 This kind of approach leaves us with the danger of yielding the future of its human rights agenda to the political will of each member state’s government, some of which are patently unwilling or unable to abide by their human rights obligations. 

Secondly, AICHR consists of ten commissioners, all appointed by their respective governments. As an intergovernmental consultative body, it has no formal compliance or enforcement mechanisms. Its Terms of Reference do not envision the AICHR to have any judicial mandate nor provide any legal procedure23 through which a state or individual can file a suit or avail a remedy concerning alleged human rights atrocities by member-states, which differentiates it from the African, European, and Inter-American regional human rights systems.24 In conjunction and as previously mentioned, the AICHR’s commissioners are appointed by member-states and are, therefore, “accountable to” their appointing governments, who may decide, at the latter’s discretion, to replace them. Hence, the AICHR commissioners did not act, in meetings and consultations about the AHRD, as independent agents who were interested in furthering human rights discourse. They are bound by the strict instructions of their government which hinders them from carrying out their work progressively and holding their own or any member-state responsible. 

This is aggravated by the fact that civil society organizations (CSOs) had virtually little or no participation at all in drafting the AHRD.25 Despite repeated calls for transparency and participation from CSOs, it was not until September 2012 that a draft was formally circulated.26 By excluding or giving CSOs minimal opportunity to provide their inputs, the ASEAN citizens were not given an adequate way to ensure that their concerns were introduced, received, and incorporated into the Declaration. In May 2012, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nava Pillay, expressed that “No discussion of human rights can be complete or credible without significant input from civil society and national human rights institutions.”27  

What’s Next? 

This article has presented a brief analysis of the situation and the legal framework in relation to human rights in the region. First, it has been asseverated that the ASEAN has laid down the foundation for the development of future binding human rights instruments in the region through the AICHR and the AHRD. Second, and in juxtaposition to the first, it has examined the general situation of human rights in the SEA, which implies that a lot of work still has to be done. Finally, it has argued that the ASEAN, despite the steps it has taken, still falls short in protecting the fundamental rights of its people.  

A human rights text, in this case, the AHRD, is indeed an important first step, but ultimately, the actual value of one will be evaluated by the role it plays in compelling concrete actions to promote and protect the ASEAN peoples’ basic rights and freedoms. While political and economic challenges do exist and present an enormous stumbling block, they should not stop the ASEAN from initiating concrete plans to achieve a truly peaceful region that respects its peoples’ human rights. Further, the ASEAN is in a fortunate position, being the newest among other regional human rights systems. It could draw inspiration and learn experiences from these older models.  

Through this article, the author meant to initiate discourse and reflection on the first decade of the ASEAN human rights regime. It acknowledges the aspirations of the regime to promote and protect human rights and, at the same time, identify challenges and opportunities for reform. 

About writers:

  • Arvhie Santos is a Filipino liberal arts graduate with a degree in Philosophy from the University of Santo Tomas-Manila. Currently, she is pursuing her Juris Doctor degree. A paralegal by profession and a human rights advocate by heart, she is committed to promoting human rights, social justice and democracy through education, research, legal aid, and mobilization. Arvhie is also the Vice President for Training, Exchange, and Development of Asian Law Students Association – Philippines.  She is affiliated with the Free Legal Assistance Group, Human Rights and People Empowerment Center, Court Appointments Watch PH, and the Citizens Alliance for Life and the Law of the Sea. She can be reached through



