What Comes after ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) 2015: A Threat from China’s Economic Downfall


Niki Wahyu Sayekti,  2nd Winner of Call for Essay: “ASEAN Community Post 2015”

ASEAN governments have spent decades crafting their reliance on the Chinese economy, with a strategic relationship shaped by geography and exports[1], thus the recent economic breakdown from China would certainly affect the economy of the region as well. A stock market crash, a depreciating currency and a sharp economic slowdown have driven Chinese consumer sentiment to record lows in the past few months,[2] and which means bad news for ASEAN.

The slowdown in China’s economy will continue to affect growth prospects on the rest of the region as export demand drops and investment flow decline.[3] Merchandise exports to China as a share of GDP vary considerably among the ASEAN countries, ranging from about 12% for Malaysia and 6-8% for Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam to as little as 3% for Indonesia and the Philippines.[4] Another sector being affected by China’s economic slowdown is investment because FDI inflows from China into some of ASEAN countries have become an important overall source of foreign investment, particularly in Malaysia and Thailand.[5] The financial repercussions of China’s slowdown may also impact domestic financial markets in ASEAN countries and could complicate their macroeconomic management.[6] A report from International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that countries with closer trade linkages with China (Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand) and net commodity exporters (Indonesia and Malaysia) would suffer the largest impact, with growth falling between 0.2 and 0.5 percentage points in response to a decline in China’s growth by 1 percentage point depending on the model used and the nature of the shock.[7]

This condition of economic insecurity experienced mostly by the ASEAN-5 (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines), who are basically the dominant economy in the region) more or less would impinge on the AEC as well. As dominant economic powers in the region, the ASEAN-5 are morally supposed to support the economy and take bigger responsibility to help other ASEAN nations who are still less-developed in the region. However, with an economic knockdown from China, it’d be hard for the ASEAN-5 even to keep up with their own domestic economic affairs.

China’s economic crash might cause disaster for ASEAN economy and threaten the AEC, yet there are still opportunities for ASEAN behind this catastrophe. Due to the sluggish performance of China’s economy, investors would most likely seek for relocation from China. The migration of China’s inbound foreign investment from labor-intensive sectors to services and high-end manufacturing has seen a seismic shift in 2015 which will potentially create a knock-on effect for investment into Southeast Asia.[8] This investment will be a welcome relief particularly to countries affected by falling commodity exports, even as the region positions itself as an attractive alternative to soak up such inflows.[9] By the emergence of ASEAN Economic Community itself, the opportunity to attract more FDI is larger since ASEAN would be integrated as an economic entity with a single market and production based orientation. All ASEAN countries are important for foreign investors if they are considered as one node in a larger regional market of nearly 600 million people – a single market.[10]

ASEAN can maximize full-potentials of AEC to cover its wounds from China. The establishment of AEC which provides an access for free flow of goods and capitals could be utilized to increase trade and cross-border investment intra-region so that it should boost-up the region’s economy and reduce the trade-dependence on China.

[1] Luke Hunt, “Beware ASEAN’s coming economic bloom.” The Diplomat, Feb 12, 2016, accessed October 31, 2016,  http://thediplomat.com/2016/02/beware-aseans-coming-economic-gloom/.

[2] David Wilder, “Chinese crisis bites Asean and Latin America consumer sentiment.” Financial Times, March 16, 2016, accessed October 31, 2016, https://www.ft.com/content/8b474f76-e3ab-11e5-bc31-138df2ae9ee6.

[3] The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development  (OECD). Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India 2016 Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia: Enhancing Regional Tie (2015), 1.  http://www.oecd.org/dev/asia-pacific/SAEO2016_Overview%20with%20cover%20light.pdf.

[4] The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development  (OECD), ibid, 4.

[5] The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development  (OECD), ibid, 5.

[6] Ibid.

[7] International Monetary Fund (IMF). Spillovers from China’s Growth Slowdown and Rebalancing to the ASEAN-5 Economies (2016), 6. https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2016/wp16170.pdf.

[8] Steven Cranwell, “Southeast Asia Set to Benefit from China’s Economic Rebalancing.” HSBS, Oct 12, 2016, accessed Oct 31, 2016. http://www.about.hsbc.com.sg/news-and-media/southeast-asia-set-to-benefit-from-chinas-economic-rebalancing

[9] Steven Cranwell, ibid.