  1.  Catherine Renshaw, Human RIghts and Participatory Politics in Southeast Asia, p. 81.
  2.  Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, November 2013, Article 10 & Article 26.
  3. Betty Yolanda, et. al. “The ASEAN Human RIghts Declaration: A Legal Analysis,” American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, 2014, p. 1.
  4. SUNDRIJO, Dwi Ardhanariswari. (2021) Regionalising Global Human Rights Norms in Southeast Asia (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan).
  5. Catherine Renshaw, Human RIghts and Participatory Politics in Southeast Asia, p. 3.
  6. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, November 2013.
  7. (“Bachelet urges Brunei to stop entry into force of “draconian” new penal code”, 2019)
  8. (“Increasing attacks on Cambodia’s media are a threat to democracy – UN human rights report”, 2022)
  9. (Human Rights Watch, 2018)
  10. (“Indonesia: Stop reprisals against woman human rights defender – UN expert”, 2021)
  11. (“Lao PDR: Five years after arrest, human rights defenders still denied access to lawyers – UN expert”, 2021)
  12. (“Rohingya: the deadly situation in Myanmar explained”, 2021)
  13. (Human Rights Watch, 2018)
  14. (Radcliffe, 2020)
  15.  (“Comment by UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Rupert Colville on killing of Cambodian activist and refoulements from Thailand”, 2021)
  16. (“Viet Nam: UN rights office denounces ‘increasing clampdown’ on freedom of expression”, 2021)
  17. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, November 2013. p. 13.
  18. Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order by Amitav Acharya, London and New York, Routledge, 2001. However, this should not be construed in such a way that the ASEAN never engaged in human rights discussions amongst themselves. The case of Temple of Preah Vihear Case (Cambodia v. Thailand), ICJ Reports, 15 June 1962 was the first intra-Asian case referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Moreover, Singapore and Malaysia referred a territorial dispute to the ICJ: Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/ Singapore) Judgment, ICJ Rep 2008 12. The Philippines and Cambodia have also recognized as compulsory ipso facto the jurisdiction of the ICJ under Article 36, paragraph 2, of the Statute of the International Court of Justice.
  19. Yuval Ginbar, “Human Rights in ASEAN-Setting Sail or Treading Water”, Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 10 (3) September 2010, p. 514.
  20. Nicholas Doyle (2014). The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and The Implications of Recent Southeast Asian Initiatives In Human Rights Institution-Building And Standard-Setting. International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 63, pp 67-101.
  21. Pepina Jane A. Petralba (2013). Hornbook on International and Philippine Human Rights Laws. REX Book Store, 37.
  22. It is well to note that CSOs–which are primarily composed of faith-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, labour unions, and indigenous groups–are traditionally recognized for their importance in defending human rights and holding governments accountable.
  23. See, e.g., Forum Asia, “Civil Society Demands Transparency and Consultation on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration” (Apr. 8, 2012), at
  24. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Next two years key to human rights development in ASEAN region – UN human rights chief”, 28 November 2011. See also International Federation for Human Rights Joint Statement, “The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration: Drafts Must Be Published and Subject to Meaningful Consultations with Local, National and Regional Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders” (May 2, 2012), at

ASEAN at a Crossroads: An Autocratic Turn in the Region

According to Democracy Report 2022, published by V-Dem Institute, Southeast Asian countries were reported to experience either democratic stagnation or regression, indicating a shift towards a more autocratic region. 

Although most Southeast Asian countries hold elections, they are considered to be the feature of, rather than the cause of, democratization in Southeast Asian countries. These countries cannot simply be labeled as electoral democracies. Elections and electoral institutions are vulnerable to a certain degree of abuse and corruption. In that vein, Democracy Report 2022 did not qualify these Southeast Asian countries as electoral democracies, except Indonesia and Timor-Leste.  

The political development in the Philippines under Duterte made the Philippines fall under the category of electoral autocracies following Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Despite elections being held in these countries, their electoral institutions failed to uphold democratic principles.  

Meanwhile, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam downgraded from electoral autocracies in 2011 to closed autocracies in 2021, following Laos. The citizens of these countries barely have institutional capacities to hold accountable power holders — individuals or groups of people. Military forces have become a critical player in advancing autocratic governance in the region. It is evident in the 2014 Thai coup d’état and the most recent Myanmar coup d’état in which democratic institutions and human rights were violated.  

Beyond electoral components, an autocratic turn in the region has advanced through ‘authoritarian innovations’ in a broader regional geopolitical context and within individual countries. They are new governance practices, which take different forms, intended to shrink meaningful public political participation. The COVID-19 pandemic has also further intensified the use of authoritarian practices.  

Such an autocratic turn poses a challenge to ASEAN to realize its vision of being a people-centered and people-oriented community. In this vein, unpacking how this trend further intensifies is critical to enable ASEAN as a regional bloc to curb further democratic regression. Two issues are worth discussing here. 

First, in a broader geopolitical context, the rise of China has unavoidably shaped — complicated — the ways in which Southeast Asian countries and ASEAN navigate their internal political dynamics, enabling anti-democratic forces in the region to grow.  

The 2021 Myanmar coup d’état was clear evidence. The Myanmar armed forces claimed that the coup was a ‘constitutional’ response to the election fraud committed by the National League for Democracy, which won a landslide victory in the 2020 election. The Institute for Strategy and Policy reported that over 5,600 civilians, including four democracy activists, were executed by the junta under the banner of the State Administration Council (SAC). 

Responding to the political crisis in Myanmar, the nine ASEAN leaders and the Myanmar junta chief agreed upon the “Five-Point Consensus” as the framework to maintain peace and stability in the region. However, by exploiting the ASEAN’s ‘non-interference’ principle, the SAC refused to conform to the consensus, resulting in no tangible outcomes.  

It is clear that China maintains its legitimacy as a strategic and economic partner for ASEAN countries through its Belt and Road Initiatives while leveraging the democratic decline in the region to pursue its national interests. Positioning itself as the dominant power in the region, the rise of China’s power has indirectly empowered anti-democratic forces in the region by providing support for their political survival.  

China’s support for the Myanmar junta to protect its political sovereignty has complicated ASEAN’s approach to the crisis. Keeping this in mind, the non-interference principle must be revisited to avoid its abuse by the member states in the name of sovereignty at the expense of human rights and to enable Responsibility to Protect. 

Second, the emerging new authoritarian practices to subvert democratic progress are evident in and intensified by handling the COVID-19 pandemic in Southeast Asian countries. The handling has been shadowed by shrinking civic space 

Contact tracing essentially designed to halt the spread of COVID-19 may serve as a platform for governments’ digital surveillance unrelated to the pandemic. Digital Reach, an organization that looks into the impact of technology on human rights in Southeast Asia, monitored the use of digital contact tracing across six ASEAN countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam.  

One big concern arising from this digital contact tracing is a privacy issue. In Singapore, despite having a personal data protection policy, data collected from its contact tracing app was made accessible for criminal investigations. The report from Digital Reach showed that it is used to silence critics of the government of Singapore. In this context, the absence of a personal data protection policy in Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam increases the likelihood of public surveillance and violation of the right to privacy. 

Responding to the pandemic, ASEAN released the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework outlining ASEAN’s five broad strategies for recovery. Yet, this recovery framework disregards the importance of upholding democratic principles, although strengthening human security is part of its broad recovery strategies.  

Given the long-term impacts of the pandemic, democracy in the region will continue to deteriorate if ASEAN fails to center democratic principles in its COVID-19 recovery strategies. ASEAN must work closely with its accredited entities, including civil society organizations, to hold ASEAN governments accountable in their efforts for COVID-19 recovery. 

Two issues above demonstrate that ASEAN is, once again, at a crossroads. Democracy in the region is beyond fragile; it will continue to decline if ASEAN turns a blind eye to it. However, to renew ASEAN’s commitment to democratic principles in the region, it must begin from within each of ASEAN member states.  


*The views expressed in this article do not represent any of the organizations with which the authors are affiliated. 


About writers: 

  1. Muhammad Ammar Hidayahtulloh is a PhD candidate at the School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland. Twitter: @muhammadammarh_ 
  2. Muhammad Maulana Iberahim is Regional Media & Communications Support Officer at International Organization for Migration. Twitter: @iberahims  

The Challenge of ASEAN Institutionalism in Outer Space

Written by: Ade Meirizal & Dinda Julia Putri 

A lot of people are blurry to consider space. Space activities are more complex. Not only for telecommunication, banking, and GPS utility, outer space can provide fish movement data, disaster mapping, and even agricultural sources on earth from satellites. With information from satellites, the quantity of fishery activity could be maximized and can help fishermen to trace fish locations throughout the sea. Furthermore, satellites can help farmers to map fertile soil to start agriculture and create sustainability in the quality of the goods ( 2021). Geographically, ASEAN is surrounded by sea, which means fishery activity is part of Southeast Asia people, and agriculture is an essential element in SEA society. SEA is the best place to establish a launch site because it is close to Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO). GEO was the most suitable and conducive orbit for satellites, especially for communication satellites; most of the USA communication satellites were positioned in GEO to make data gathering more efficient and reliable (Peterson, 2003). In the historical record, a few countries in Southeast Asia, like Indonesia and Vietnam, joined the space activity a long time ago. Indonesia was the first SEA country to launch its own satellite in 1963 through a national entity called LAPAN (the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space). Vietnam was a part of the Soyuz 37 mission to send their first cosmonaut to space. Thailand and Malaysia are the main actors in SEA space history, which focus on space powers. Uniquely, four ASEAN space powers are surrounded by minimal interest and technology in space, such as Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Unlike many other state members, Singapore stressed its interest in industrialization and academic-centrics of space technology (Verspieren and Coral, 2021). 