[10] “Asia Opportunities: Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.” Business in Asia, accessed Nov 1, 2016, http://www.business-in-asia.com/asia/asean_economic_community.html

Donald Trump and the Global Politics of “Strongman Leaders”


Habibah Hermanadi,

Research assistant of ASEAN Studies Center UGM


Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States. As predicted, the result triggered massive reaction from all over the world including Southeast Asia. Previously, the scenarion of “Trump’s Triumph” has been unimaginable among academics and political commentators, for he was seen merely as an anecdotal figure with bleak chance of winning. Even media has forecasted the failure of his campaign, which is now proven to be wrong.

This is clearly a global situation. However, it is not unpredictable. I argue that “Trump’s Triumph” reflects the rising trend of ‘strongman leader’ in world politics, which is reflected upon the current leadership trends in many parts of the world, including in Southeast Asia.

Strongman Leaders

Financial Times described the condition as the rise of “Strongman Leaders”. Their argument is simple: the world is witnessing the rise of tough leaders, paired with assertive approach, strong rhetoric, and, most importantly,put great emphasis on the strength of greatness based on national unity. A classic study from Anthony Birch nationalism has been the most successful political doctrine to promote a political agenda, particularly in electoral campaign. The concept of national unity itself is contrasted from Rousseau’s vision of nationalism, which highlights how a community living based on shared customs and a single way of life, could be expected to feel affection from their own societies. Moreover, national unity also poses constant exposure to conflicts and internal fragmentation that could drive society to elect a ‘strongman leaders’.

It is against this backdrop we could understand how Trump won in the recent US General Election.

This is also the case in Southeast Asia. Rodrigo Duterte, the current president of Philippines, shows how a “strongman leader” arouses from the practice of democratic politics. Even though he was democratically elected, he also confront international society by embracing a tough war on drug dealers, which became an international human rights concern.

On the regional level, the recent 36th ASEANPOL Conference last July was marked by powerful remarks from leaders, such as from Malaysian current Prime Minister Najib Razak, who deemed that national security is a paramount issue in which he will not be apologetic. The trend also includes Thailand, whose currently undergoing the military government has been showing potentials of shifting its constitutions.

In the recent referendum, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister of Thailand, even has legitimacy to exercise some sorts of ‘martial law’, for he is given a permanent super-crisis powers and  maximum power to the army to resolve political crises in the countiry.

Indonesia, on the other hand showed a different demands in terms of what the society demands in a leader. During the 2014 election, he beat , Prabowo Subianto a former charismatic general who promised a turn for ‘developmentalist politics’ characterised by strong leadership. Known for his straightforward, down-to-earth, and populist politics his popularity declined in 2015 as he was seen as an indecisive leader unable to take decisive actions. Even though he could survive Indonesian politics (with his unexpected maneouvre in some political occassions), there has been some criticisms from Indonesian for his inability to challenge strongmen and oligarch in the .

A Cold War Legacy

“Strongman leaders” is in fact a Cold War legacy. It is a trend where transparency endless and democratic politics are not a common practice in world politics. At the end of the War, endless political revolutions and internal reformations has been resulted by this trend. It was a time where popular demands rise and challenge the politics of oligarchy in many states, including Indonesia.

Strongman leaders relies upon popular demand from their followers/voters. They tend to neglect a more technocratic view in doing diplomacy and foreign policy.

Take Phillippines as an example. The Cold War has brought Phillippines under the shadow of US Foreign Policy, placing the nation as the pivot of the power politics against the Communists. But it also witnessed the popular protest, when, for example, President Marcos has been toppled down by people’s protests in 1986. It since then witnessed the emergence of strong leaders from different political factions.

More interestingly, when Duterte strongly call for the end of the country’s special relationship with the United States, he insisted that Phillippines do not fear foredooming wars. The Diplomat observed this condition as ‘Duterte effect’, in which other ASEAN member states could replicate Duterte’s tones in doing diplomacy in the region.

Implication for Regional Politics

What does this “strongman leaders” imply for Southeast Asian politics? I suggest that this trend could lead to a US-China re-balance in Southeast Asia. Even though we shall also need to wait for upcoming events, particularly following Trump’s administration, we could assume that this trend could lead to the re-emergence of ‘national interest’ in Southeast Asian politics, followed by the rhetorics of strong leaders in each ASEAN member states.

Therefore, ‘strongman leaders’ could start a new trend of putting ASEAN aside and putting national interest first, for it constitutes the way e strongman leaders deliver their messages to be acknowledged in world politics.

If it is true, then the rise of strongman leaders could revoke the strong state’s vision in ASEAN. It could probably strengthen ASEAN, but not in the ‘people-oriented’ way. It could, to some extent, revive ASEAN’s ideal of planned unity, backed by strong national ego. It could also means a revival for ‘non-interference’ doctrine in the region.