Advantages & Urgency 

Most ASEAN state members are located on the equator line, namely; Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. This position is beneficial to cut off budget and efficiency. The equator can give an additional natural boost for rockets to reach space and affect rocket fuel and booster consumption. Due to safety and prevention during the rocket launching process, the coastline of each area in SEA was a potential place to establish a launch site so debris and failed launch would not hit citizens (, 2022). The urgency of ASEAN to advance space activity is because of the geographical issue. We know that most ASEAN countries are lying on the ring of fire, the most dangerous area on earth. This area is vulnerable but has enormous potential in sources. Space technology such as satellites is beneficial in preventing disaster (Verspieren and Coral, p. 6. 2021). On the other hand, ASEAN is surrounded by major powers on geopolitics at the global level. Emerging countries outside of ASEAN, such as India, Brasil, and South Korea, show their progress in space activity, like India, which puts their space interest not only for commercial but also military purposes. Space rivalry has become a reality in recent decades. The main actors in space are not only states but also privateers and possibly threatening regional interests. 


Space activity in ASEAN was organized by SCOSA (Space Technology Development and Utilization), and this framework is part of the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology (COST). SCOSA is one of the most extensive plans of ASEAN from 2016 to 2025 through the ASEAN Plan of Action on Science, Technology, and Innovation (APASTI), released in October 2017 (Verspieren and Coral, p. 11, 2021). However, SCOSA is a sub-committee that was created by ASEAN Committee on Science, Technology, and Innovation (COSTI). In other words, SCOSA is not an independent entity in ASEAN. SCOSA was established under the huge COSTI umbrella. Compared to the European Space Agency (ESA), which organized eight programs, namely; space science, human & robotic exploration, observing the earth, telecommunication, satellite navigation, space transportation, technology and operations, and standing independently, SCOSA stressed its focus on satellite, geoinformatics, and space technology applications ( 2022). Moreover, the “sub-committee” has a deficiency. Although it has a specific responsibility in terms of purposes (, 2022), this form has many disadvantages. According to the management studies, the sub-committee has limitations like; indecisiveness that brings stakeholders to the disconcerting decision, high cost, domination by few, and lack of secrecy, which means there are no stakeholders responsible for maintaining the decision had been taken.  

All countries in ASEAN can represent their country in SCOSA, but funding and participation are optional. Lack of sustainable funding affects space development on a regional level. Although state members are integrated into ASEAN, each country has its own space of cooperation outside of ASEAN due to the characteristic of ASEAN itself, which is flexibility. Many ASEAN countries authorize their space initiative from the national level or support from the space-faring countries outside of ASEAN like Japan and China (Verspieren and Coral, p. 12, 2021). We can assume this uncertainty might be crucial to institutionalizing space in ASEAN. The ambiguity of members to interpret common goals in the space program creates gaps among members. Each member has their own orientation in space activity. Like Singapore focuses on space academics and business, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam are more interested in space power, and Brunei Darussalam is uninterested in space. This uncertainty is a symbol of the emptiness of authority in the institutionalization of space cooperation within the ASEAN body. The “flexibility” tradition that is used in many ASEAN actions is one of the biggest challenges. ASEAN traditionally allows its members to take their own action without interference, and its effect is to equalize space development goals with a common interest at the regional level.  

Liberal institutionalism concept shows the direction in order to reach common goals. This concept is possible to organize its members to build the main agenda and accelerate equal economic development. Conceptually, Liberal Institutionalism argues that in order for there to be peace in international affairs, states must cooperate together and, in effect, yield some of their sovereignty to create “Integrated communities” to promote economic growth and respond to regional and international security issues (Rebecca David, 2011). Even though SCOSA established ASEAN, the sub-committee in ASEAN space activity is not enough. Regional bodies like SCOSA should stand autonomously, supported with clear main agendas, shared interests, and collective financial support. By designing mutual goals for state members, ASEAN can accomplish priority sectors in space technology. Single sector by utilizing satellites for collecting data affects many aspects of society in ASEAN. For example, using fish movement data from satellites can stimulate the fish quantity and rising efficiency in terms of the fishery. Farmers and stakeholders can use satellites to monitor fertile soil and crops, like Global Agriculture Geo-monitoring Initiative (GEOGLAM) launched by the USA authority (Brown, 2015). Remote sensing applied in satellites is possible to map disasters in various territories. For these reasons, ASEAN countries can apply outer space technology to rising prosperity, reducing hunger, and value-added to ocean products and agriculture, not only at the regional level but also around the globe. 


About Writers:

  1. Ade Meirizal studied in the Master’s Degree program in International Relations, UGM. he has an interest in space policy and its connection to global affairs. He has a field of interest covering Political psychology in international relations, diplomacy, and outer space. Contact information: 
  2. Dinda Julia Putri currently studies in the Master’s Degree program in International Relations, UGM. She was an awardee from Beasiswa Pendidikan Indonesia (BPI), managed by Lembaga Pengelola Dana Pendidikan (LPDP) in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology. She has a field of interest covering diplomacy, foreign policy, and European Union Studies. Contact information: 


  1. Verspieren, Quentin & Coral, Giulio. (2022). Introduction: Why Space Matters in ASEAN. Springer.  
  2. Devitt, Rebecca. (2010). Liberal Institutionalism: An Alternative IR Theory or Just Maintaining The Status Quo. E- International relations. 
  3. Brown, E. Molly Rebecca. (2015). Satellite remote sensing in agriculture and food security assessment. Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/j.proenv.2015.07.278.  
  4. Ashish. (2022, July 8). Why Are Rockets Launched From Areas Near The Equator? Retrieved from 
  5. Priority Areas of ASEAN Science and Technology Network. Retrieved from 
  6. Measures, Nick. (2021, March 2). How Satellite Imagery is Helping Precision Agriculture Grow to new Heights. Retrieved From 

AUKUS Impact for Achieving ASEAN Vision 2025

Written by: Hastian Akbar Stiarso & Rayhan Fasya Firdausi 

The newly formed trilateral security partnership between Australia, the UK, and the United States (AUKUS) on 16 September 2022 is a contentious issue across the Indo-Pacific and beyond. The planned purchase of nuclear-powered submarines increases Australia’s naval deterrent capability against China’s growing naval power (Pillai Rajagopalan, 2021). It is feared that this will threaten the politics and security of the ASEAN region because although AUKUS is known to be not an alliance, it is a sign that has shocked the strategic landscape of ASEAN. 

ASEAN welcomes the right kind of open competition among the great powers in the region—namely, peaceful and progressive. So far, ASEAN does not have a consensus with AUKUS. This is also why ASEAN member countries have mixed reactions to AUKUS. Indonesia is very wary of this development. Indonesia is “deeply concerned about the ongoing arms race and power projection in the region”. Like Indonesia, Malaysia is also concerned about whether AUKUS could trigger a regional arms race. Although Australia will not acquire nuclear weapons under the treaty, Malaysia remains concerned that transferring nuclear technology to an Australian submarine force could be a weak link in the nuclear weapons (Djalal, 2021). 

Meanwhile, Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines remain neutral. They believe that AUKUS will strengthen regional peace and security. AUKUS is seen as a welcome step toward strategic balance in the regional geostrategic competition (Djalal, 2021). 

The AUKUS issue should be a mutual concern of ASEAN member countries. This difference of opinion can be resolved if we adhere to the principles of the political-security pillar in ASEAN 2025, one of which is enhanced dialogue and cooperation with ASEAN external partners for mutual benefits and interests. This has also never been studied in previous studies. 

AUKUS is a defense pact formed by Australia, Britain, and the United States on 15 September 2021. This defense pact was formed as a forum to share knowledge about advanced defense and to facilitate Australian troops with nuclear-powered submarines. The existence of AUKUS caused various reactions, including France, which opposed this partnership because it impacted their partnership with Australia. ASEAN countries themselves have different views on the existence of AUKUS. Malaysia and Indonesia reject the existence of AUKUS because they think that AUKUS will provoke other powers to be more aggressive in the region, specifically in the South China Sea. Singapore has a different view from Malaysia and Indonesia. They view AUKUS as contributing to building regional stability and peace. Vietnam chooses to act more cautiously. They choose not to comment on this issue (Southgate, 2021). Differences in views between countries impact efforts to maintain balance with the United States and China. The presence of AUKUS has an impact on the difficulty of achieving the status quo. These conditions, plus the entry of Australia to become more influential in the Indo-Pacific. ASEAN itself does not have a single voice on regional security issues. Therefore, ASEAN’s centrality will continue to face the influence of outside forces. 