We could nonethelessly learn from Donald Trump’s strategy that takes him to the White House. Trump’s triumph is not a surprising event. In the current tumultous world, it is likely that society demands the type of leaders who could speak louder than the others. Strongman leaders, therefore, is a very product of the world that we currently live in.

What does “Trump’s Triumph” Mean for ASEAN?


Dedi Dinarto, Researcher at ASEAN Studies Center UGM

The triumph of Donald Trump for the presidential election in the United States of America has brought about a shock for world politics. In particular, it also embraced important effects on regional politics in Southeast Asia. Amidst the decline of United States’ role in global politics, “Trump’s Triumph” has raised some doubts on how he might preserve the unipolarity of American “global” leadership and how it might be related with the growing fragmentation of ASEAN member states.

In this case, I argue that Trump’s triumph will bring two most possible impacts for ASEAN centrality. First, ASEAN centrality might be re-established, with the possible remaking of ‘US-China-Russia’ game –or what I shall call “global triangle”— after Trump’s election. Second, we shall witness a more defensive regionalism, which witness the re-engagement of ASEAN member states with major global power 

The Remaking of “Global Triangle” Politics?

I shall begin with the most possible scenario for US Foreign Policy under Trump. I argue that  profound relationship between Trump and Putin would strengthen an infamous thesis on the likelihood of emerging “global conflict”. The previous Trump’s campaign has shown that he rregarded Putin not as an enemy, even though the American intelligence officers have privately briefed Trump on the possible cyber-attacks to the process of US election.

It is also evident that Trump has established some business links in the Russia and, moreover, maintain a relationship with oligarch in Russia.

To some extent, according to Rob Glaser, the deep financial ties and political connection of Trump to Russian oligarchs may increased the bilateral relationship of both countries, and to some extent, hampering the political turbulence in Ukraine as well as giving much possibility for Russia to expand the legacy of Soviet Union. This situation must be cautiously vigilant by the politically distresspost-Brexit European Union.

Regarding its relationship with China, Trump in his victory’s speech underlines that the United States would double its economic growth through the engagement in international economic system. His words provide a clear groundbreaking that there would be a two-side of coins on Sino-US relations, either through mutualeconomic cooperation, or instead economic competition to become a new global hegemony.

As a rising economic power, China has higher bargaining position whether to or not to engage with the United States. However, the nationalist Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream and xenophobic Trump’s Make America Great Again will unlikely bind them into a cooperation. At this point, the ‘global triangle’ consists of China, Russia, and the United States will constitute a new volatility in international politics. I further argue that it will potentially reconfigure the prospect of future regionalism in Southeast Asia.

Effects on ASEAN Centrality

Nevertheless, how does it affects ASEAN centrality? The current situation in ASEAN has shown a fragmented condition. It is evident that Southeast Asia is currently entering the “state of crisis”, characterised by strong leaders, which is followed by the strong national interests. Evelyn Goh, for example has, argued that this ‘statist-turn’ cannot be separated from the political reality in the region, which witnessed the presence of ‘big power’ in the making of ASEAN member states’ foreign policy.

The Philippines under Duterte exemplifies this point. His foreign policy, for example, has clearly pointed out a commitment to strengthen the economic and military engagement towards China. Cambodia, Laos, and the latest Malaysia have engaged through a set of economic cooperation agreement with China. To some extent, Indonesia has much potential to engage with China in the area of maritime infrastructure and investment cooperation.

Even though Singapore remains one of the strong allies of the United States, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long declared that the winning of Trump on US presidential election will increase the reassertion of a sense of identity and somehow to change the status quo. In such circumstance, China acts as a key role in region. If China is likely to cooperate with the United States, it seems that there would be a combination of three great powers in the world in one banner.

If not, it would be likely for China to be in the middle of US-Russia’s polar while playing assertive role to its ASEAN’s strategic partner under its tribute system. For ASEAN member countries, this proves to be a risk that should be confronted by the states.

How should ASEAN Respond?

I argue that ASEAN member countries should be able to take an alternative position towards the tumultuous global politics. One for sure is to strengthen its position as a strategic regional fulcrum. Using the extra-regional diplomatic forum, such as East Asia Forum, ASEAN Regional Forum, and so on,ASEAN could voice out their single voice towards the great powers.

Rather than highly engaged under the game of ‘triangle great powers’, they may choose not to involve dependently towards each of great powers. Once again, this alternative option should be established under high political commitment along with risky economic cost.

It is then arguably that “Trump’s triumph” will exacerbate the international politics and rearrange its relationship towards China and Russia. Whether or not the three great powers will work under mutual and cooperative engagement, ASEAN has much to pay for its centrality.

Does Indonesia Need a “Post-ASEAN” Regional Order?


Ahmad Rizky M. Umar

In his recent article in The Jakarta Post (18/5), Rizal Sukma (now Indonesian Ambassador to the United Kingdom) embraced an interesting argument: it is time to invoke a post-ASEAN regional order in East Asia. The polarisation in ASEAN, marginalisation of ASEAN’s role of ‘manager of order’, and the growing Sino-US rivalry in recent years, he argued, has demonstrated ASEAN’s inability to deal with emerging geopolitical issues in the region.

Moreover, he argues, any regional order in Southeast Asia will require a stable balance of power among major powers, which is important to be addressed in the future.

However, Even though Sukma convincingly demonstrates ASEAN’s failure in managing order and balance of power in the region, and therefore suggests a post-ASEAN regional order, his argument misses one important point: the internal dynamics of ASEAN that leads to such failures (if we agree with Sukma’s argument).

On the other words, to argue that ASEAN has failed to maintain regional order, we need to also acknowledge that ASEAN’s failure has also been determined by its member states, due to ASEAN’s state-centric nature. In this context, we could recall a famous word from Alexander Wendt, that ASEAN is, in fact, what its member states make of it.

In this article, I propose two inter-related arguments to respond to Sukma’s idea of “Post-ASEAN” regional order in Southeast Asia. First, shifting regional focus to broader East Asian context can only work if Indonesia could maintain its hegemonic position. Second, it is important to revitalise Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN through ASEAN-centered foreign policies

ASEAN and Regional Order

Since its establishment in 1967, ASEAN has been preserved as a diplomatic forum by its member states. State has been the only acknowledged actor until the 2nd ASEAN Summit in 2003, where its member states have agreed to expand the institutionalisation under one community.

State-centrism in ASEAN has also maintained through its long-standing principles, non-interventionism, which put state’s strong position in the regional institution. ASEAN’s institutional design has also put strong state’s presence in maintaining day-to-day activities, albeit with some space for non-state actors (such as CSOs or Business Actors) to engage in decision-making processes.

Putting the state as inseparable actor in ASEAN is important to understand why ASEAN failed to address major issues in ASEAN, most recently the South China Sea Crisis. The latest ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, held recently in Vientiane, Laos, demonstrate this problem: ASEAN’s failure to reach a consensus to deal with South China Sea has been caused by the absence of ‘common ground’ among states to propose a roadmap to overcome the crisis.

Therefore, it can be argued that ASEAN relies on its member states. Sukma’s argument therefore illustrated the absence of a strong institutional rule that bind all its member states in dealing with major geopolitical issues in world politics.  Institutionalists might argue that this failure could be caused by the absence of institutional backdrop in ASEAN, due to state-centric nature of the regional organisation.

However, I found that this is not the case. Even the European Union, which has a stronger institutional power than ASEAN, has to face some internal crisis and democratic drift in its internal member-states, as we most recently witness with ‘Brexit’ and refugee crisis.

The Need for Leadership

I shall argue that what is at stake is ASEAN is not its failure to deal with main geopolitical issues as Sukma has demonstrated. Rather, I argue that it is the absence of a leadership to maintain ‘hegemonic order’ that leads to ASEAN’s ineffective role in East Asia and, more broadly, world politics.

The latest 49th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Laos could be a good point of departure. While ASEAN has produced a remarkable concern over growing crisis in the South China Sea, it has yet to design a common platform to overcome the crisis. Instead, the joint communiqué has recommended establishing the MFA-to-MFA hotline to manage maritime emergencies, which clearly brings the solution to bilateral forum.

What is at stake here, in my humble view, is not that it fails to produce a clear statement to overcome the crisis, which is a difficult thing to do, but that it abandons ASEAN centrality as an approach to peacefully settle the ongoing dispute and instead bring it as a state-to-state business.

It is true that ASEAN does not have a strong institutional binding to deal with such issues, and that ASEAN-based regional order has been limited. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily mean that ASEAN has been less important for Indonesia, since ASEAN constitute an important geopolitical basis for Indonesia’s regional outlook, even with the recent emphasis on ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ that has been endorsed by Jokowi.

Due to ASEAN’s state-centric nature, I argue that this case demonstrate that ASEAN needs a leadership from a particular member state to maintain, to use neorealist argument, hegemonic stability and cooperation in the region. It is the area that Indonesia has declined to play in the region.

As Political Scientist Donald Weatherbee argues (2013), Indonesia has missed important opportunity to be a regional leader during Hassan Wirayudha era, in which Indonesia has committed to ASEAN-centred foreign policy. Despites some achievement in institutionalising Human Rights and Democracy in the regional body, many Indonesia’s proposal has been rejected by ASEAN fellow members.

Sukma might be partly true to say that Indonesia needs to broaden its vision to regional order by encompassing realist, normative, and institution-based order, which implies to an enlargement to East Asian regional order. However, it does not necessarily mean that Indonesia has to shift its focus from ASEAN, which I believe has been ongoing since early Jokowi’s presidency.

Rather, especially with emergent crisis in South China Sea, I suggest that Indonesia needs to re-strengthen its focus to ASEAN by maintaining hegemonic leadership. Indonesia could do so by, for example, utilising ASEAN’s institutional rules and procedures to resolve the emerging regional problems.

A Comeback to ASEAN?

I therefore suggest that rather than abandoning ASEAN-based regional order in Southeast Asia, Indonesia needs to re-strengthen its leadership in ASEAN. It means that Indonesia needs to integrate the so-called ‘national interest’, which is executed through bilateralism, with the use of multilateral foras in order to secure peace and stability in the region.

It implies the use of institutional decision-making process in ASEAN to deal with emerging regional problems, such as South China Sea crisis or several humanitarian issues.

Reviving a collective decision-making process through ASEAN’s institutional norms is therefore important. The recent ASEAN Summit and Ministerial Meeting has evidently shown that ASEAN member states have, to some extent, abandoned ASEAN-centrality to resolve regional problems, in particular the South China Sea crisis.

Indonesia could resolve it by functioning ASEAN institutional foras to facilitate dialogue in such crisis. The spirit of ASEAN centrality, in order to create peace and stability in the region, should be held rather than the old-fashioned ‘non-interventionism. Although it is not an easy task, I believe that Indonesia could maintain ASEAN-centrality as a basis to move to a bigger regional foras, such as East Asian Summit.

To do so, it therefore implies a clear direction on Indonesia’s foreign policy towards ASEAN. Indonesia might be, as Sukma suggested, shift its focus to East Asia due to its strategic position in building diplomatic order. However, without Indonesia’s leadership in ASEAN, such attempts might not be congruent with Indonesian national interest as envisioned in Foreign Policy Direction.

I believe that in a rapidly changing international order, Indonesia should play a greater role as emerging power in world politics. It is the task that needs to be emboldened in our foreign policy.

*) Ahmad Rizky M. Umar studies Politics with Research Methods at the University of Sheffield, UK and a Research Associate with the ASEAN Studies Centre, Universitas Gadjah Mada.

ASEAN Countries Military Strength Infographic


The Way of ASEAN Non-Confrontation: Backdoor Diplomacy or The Inability to Conduct Diplomacy in Public Spaces



Dio Herdiawan Tobing, Research Intern at ASEAN Studies Center UGM

In the past few days, Indonesia’s first Right of Reply in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has attracted nation-wide Indonesia medias. Not because Indonesia’s statement was outstanding, but merely because of its firmness and the beauty of Indonesia’s representative. However, we found out that to some extent Indonesia’s statement focused heavily on sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as, the institutionalization of human rights commitment by the numbers of ratified conventions. This does not show any advantages. It opens a loophole that Indonesia was unable to show evidence of the progress made in Papua related to the human rights violation.

Meanwhile, the second Right of Reply embraced by Solomon Islands, shows intelligence, diplomatic, and well-researched information. Solomon Islands, though, only a very small archipelagic country showed its concern on human rights issue in West Papua by reminding Indonesia that although Indonesia has ratified the Convention against Torture (CAT), progress has not yet been made in Papua. In fact, Indonesia has not yet submitted its Periodic Review since 2008. The Solomon claimed that they received information on the lack of human rights protection of the Melanesian people in West Papua from the Respected UN members and head of civil societies.

Furthermore, it is also regretful to hear that in another right of reply utilized by Indonesia to respond against Solomon Islands, the Republic again justified that Solomon Islands’ concern has breached Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and claiming that Solomon Islands is trapped in trash information of the separatist group in West Papua. Again, without elaborating on what progress has been made and what form for commitment has been implemented by the Indonesian government towards promotion and protection of human rights in West Papua.

In fact, this occasion reminded us of Southeast Asian countries conducting their diplomatic activities. The ASEAN’s method of diplomacy, has been seen upholding the norm of sensitivity, politeness, non-confrontation and agreeability, and the principle of quiet. ASEAN members in their decision- and policy-making process have always refrained from criticizing others, claiming that criticizing other respective members of ASEAN will fall into the violation of non-interference principle and respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is similar, on what the delegation of Indonesia delivered in her right of reply, that the concern of Solomon Islands’ towards human rights situation in West Papua will only disrespect Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

However, in other occasion, ASEAN has a method famously known as ‘constructive-engagement’. ASEAN and particularly, Indonesia, have been progressively utilizing this tool to put concern on the human rights situation in Myanmar. In 2009 Indonesia had bilateral talk with Myanmar in regards to the Rohingya massacre. This occasion became a cornerstone because during the talk, it was the first time that Prime Minister Thein Sein finally acknowledged that he paid great attention to this issue. Myanmar finally accepted that Rohingya was also their concern. Wasn’t the talk breach Myanmar’s sovereignty and territorial integrity? Actually, it was too, yet the difference is the operation of ASEAN’s constructive engagement remains invisible. Because the diplomatic-negotiation has never been done in public spaces, claiming that it is the feature of ASEAN’s diplomacy, backdoor diplomacy, or for some, how ASEAN conducts its intra- or inter-ASEAN relations have become a model named as “Asian Diplomacy”

Therefore, reflecting on the case of Solomon Islands-Indonesia in the UNGA and Indonesia-Myanmar in ASEAN, the conduct of ASEAN Diplomacy shows only an excuse for ASEAN in particular, Indonesia, upon their inability to demonstrate a proper diplomatic behavior in public spaces.

In the Thick of Fear and Idea: Wither ASEAN Centrality?


Dedi Dinarto

Long before the discourse on the future of ASEAN centrality, S. Rajaratnam and Thanat Khoman have put their respective ideas on the ontological part of ASEAN, meaning that where ASEAN should depart on its characteristic, thus shape the way its interact at both internal and external level.

Rajaratnam pointed out that the long shadow of Cold War has shaped this region as the “states of fear” where every countries sought to defend themselves from external threat, and provide baseline to construct ‘common threat’. Given the situation of the escalating tension between Soviet Union and the United States, ASEAN chose to setback its activism not to show off their teeth instead of barricading Southeast Asia from the influx of communism influence.

On the other side, Thanat Khoman contrastively derived his idea on how to place the ideal and peaceful cooperation, given the framework to set aside the rising tension of konfrontasi of Indonesia and Malaysia, and other disputes between neighboring countries. He put that the ASEAN should represent a constitutive regime serving promise towards more cohesive, peaceful, and stable condition.

Between those two prominent views, it remains logical that ASEAN has produced 1967 Bangkok Declaration, Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), and Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) pacts to achieve their objectives. In spite of departing from different views on ASEAN at the first place, these two ideas can be bridged under the framework of winning the security and stability of the region. Neither national interest nor external parties are regarded crucial at that time.

Reflecting from the event of historical sociology between Rajaratnam and Thanat Khoman provides us the outlook of how ASEAN is able to determine its centrality.

However, it should be admitted that the composite interaction between ASEAN member states and its strategic partners nowadays has pushed political scientists and practitioners to look at ASEAN not only as a unproblematic regional body, but as a constructive and flexible pivot amidst tricky surroundings.

This is the matter of how we think about ‘ASEAN Centrality’ as an idea, which implies the source of power of ASEAN as a regional body. The governmentality has proceed to far serving the elites’ interest which surrounded by state-centric approach and calculation.

Not to do away from the dominant discourse, the elites could provide breakthrough creating intensive and fruitful cooperation on more human-centric issues. Negotiating major countries in the region to cooperate in non-traditional security issues that are quite transnational and require high and strict coordination and control mechanisms. Giving the example in how to attract China to aware on the issue of disasters and marine safety, and terrorism in the region would shed light on.

Therefore, this reflective approach underpin the way on how ASEAN member states could define their interests based on human-centric prioritization, and thus put up those issues to the responsibility of strategic partner countries. By doing this way, ASEAN can find its centrality amidst the complexities of international politics in the region. In other words, the centrality must be seen as a phenomenon coherent to change and intersubjective configuration.

Dedi Dinarto is a research assistant at ASEAN Studies Center, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada.

ASEAN fights against trans-border crime

Feature - Terrorist

This article was published on 7 September 2016 in Jakarta Post

Dedi Dinarto – Research Assistant at ASEAN Studies Center UGM

Given the rising concerns over transnational organized crime in Southeast Asia, the 28th ASEAN Summit in Vientiane this week will face an uphill challenge. This holds true as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported a rise in production of illicit drugs and an expansion of the synthetic drug market in the region after the implementation of the ASEAN Community last year.

It is inevitable that Laos should hold up the discussion to address the issue of transnational crime for several reasons.

Vientiane’s ASEAN chairmanship this year was viewed with pessimism when it came to the issue of the South China Sea. Some of the reasons originated from Laos’ landlocked geographical conditions, which allows it to disregard the security of the sea as crucial and coherent for economic interests, and the lavish influence of China over Laos through the latest cooperation scheme, namely the Mohan-Boten Economic Cooperation Zone.

However, the importance of associating Laos’ leadership with the transnational crime issue is mainly due to the fact that the country is part of the Golden Triangle, which serves as one of the producers of narcotics and a drug transit point for shipments to North America, Europe and other regions in Asia.

Laos directly contributes to the increasing production and expansion of such transnational crime networks. At the same time, the number of arrests related to drugs has tripled in Laos over the last half decade.

On the other hand, Laos has completely ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime with the protocol that cancels out the potential benefits it could gain from the narcotics industries.

Moreover, on a broader level, Kuala Lumpur’s leadership last year intensified the fight against transnational organized crime. This development is not supposed to decline under Laos’ chairmanship.

Consequently, the upcoming ASEAN Summit is to manifest the points that have been set forth and agreed within the ASEAN Regional Forum Statement on Strengthening Cooperation in the Management of Cross-Border Movement of Criminals and the formulation of a fresh ASEAN plan of action agreed at the previous ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC).

However, in that agenda, the ASEAN member states are supposed to overlook the inter-governmental decision-making process, which is inadequate to combat transnational crime. The failure, according to professor of international affairs Ralf Emmers, was not only caused by domestic circumstances but also by its inbuilt resistance to action and institutional reforms and its inability to criminalize transnational crime.

Besides, they only focused on non-binding and unspecific measures without addressing the question of funding, setting target dates, or establishing monitoring mechanisms to assess progress.

For example, the 10th AMMTC noted the importance of growing of transnational crime as a threat against regional security.

Thus, the response was to broaden their working coverage area by adding the illicit trafficking in wildlife, timber and people smuggling to the provision involving drug trafficking, economic crimes, human trafficking, piracy, money laundering, terrorism, weapon smuggling and cybercrime. Unfortunately, this initiative demonstrated the statist yet similar approach that has been taken by ASEAN member states since 1997.

The effort to securitize transnational organized crime has been successful, but leaves behind the regional practice to combat such an issue.

Rather than having an intensive approach toward the regional threat, ASEAN member states prefer to adopt a regional agreement if it will work significantly at the national level. Therefore, there is a need for shifting the paradigm toward “shared sovereignty”.

If regional security was primarily measured based on the absence of a threat to each nation’s security, then it is now time to see ASEAN as a whole community. The term of “community” adopted at the end of 2015 duly signifies that ASEAN should move from its state-centric security into a human-centric security.

Is it possible to hear a similar voice to that which came out of Thailand’s then foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan in June 1998, who proposed to amend the basic principle of non-intervention?

What may happen in the days following the ASEAN Summit and its “dianoetic” slogan of “Turning vision into reality for a dynamic ASEAN Community” will provide the answers.

Southeast Asia: Refugee Crisis and the Customary Law of Non-Refoulement


Dio Tobing – Intern at ASEAN Studies Center, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada

If the European Union is still dealing with mass influx of forced migration from the Middle East, Southeast Asian refugee crisis has also been going on for more than years. These refugees are mainly coming from places, which experience worst cases of human tragedy including political instability at their place of origins, conflict-zones, and human rights violations. At this very moment, ASEAN member countries have not yet reached any agreement on how to respond towards this issue, which is why the responsibility then goes back to its members individually.

Due to this lack of agreement within the forum, many people tend to blame the inability and incompetence of ASEAN members in responding this issue due to their majority position as non-parties the 1951 Refugee Convention. Many have also argued that the international community should pressure and urge ASEAN member states to start becoming the parties of the Refugee Convention 1951, as there are only two ASEAN members who have ratified the convention, which are Cambodia and the Philippines.

However, does ratifying such international law reflect states compliance towards its provision? Is international law a manipulable façade for power politics? (Koskenniemi, 2011) Even in the reality of ASEAN region, countries who are highly associated with the issue of refugee have constructively showed progress responding with refugee crisis. In mid-2015, the Ministerial Meeting on Irregular Movement of People in Southeast Asia have successfully adopted a joint statement stressing states responsibilities and obligations to provide humanitarian assistance towards irregular migrants initiated by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The governments of these three countries have committed to deliver humanitarian assistance and temporary shelters to those in need and those who stranded at the sea.

Moreover, these three countries also have their domestic mechanism in dealing with this problem similar to the provision of the 1951 Refugee Convention. For instance, Indonesia government refers to the Letter of the Directorate General of Immigration No. F-IL.01.10-1297. Government of Indonesia emphasizes that those who are seeking asylum in Indonesia would not be deported. The government also stresses that they are working in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) when handling the case of refugee. The provision of this letter is also in accordance with the principle of Non-Refoulement (Justinar, 2011).

Not only Indonesia, Thailand also stands as state not party to the Refugee Convention, however, the country has worked hard in providing temporary shelters along the Thai-Burma border, currently accommodating more than 105.000 refugees (EU, 2016). For Malaysia, there are currently more than 150.000 refugees registered by the UNHCR residing in the country (Lokman, 2016).

These three major ASEAN member countries do not become party to the Refugee Convention yet to some extent, their actions and policies reflected their compliance the fundamental principle codified into the convention, the Customary Principle of Non-Refoulement. Recognizing that the prohibition of refoulement stands on the same level of prohibition of torture as peremptory norm of international law, or jus cogens (UNHCR, 2006). These major countries affected by mass influx in Southeast Asian region have acted accordingly, as bound by the Customary International Law on prohibition of refoulement, although not becoming state parties to 1951 Refugee Convention. Even if there are no regional cooperation or agreement on responding towards the issue and although majority ASEAN members do not ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention, some states are in cooperation among each other as well as act unilaterally to overcome this issue in accordance to national policy.

Glimpse of Hope: Student-led Protest in Malaysia

Feature - Myanmar Student

Dedi Dinarto – Research Assistant at ASEAN Studies Center, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada

Encouraging students to actively participating in protest movement remains arduous. The busy academic activities and full-time organizational obligation pushes student to stay calm in campus without any centrifugal way of thinking. Living under strict and rigid academic practice and value, most of the students prefer to stay behind the desk and explore the reality through cyberspace as well as preparing their self-capacity for future professional job. On the other hand, there are also small amount of students whose initiative are to oppose against authoritative, corrupt, and repressive government. Given such ‘intellectual power’ to analyze and criticize the social contract, these students come up to organize counterbalance the praxis of statehood. In the last few days, the latter is real reflects on the Malaysian student-led protest that voices out the resonance to arrest ‘Malaysian Official One’ under the yell of ‘Tangkap Malaysian Official One.’

This rally should be seen as a positive signal since students start to participate and speak out of what is happening to their country and how it should be.

Despite the fact that Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) hampers the active participation of students within political arena, students have turned into political machine to fight against government. According to Aslam Abd Jalil, a protester who had also been graduated from the Australian National University, TangkapMO1 has showed the significant role of students in political contestation. Students are not only living under the traditional academic cage, but also transcending beyond the limit and fighting for the future of nation. In a broader aspect, he assessed that the rally would cause turbulence towards ruling party, thus affects the ruling party’s popularity. However, this opportunity will not give any significant change to the Malaysian politics since the opposition party is in a mess.

Moreover, TangkapMO1 also signifies the neutrality of student from political party.

Anis Syafiqah Mohd Yusof, spokesperson for the TangkapMO1 and the member of Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam Universiti Malaya (PMIUM) mentioned that the students are non-partisan. She loudly voiced out that this student-led rally should not be used by political parties to serve their interest. Although it does not mean that students reject the support from political parties to fight for universal values and justice.

This case reveals what Eep Saefullah (the author of Catatan atas Gagalnya Politik Orde Baru 1998) mentioned about the economic and social transformations that generate the rising of active and passionate students. The higher opportunity to access education will lead to the economic vertical mobilization. The growing of critical and well-informed community is inevitable. In the context of Malaysia, this should be seen as an opportunity since the data reported from World Bank shows that the youth literacy rate in Malaysia up to 2010 is 98.4%.

However, under the authoritative political architecture, it is insufficient for students to only organize and do protest in public space. The need to build and develop discourse within society is utmost. Breaking down the strict relation between government and society should be built under the skeptic view. Therefore, spreading discourse and opinion on what has been going on would be more significant. Otherwise, the movement will be regarded as fragile and extemporaneous.