AUKUS is an essential issue for ASEAN, considering that they have the principle of centrality, where ASEAN is a key player in decision-making and the region’s future. While there has been a low level of concern over the struggle for power in this region, challenges to the principle of centrality are almost non-existent. However, China’s aggressiveness towards ASEAN countries caused this balance of power to be disturbed. In addition, the proliferation of non-ASEAN-centric cooperation, such as QUAD, whose members are DPs of ASEAN and members of the EAS, is a concern for ASEAN. With the advent of AUKUS, a partnership that is not ASEAN-centric in the region is added. The presence of AUKUS is seen as a geopolitical threat to ASEAN. This is related to the aim of AUKUS to counter increasing Chinese activities. Here there is a difference between QUAD and AUKUS. At the 2nd QUAD Summit, they convinced ASEAN that the existence of QUAD could reach ASEAN in practical terms. However, AUKUS has a different mindset; they have ideas about regional powers that interfere with ASEAN’s centrality. Therefore, the existence of AUKUS will cripple ASEAN’s strategic position (Gurjit Singh, 2021). 

AUKUS will bring ASEAN into a security dilemma where the procurement of nuclear submarines for Australia will bring a new chapter in the arms race in the region. On the other hand, ASEAN adopts the principle of balance of power in ensuring regional security. The presence of AUKUS as a new force will impact the distribution of power in the region. The condition of security integration in ASEAN itself is still low, so a joint defense strategy is far from being formed. ASEAN seeks to form a unified and inclusive community in the defense field through the ASEAN Community 2025. The ASEAN Community 2025 views ASEAN as a united and inclusive community and a resilient society. Our society will live in a safe, harmonious, and secure environment, embracing the values ​​of tolerance and moderation as well as upholding ASEAN’s basic principles, shared values ​​, and norms. ASEAN must remain cohesive, responsive, and relevant in addressing regional peace and security challenges and play a central role in shaping the regional architecture while deepening our engagement with external parties and contributing collectively to global peace, security, and stability. However, to achieve that, ASEAN itself is difficult to have one voice, and AUKUS plays a role in showing that there is no cohesion among member countries. AUKUS will increase regional power competition, creating the potential risk of arms races and significant power confrontations, further weakening regional prosperity, peace, and stability. However, AUKUS can also be a tool to trigger ASEAN to maintain regional order by promoting dialogue. This can be seen in ASEAN’s efforts to build an ASEAN-centric platform for security dialogue, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum. 

There has never been an issue like AUKUS in ASEAN before. The closest issue is the establishment of SEATO in 1954, which involved the Philippines and Thailand before becoming part of ASEAN. So this AUKUS issue must be faced without any examples from the past. AUKUS issues can be handled easily if ASEAN and AUKUS emphasize the dialogue function. As stated in ASEAN Vision 2025, dialogue and cooperation with ASEAN external partners must be increased to achieve mutual benefits and interests. Before reaching ASEAN’s external partners, we must improve dialogue within ASEAN’s internal. We can see that within ASEAN, there are still differences of opinion among ASEAN countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which have different views from Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines in responding to the existence of AUKUS. With this dialogue, ASEAN member countries can have the same attitude in dealing with the AUKUS issue. 

Furthermore, dialogue can also be increased by presenting AUKUS as an external partner of ASEAN. In this dialogue, it can be discussed the possibilities that can occur in the cooperation of Australia, Britain, and the United States, which can affect the security of the ASEAN region. This dialogue is expected to produce beneficial cooperation for both parties while helping ASEAN achieve ASEAN Vision 2025 in the pillars of security politics. 


About Writers:

  • Hastian Akbar Stiarso is an undergraduate student majoring in International Relations at UPN “Veteran” Yogyakarta. Hastian is a member of KSM DEFENSIA, a study group engaged in traditional and non-traditional security studies. Hastian has an interest in security studies, especially in traditional security and conflict management. 
  • Rayhan Fasya Firdausi is an undergraduate student majoring in International Relations at UPN “Veteran” Yogyakarta. Rayhan is a member of KSM IRON FIRE, a study group engaged in research and writing for security studies. Rayhan has interests in non-traditional security studies, conflict resolution, and social movements.  



  1. Djalal, D. P. (2021). Asian review: Diplomatic caution: ASEAN responses to AUKUS security dynamic. East Asia Forum Quarterly, 13(4), 16–18. Retrieved from 
  2. Gurjit Singh. (2021). The ASEAN disunity over AUKUS. Retrieved 5 September, 2022, from ORF website: 
  3. Pillai Rajagopalan, R. (2021). Does AUKUS Augment or Diminish the Quad? Retrieved 5 September, 2022, from ORF website: 
  4. Southgate, L. (2021). AUKUS: The View from ASEAN. Retrieved 5 September, 2022, from The Diplomat website: