The 49th ASEAN: Who Does What and How?


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

Indonesian scholar Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad through his prominent book titled ‘ASEAN at the Crossroads of History’ criticizes the history of ASEAN which never escape upheaval. As an institution that is designed close to the important historical events in the region, ASEAN has flexibility properties serving both opportunities and downsides.

ASEAN has now entered the age of nearly half a century indicate a lengthy process of institutionalization aspects. The question would be to what extent has ASEAN been running?

To answer these questions, then there are two main layers that can be considered. First, ASEAN as an institution. Second, ASEAN as a community.

Establishment of ASEAN in 1967 is intended to fulfill both internal and external factors.

The former means to rediscover the structure of national economic growth and development, a peaceful atmosphere at that time provides an important precondition for Southeast Asia countries. Driven by the national interest, the five founding countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand) to immediately establish a functional institution.

On the other hand, the Cold War constellation led by bipolar power structure becomes a threat to the creation of the peaceful and neutral region. Under ASEAN framework, ASEAN member countries could eliminate as well as keep of the threat of communism.

These two main factors then pushed ASEAN member countries to create ZOPFAN (Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality) treaty.

From the neoliberal institutionalist perspective, the step undertaken by the ASEAN founding members is an attempt to minimize transaction costs in order to meet national interests. In other words, common interests are first defined off the international context, and then institutions are established by state actors to facilitate the achievement of their joint interests (see Keohane, 1989; Jupille and Caporaso, 1999).

However, current developments indicate ASEAN declination of the institutional aspects. This is partly reflected in the failure of ASEAN in dealing with the South China Sea case. As an institution, ASEAN failed to agree on unified voice in the face of a credible threat to the region yet neglecting the security of sea as a vital element of regional stability.

Even, it is also implicitly indicates that the ASEAN member countries are not willing to commit towards something that is not an issue for a particular country. In the context of South China Sea, the non-disputants such as Cambodia, Lao PDR, Singapore, Thailand, and Myanmar would not take a credible stance because it would undermine the logic of the transactional cost efficiency which is expected to come from ASEAN.

In the end, ASEAN will only be used as a ‘stepping stone’ by member states. As long as it can freshly prepared and maximize the potential gains to the member countries, ASEAN would still be relevant.

On the other hand, ASEAN can also be seen from the aspect of community. This has to do with the view that ASEAN is a group of countries that are bound on the role of ideology, rules, and norms. Relations between countries are prepared on social expectations rather than utility maximization calculations.

In other words, institutional routines are followed even when there is no obvious self-interest involved (see March and Olsen, 1989; Finnemore and Sikkink, 1998).

The main purpose of connecting people between countries is to construct something as an act which brings into being a subject or object that otherwise would not exist (see Fierke, 2007). This serves as driving factor encouraging the emergence of a community of discourse among member states are organized into three pillars of the ASEAN Community in 2025 include the issue of political-security, economic, and socio-cultural.

Nevertheless, ASEAN is still experiencing a significant issue in encouraging regionalism at the community level. Acharya (2004) was doubting the possibility of ‘participatory regionalism’. Even though several wider NGO-based regional institutions, such as ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF) and Asian People’s Advocacy have fought for people’s voice, the case of human rights abuse and trafficking remains appeared on newspaper’s headlines.

Thus, these multi-layer view provides us a reflective insight. To date, ASEAN serves as a political product working simultaneously on both institution and community. It remains a great competition between ‘the logic of consequences’ deemed by States and ‘the logic of appropriateness’ conceived by NGOs as the representative of community. This signifies the multi-interpretive of ASEAN as both an institution and community. Therefore, the development of ASEAN in the future would be depending on who does what and how. It defines the possibility of all agents to shape ASEAN either to remain state-centric or community based.

From a Security Regime into a Security Community: Is it Time?

Feature - Terrorist

Habibah H. Hermanadi – Research Intern at ASEAN Studies Center UGM

2016 begun with yet another terrorist attack to one of the ASEAN member states, Indonesia, the attempt of suicide bomb in Jakarta backed up by the currently emerging terrorist group Daesh surprisingly resulting in the famous #kamitidaktakut internet sensation which means we are not afraid, a sense of solidarity among Indonesians to resist the terror. Daesh or known as Islamic State (IS) is currently expanding their influence beyond Middle East and North Africa towards Asian regions with strong ideological roots fighting for the return of Islamic Caliphate. Their attacks went continuously in 2016 throughout Europe and Asia, the group is known for spreading terror and grievance by utilizing these attacks and propaganda. One of the most viral propagandas was recently uploaded in youtube—a video based social media depicting dozen of young Indonesian and Malaysian children who were armed and told to ‘liberate’ their homelands.   

Another notorious terrorist group which identifies itself as Abu Sayyaf, located in Philippines, has been causing distress in the Southeast Asia region since 2004, the group spreads regional terror after the very recent case where the group kidnapped 7 Indonesian sailors last month and now 5 more Malaysian fishermen were abducted around Sulu, Philippines. The group had shown extreme gruesome hostility towards the government by sending visual threats through the act of beheading, it was  considered as obscenely brutal way when it is not done in one fell swoop of a sword, but with slashes and hacks from a hunting knife.

On the 36th ASEANPOL Conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated the importance of unity to fight off terror, in his speech he clearly mentioned “Daesh and its cruel, twisted ideology have no place in our peaceful, diverse, tolerant country and nor in our region,” he also condemned Abu Sayyaf and their recent abduction. The Prime Minister put on emphasis on the role of stronger ASEAN by taking example of Malaysia who had adapted the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act or Sosma; the Special Measures against Terrorism in Foreign Countries Act; the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the National Security Council, by implying these strong counterterrorism measure within Malaysia he had been facing many critics which questioned the government’s intentions yet he was unapologetic for the action that he took when it comes to the safety of the citizens. Similar reaction was shown by the newly elected President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, where he appointed the military to enhance the capability to search and engage the rogue and lawless elements, in his words, “the Armed Forces of the Philippines will be applied to crush these criminals who operate under the guise of religious fervor.”

The strong remark on the conference was dearly welcomed by the Russian federation whereas Moscow offered joint measures to diminish the number of militants arriving from Daesh, The idea was in line with Prime Minister Najib Razak mentioned, Russia will work together with ASEAN through mechanisms of our partnership, namely informal meetings of ASEAN defense ministers and talks of senior officials and sessions of the working group on counteracting terrorism and transnational crime. However on the foreign ministers meeting collaboration between ASEAN-United States was drawn, according to deputy’s spokesperson Mark Toner the detail of collaboration would be focusing on specific actions to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and ASEAN-US pledged their commitment to strengthen cooperation against terrorism and violent extremism.

The two initiations by the two influential countries exactly portray the dynamics of security in Southeast Asia, in one side as terrorist groups had been advancing themselves and connectivity among nations became vital in the context of tracking these groups down, yet in the other side the region has always been known as a strategic region, desirable by many for further security collaborations allowing flow of external parties from United States and Russia questioning the 1971 Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality declaration which was created to assure that there will be no interference  coming from outside powers. Razak and Duterte had been very vocal in showing their firm actions against these terrorist groups and suggesting others to tighten their military involvement in counterterrorism. Through these strong reactions ASEAN is given an opportunity to think about what Center for Strategic and International Studies, Rizal Sukma, mentioned in 2015 that ASEAN is not a security community, but rather a a security regime; without violating the sacred principle of non-interference. Will the current face of terror reformed the status quo driving ASEAN closer towards its ‘security community’ and ‘common internal enemy’ concept voiced by Professor Amitav Acharya in 1991? Either way the answer lies among the member states and whether or not they will concur.

Sea as Political Space under ASEAN’s Flag


The obscurity of ASEAN facing the South China Sea issue after the victory of the Philippines against China in the tribunal ruling showed the fragmented ASEAN. Various views criticized potential to rearrange ASEAN regional integration ended nil after the result of ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Vientiane, Laos. The meeting ended without a joint agreement by ASEAN member countries on the issue of the South China Sea. This situation indicates a declination of political relations between ASEAN countries within the framework of regional cooperation.

After the victory according to the result issued by the arbitral tribunal ruling, the Philippines energies a new approach for ASEAN to encourage the unification of ASEAN on the issue of the South China Sea during the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Laos. The initiative was presented by the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines as a step getting the international support towards ASEAN unity. The meeting was controversially reported that Cambodia and Laos refuse consensus in facing the South China Sea.

In fact, when referring to the release of a joint communique of the 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, all countries agreed to establish a network of communication between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in response to maritime emergencies in the South China Sea. Nevertheless, the strategic measures agreed upon has not shown the existence of a single perspective in dealing with China in the South China Sea. Two of the failure to agree on a joint communiqué in Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur should be seen as the culmination of the change of position of ASEAN on South China Sea.

Thus, the question would be how should the ASEAN member countries facing the South China Sea issue?

ASEAN needs to establish a new constructive approach on the sea and its significance for regional integration. Sea is not only to be treated as a material element that can be exploited, but also as a political space in which the action of appropriation can be performed. Reflecting on how the Chinese build a discourse on the importance of the South China Sea is not only to meet the substantive national interest, but also as a traditional element that must be protected.

In the context of Southeast Asia, Jennifer Gaynor argues that the political instrumentalization over sea space had already happened in Southeast Asia. It was firstly brought by the Javanese who are creating the concept of ‘Nusantara’ dividing them with outside party. However, this concept developed to serve ranging purposes from nation-building, national security, and territorial demarcation (Gaynor, 2007). Since the mid-twentieth century, the term Nusantara has become the synonym for tanah air. This period demonstrated how Majapahit empire used this term making appropriation against the Dutch who claimed to restore the glorious of “Indianized” states of Java’s pre-Islamic past (Gaynor, 2007). By giving such ‘spatial ideology’ is to serve the purpose of Javanese making exclusive space against other nations outside of Java Island. In the aftermath, the concept of Nusantara denotes a national space in 1940s. The contemporary Indonesian illustrated Nusantara as a group of islands located between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean or between the Asian mainland and Australia. For the last reason, in 1957, the Indonesia government reinvented the concept of Nusantara in order to prevent the regional rebellions, thus issuing a statement of national unity called the Djuanda Declaration. The additional purpose is that this declaration also includes all of the waters between Indonesia’s islands within a single connected body: manifesting the abstract geographical signifier.

Referring the context above, the ASEAN member countries should begin to consider sea as a political space that is significant to be maintained through the process of appropriation. Instead of just dwelling on the substantive level, ASEAN members need to realize the importance of the ideological claims of the sea as a political space.

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

Seeking a Common Ground

Feature - AMM

Source: Xinhua

By Habibah H. Hermanadi, Research Intern at ASEAN Studies Center UGM

At the end of the 2016 ASEAN regional summit all member states are looking forward to the joint declaration which will define ASEAN’s current stance as one unity, this one voice decision making process was seen as a way to assure unanimity within the forum. Once again the issue of South China Sea was brought into the table and causing internal schism. After Beijing rejected tribunal’s ruling in South China Sea earlier this month on 12th of July, the decision clearly stated that the permanent Court of Arbitration found that China had no basis for its expansive claims to territorial waters around the Philippines. Internal fragmentation within the meeting was not subtle as Cambodia publicly endorses China with their claim and China directly showed its gratitude towards Cambodia for taking charge of impartiality. The opposition shown by Cambodia was rather predictable considering what Prime Minister Hun Sen’s statement last year where he emphasized the importance of exclusive meeting only among the countries who are directly affected by the issues. In Vientiane, not until the 25th of July the draft statement to be issued by the foreign ministers under the clause of South China Sea was left blank, eventually a consensus was reached with all parties agreeing to refer back to UNCLOS code of conduct.

The utterance given by the arbitration tribunal supposedly helps to resolve disputes; the result is upholding the law and clarifies the stance of the parties. Regardless how Beijing had vowed to ignore the legally binding ruling, the decision by the tribunal became the principal assurance not only for the Philippines but also Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam where if the claim was invalid for the Philippines it is equally invalid to other states and the rest of the international community.

The current chair of ASEAN, Laos, was expected to steer the negotiation in order to draw a equitable result for all of the state members. As the current chair Laos’ involvement and intervention were paramount in preventing another failure from getting into consensual joint statement, presumably a compromised stance is what the forum aimed for yet the current result shown that the declaration merely touch the surface of the conflict. To negotiate and stand against China was considered to be a delicate issue and could be detrimental for Laos’ domestic needs considering that People’s Republic of China is still Laos‘crucial economic partners. By the end of the summit, the joint declaration some considered as fruitful is causing doubts because it is perceived as bland and inconclusive. There are still high hopes upon the current Prime Minister of Laos, Thongloun Sisoulith as his internationalist perspective shapes the current Laos foreign policy architecture. In line with Laos’ theme of “Turning Vision Into Reality for a Dynamic ASEAN Community.” this summit was the key for all the partaking actors to actually come up with tangible outcomes, a ‘reality’ deemed and visualized by Laos as the chair of ASEAN. Nevertheless, the pressure was rather high for Laos as it sources from both ASEAN’s side and China. Laos should be able to make the best out of its current leadership position yet at the same time anticipate further fragmentation coming out of this year’s summit.

Naturally, this summit was the reflection of where has ASEAN brought itself into, whether or not its progress up until 2016 had fulfilled what the region envisioned and what will they do next. The region itself must be able to discuss sensitive issues which are occurring within the region yet at the same time strengthen the cooperation and examine the ongoing integration process. Inevitably external influences are flooding ASEAN’s decision making process, despite of the status quo it is important to stay as one or else ASEAN will be leaving up rooms for disintegration. Not to repeat the 2012 debacle which caused seeds of discord ASEAN must be able to step up their diplomatic strategy, acknowledging what this region capable of and upping their ante with stronger bargaining position. As the summit continues that desirable tangible conclusion must be able to represent a sense of common ground among ASEAN state members.


After Tsunami: ASEAN Reborn?


Mohammad Hazyar Arumbinang, Intern staff ASEAN Studies Center UGM.

A powerful Indian Ocean earthquake was constructed on December 26, 2004, with the epicenter off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The shock had a moment magnitude of 9.1-9.3. It caused the massive giant waves devastated thousands of communities along the coastline of the Indian Ocean. More than 240,000 people were killed. Tens of thousands went missing and are presumed dead, and more than a million people were displaced. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. [1] The plight of the affected people and countries prompted a worldwide humanitarian emergency response. As part of commitment towards a partnership with local and global cooperation, especially the catastrophic involves the loss of many lives and beyond the capacity of the affected state to recover the conditions of the disaster-affected community and the environment. It just like wake up call for all human around the world. In all, the worldwide community donated more than US$ 14 billion in humanitarian aid.

The Tsunami was calculated has affected 14 countries around Southeast Asia area. Four Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries: Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia including Sri Lanka and India are the most affected state during the catastrophic event. Considering the ASEAN members were not willing to give up sovereignty rights at any level of the corporation, then how the ASEAN respond the international humanitarian assistance during emergency response? Does “ASEAN Way” still remain during the crisis?


Back to 29 June 1976, during an ASEAN meeting in Manila, the “ASEAN Declaration on Mutual Assistance on Natural Disaster” was signed. It was agreed to provide a catastrophe-stricken country was supposed to designate a national government agency acting as an internal coordinating body. [2]  Yet the declaration failed to call for a central institution that could have organized an ASEAN-wide relief effort. Meanwhile, in August 1997, huge forest fires on the island of Borneo caused immense air pollution in wide parts of the region. Consequently, ASEAN set up a “Regional Haze Action Plan”. Again, the country failed to adopt and implement a national haze prevention plan. From the series, ASEAN has failed to establish a fundamental framework on mutual cooperation disaster management and unsuccessful to play their role to manage the disaster within ASEAN areas. Reflecting on those fact, does ASEAN still has a serious commitment?


In the early morning, the widespread international community has been there in various host state and giving disaster relief as an international humanitarian mission. On that moment, the Southeast Asia seems like clearly borderless due to the crisis. The national sovereignty of the host state put a side but still respected during the disaster emergency response.

On January 6th, 2005, during the tsunami aftermath meeting, the ASEAN leaders issued a “Declaration on Action to Strengthen Emergency Relief, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, and Prevention: On the Aftermath of the Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster of 26 December 2004”. They expressed their condolences and solidarity. They stated that the tsunami disaster calls for “global response” and appreciated the vast international help received. In order to prevent such a disaster in future, the ASEAN leaders declared their will to extend their regional mechanisms on disaster prevention and mitigation. This was to be done by training military and civilian personnel in disaster relief operations, as determined in the “ASEAN Security Community Plan of Action “.

Further, they stated their aim to put the “ASEAN Disaster Information Sharing and Communication Network” into action as provided for in the “ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Component of the Vientiane Action Program”. Following this case, the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) was signed in July 2005 and has been entered into force on 24 December 2009 [3]. ASEAN member countries also led the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 59/279 of 19 January 2005 to strengthen emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and prevention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster. The series efforts, led strengthening the ASEAN commitment for cooperation, coordination, technical assistance, and resource mobilization in all aspects of disaster management.

Finally, we have seen ASEAN playing an important role in preparing the disaster management due to minimizing the loss. It implies that ASEAN needs a massive crisis and devastating event to waking up the awareness of the community (ASEAN) in humanitarian issue.

[1] East-West Center, 2005, After The Tsunami: Human Rights of Vulnerable Populations, Berkeley: University of California Press.

[2] Gentner, heide Haruyo, “ASEAN: Cooperative disaster relief after the tsunami”, Journal of current Southeast Asian affairs, Volume XXIV, 2006.

[3] Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 2013, “ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Response (AADMER) Work Programme 2010-2015 (4th Reprint)”, accessed on April 20, 2016 at 09:54 AM.

FCTC and Tobacco Control Policies in Southeast Asia: the “Special” Case of Indonesia

Feature - Tobacco

Andika Putra, Research Intern at ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada

Tobacco is one of the greatest emerging health disasters in human history[1], it’s generally use among the poor and increasing among girls.[2] In 2014, almost 20% or about 121 million of the adult ASEAN population are the smokers and it is potentially increase every year. As it is known, the harms of smoking are global in scope and one of the main cause of non-communicable disease. Moreover, Indonesia is one of the state which has the highest number of smokers in the world. By referring to the data above, ASEAN states must act multilaterally to repel this global threat to public health.

Actually, in 2002, Southeast Asia Governments has agreed to eradicate the number of smoker through the 6th Health Ministers Meeting, ASEAN governments committed to a vision and a “Regional Action Plan on Healthy ASEAN Lifestyles”. Identifying tobacco control as one of the priority policy areas, the Action Plan calls upon member nations to implement a Program of Work on promoting healthy ASEAN lifestyles[3]. For tobacco control policies this includes developing and implementing a national action plan in each states, in line with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).

Primarily, the WHO FCTC is the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO and provides a new legal dimension for International health cooperation. It was adopted by the World Health Assembly on 21 May 2003 and entered into force on 27 February 2005. As an international treaty, the FCTC can be used as a standard to measure whether states are fulfilling their obligations derived from the right to health, as they exist under international human rights law, because it is regulating the control of tobacco consumption demand and controlling supply of cigarettes.

Furthermore, in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is the one and only state which did not ratify the FCTC, along with other states namely Andorra, Eriteria, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Monaco, Somalia, the Dominican Republic and South Sudan.[4]. This reluctance may be explained by a fear that implementing the treaty’s content would damage the tobacco industry, which is considered an important source of income and employment[5]. Whereas, the FCTC plays an essential role in connecting the ASEAN states member to act multilaterally to repel this global threat, because as a part of regional organization which agreed to implement a “Regional Action Plan on Healthy ASEAN Lifestyles”, Indonesia did not ratify the WHO-FCTC that become the main legal instrument as the guideline to reach the objectives of the regional action plan. Finally, one of the strategic measures for tobacco control in Southeast Asia is through the ratification of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control by the Indonesia. It is not only to fulfill and protect the right to health of the citizen but also through this ratification Indonesia show their commitment to support tobacco control policies in the region.

– – –

[1] WHO, WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, Geneva: WHO, 2008
[2] Institute of Medicine, Promoting Cardiovascular Health in the Developing World: A Critical Challenge to Achieve Global Health (Washington, D.C.: National Academic Press, 2010), p.73
[3] SEATCA ASEAN Tobacco Control Report, Jakarta: ASEAN, 2014
[4], accessed 7 am, May, 17th 2016
[5] Simon Barraclough and Martha Morrow,  The political economy of tobacco and poverty alleviation in Southeast Asia: contradictions in the role of the state, IUHPE – Global Health Promotion Supp (1) 2010, p.45


Year of Laos: Queries for the New ASEAN Chair


Habibah Hermanadi, Intern Staff ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada

The role of ASEAN chairmanship will be held in the hands of Laos in 2016; despite the fact that it is not the first time the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to hold the role as the chair of ASEAN since 2004 questions still arose due the fact that conditions had shifted as the global political course had changed. It is perceivable since ASEAN had ratified new treaties, the dynamics of states had been refined according new pillars and agreements among state members and Laos had changed within the last decade. Many deemed Lao’s leadership will bring significant changes for the region but there are also others who query this particular leadership turnover.

As ASEAN gradually walk towards a more human rights oriented path by creating an identity which could cohesively represent its community, Laos has been seen unfit to represent such agenda, recent case would be reflected from Laos who has been unresponsive in regard to 80 human rights recommendations by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (Amnesty International, 2015). And instead it is visible that international pressures to improve transparency and protect human rights have only reinforced the government’s resolve to suppress public and political opposition. More importantly media has limited freedom when it comes to dealing with Laos (Hunt, 2016), as the existence of draconian media monitoring laws with the country’s current role as the 2016 ASEAN Chair; the laws have potentials to constrain international reporting on important transnational issues discussed at ASEAN meetings and conferences (Sims, 2016)

However, as part of the integration initiatives this landlocked country might serve a fresh perspective for the rest of the other ASEAN member states. Thongloun Sisoulith declared it not long ago prior to his appointment as Prime Minister of Laos that the top priorities for Laos’ chairmanship are narrowing the development gaps between member states, promoting connectivity by promoting small and midsize enterprises. Under this chairmanship Sisoulith emphasized the need to improve trade facilitation, encourage more subsistence workers to enter the formal economy, and step up efforts to preserve and promote ASEAN’s cultural heritage (Chongkittavor, 2016). It cannot be eluded the fact that Laos was the one who pushed a successful joint declaration on the basis of ASEAN during the United States-ASEAN Summit last February hosted by Barrack Obama, That document will serve as the foundation for stronger ASEAN-U.S. cooperation in the years to come, tangible progress on advancing the U.S.-ASEAN relationship a step further from November 2015, when the United States and ASEAN elevated their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership and laid out a concrete plan of action to implement it out to 2020 (Prameswaran, 2016).

Laos has show its potential in balancing how ASEAN should steer itself among the superpowers, as another interest shown by another contending actor in the ground known as the South China Sea, we cannot outlook People’s Republic of China as the largest trading partner of Laos and perceptible role among the ASEAN state members, most importantly China’s diplomatic approach had been fully committed in gradually courting smaller countries in ASEAN mainly Brunei, Laos, and Cambodia (Johnson, 2016). Laos will also have to stand its ground to be the chair the ASEAN aspired to be in positioning itself facing the ongoing negotiation between Trans Pacific Partnership and Regional Economic Cooperation Partnership which had sparked the interest of other member states, Laos can navigate the issues relating to overlapping maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea and the rise of China and its increasingly competitive rivalry with the US rebalance in Asia (Vilavong, 2016). Yet under this chairmanship whichever the institution leaned itself towards ASEAN must not to neglect the core of ASEAN Economic Community and its extension due in 2025.

Amidst the internal human rights inside of Laos’ political regime and inherent fragmentation within the ASEAN itself the new set of chairmanship must be able to attain the integration which is the main aim of ASEAN. If the agenda of gap elimination could be fulfilled as it was mentioned by Sisoulith the next step for deepening the integration and acquiring an ASEAN standard would seem near foreseeable future. Laos’ new leadership must be able to answer some difficult questions and challenges regionally and internationally. Will Laos be capable of hosting the ASEAN summit and related meetings? The AEC aspects of being ASEAN Chair have increased significantly since the last time Laos held position as chair, as have the Political-Security and Socio-Cultural community aspects.  Such responsibilities, along with the logistical burdens that would come with having two ASEAN Summits in 2016, led Laos to propose having the two summits mandated by the ASEAN Charter on a back-to-back basis in November 2016, effectively resulting in a single meeting (Sim, 2015). Laos has a whole year to prove itself as these meetings hold the key of uniting ASEAN’s states members in facing external influences and balancing their powers in the region.

Photo source

Amnesty International. (2015). Laos 2015/2016. Retrieved May 09, 2016, from
Chongkittavorn, K. (2016, May 05). Kavi Chongkittavorn: Laos' new leader faces big challenges -- at home and as ASEAN chief. Retrieved May 9, 2016, from
Hunt, L. (2016, April 03). What If They Gave an ASEAN Summit and the Media Failed to Turn Up? Retrieved May 09, 2016, from
Johnson, J. (2016, May 1). Beijing launches charm offensive ahead of South China Sea court ruling | The Japan Times. Retrieved May 09, 2016, from
Sim, E. (2015, June 10). Can Laos Lead ASEAN in 2016? Retrieved May 09, 2016, from
Sims, K. (2016, April 15). Is Laos' ASEAN Chairmanship a Threat to Southeast Asian Regionalism? Retrieved May 09, 2016, from
Prameswaran, P. (2016, February 11). Why the US-ASEAN Sunnylands Summit Matters. Retrieved May 09, 2016, from
Vilavong, B. (2016, May 07). ASEAN needs Laos' leadership. Retrieved May 09, 2016, from

ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution: The Indonesian Commitment

jokowi asap

Andika Putra, Intern staff at ASEAN Studies Center UGM

Indonesia has finally ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) on September 2014. After 12 years, the ratification was done following a discussion by a plenary session of the House of Representatives Attended by parliamentary members, as well as some Ministers.  The decision of the plenary session marked the beginning of a new stage in the Indonesian leadership for the prevention and control of land or forest fires at the ASEAN regional level[1]

As it known, transboundary haze pollution is considered one of the major problems in the ASEAN region. Moreover, Indonesia is one of the major sources of the haze pollution in the Southeast Asia. The pollution which is caused by human activities in burning land/forest for plantation and/or agriculture does not stopping at national borders only, but also causing transboundary pollution to the neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore[2]. The origins of the Agreement trace back to the regional haze crisis of 1997. In that year, Southeast Asia faced an environmental catastrophe that led to “unprecedented health and financial damages” throughout the region[3].

Thus, the importance of Indonesia’s ratification can be seen in its willingness to officially join the regional effort to address the issue[4], by ratify this agreement Indonesia recognize the issue of haze pollution not only become the domestic issue, but also the ASEAN problem that have to be solved together in line with the other members. The benefits of ratification to Indonesia and ASEAN should be enough to overcome the haze pollution. These benefits include greater coordination among the parties in addressing the transboundary haze originating in Indonesia by facilitating the spread of information and by allowing Indonesia to shape the Agreement based on its experiences as the only major source state in the region. These benefits are not limited to the current problem; they will also apply in the future when other states become source states

Furthermore, through this ratification Indonesia show their commitment to solve the haze pollution. Even, the ratification of the Agreement may not eliminate the transboundary haze pollution immediately, because AATHP is only a legal framework for cooperation and does not address important technical issues. Ultimately, additional initiative is needed to determine how countries will work together to exchange information and expertise and it can bring all the stakeholders together to facilitate a more lasting solution than they would otherwise be able to reach on their own.

Now, all ASEAN members have ratified the AATHP. Thus, it is unlikely that the ratification will quickly lead to a mitigation of haze pollution. But at least all ASEAN member states have now officially agreed that haze pollution is not a domestic problem but, rather a regional problem that have to be solved together, and Indonesia has to put their concern on how to deal with the haze pollution, not only by ratify the AATHP, but also deal with their own domestic matter, such as law enforcement and other matter related to the solution of haze pollution.

[1]  Anonymous (2014, September 16). Indonesia ratifies ASEAN agreement on transboundary haze pollution. Retrieved April 28, 2016, from < agreement-on-transboundary-haze-pollution>
[2] Yordan Gunawan, “Transboundary Haze Pollution in the Perspective of International Law of State Responsibility”, Fakultas Hukum, Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta
[3] Jerger, David B. , Jr. “Indonesia’s Role in Realizing the Goals of ASEAN’s Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.” Sustainable Development Law & Policy 14, no. 1 (2014). p.40
[4] Heilmann, Daniel (2015), After Indonesia’s Ratification: The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution and Its Effectiveness As a Regional Environmental Governance Tool, in: Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 34, 3, 95–121
Photo source:

ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) dan Dialog Antar-Agama: Sebuah Tinjuauan Kritis

Dedi Dinarto, Asisten Riset Pusat Kajian ASEAN UGM

Berakhirnya tahun 2015 menjadi titik awal bagi integrasi masyarakat ASEAN yang menekankan aspek ‘people-centered’ sebagai fokus baru di kawasan. Beberapa dokumen ASEAN telah memasukkan istilah ini dengan tujuan agar program-program yang diimplementasikan tidak hanya berorientasi pada pembangunan negara, akan tetapi juga melibatkan masyarakat dalam proses integrasi. Merespon hal tersebut, ASCC dibentuk guna memberi celah partisipasi dan manfaat bagi masyarakat, berkelanjutan, kuat, dan dinamis. Namun, hingga saat ini, terminologi ‘komunitas’ ini tidak diletakkan senyatanya untuk mengatasi permasalahan sosial. Di sisi yang lain, ASCC hanya merupakan pelengkap untuk meningkatkan sentimen dan mobilisasi tenaga kerja di kawasan. Maka dari itu, perlu ada kajian untuk melihat sejauh mana ASCC benar-benar merangkul konteks ‘komunitas’.

Berhubungan dengan isu sosial, artikel ini akan mengangkat pentingnya dialog antar-agama dalam menciptakan masyarakat ASEAN yang harmonis dan rukun. Kondisi nyata menggambarkan bahwa konflik antar-agama kerap terjadi di Asia Tenggara. Misalnya, konflik antara umat Islam dan Kristen di Indonesia, umat Buddha dan Islam Patani di Thailand, umat Buddha dan Islam Rohingya di Myanmar, umat Islam Mindanao dan Kristen Katolik di Filipina, dan sebagainya. Untuk itu, keberadaan ini tidak seharusnya dipandang hanya sebagai keberagaman semata, akan tetapi perlu untuk disusun dalam konteks pluralistik yang mengakomodasi eksistensi dari seluruh agama.

Kendati demikian, pembahasan ini perlu untuk digiring pada beberapa pertanyaan lanjutan, yakni sejauh mana ASCC telah menjamin toleransi antar-agama, dan bagaimana seharusnya masyarakat berperan dalam memperkuat agenda dialog antar-agama?

Membaca Relevansi ASCC
Pembentukan ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) diinisiasi sebagai upaya untuk menciptakan suasana bagi setiap orang, agar merasa sebagai bagian dari masyarakat ASEAN, dan mencari jalan keluar atas permasalahan sosial yang cukup kompleks di kawasan. Turunan dari dua tujuan ini telah dijabarkan di dalam Cetak Biru ASCC 2025 secara detail guna menciptakan masyarakat ASEAN yang inklusif, berkelanjutan, kuat, dan dinamis. ASCC juga secara spesifik menaruh perhatian pada isu toleransi, pemahaman, dan penghormatan sebagai bentuk penyesuaian terhadap multikulturalisme dalam salah satu tolak ukur strategis, yakni ‘Menuju ASEAN yang Adaptif dan Terbuka’. Dengan kata lain, ASCC berupaya untuk menjamin adanya keharmonisan dalam masyarakat ASEAN.

Di dalam Cetak Biru ASCC 2025, salah satu isu yang dianggap penting guna menciptakan masyarakat ASEAN yang terbuka dan adaptif adalah isu antaragama. Isu ini dianggap penting guna mendorong adanya budaya toleransi, pemahaman, penghormatan terhadap agama, dan dialog antar-agama. Menurut David Burrell, dialog antar-agama adalah sebuah upaya menciptakan jalan baru untuk memahami diri sendiri dan orang lain sehingga dapat menciptakan jalur persahabatan dan apresiasi antar umat beragama (Burrell, 2004:196). Sebagai salah satu ikhtiar untuk saling bertukar pengetahuan dan pemahaman antara agama yang satu dengan yang lainnya, dialog antar-agama kerap diselenggarakan dengan melibatkan berbagai tokoh agama guna menghindari misinterpretasi. Dengan kata lain, upaya pluralistik ini diadakan untuk mereduksi konflik antar agama. Pada titik ini, ASCC telah menjamin adanya peluang untuk memperkuat isu antar agama sebagai salah satu penyokong terciptanya keharmonisan di ASEAN.

Dalam segi implementasi, poin mengenai isu antaragama telah diupayakan jauh sebelum dipublikasinya Cetak Biru ASCC oleh Indonesia. Wujud komitmen Indonesia untuk melaksanakan poin dalam ASCC tersebut adalah dengan menjadi tuan rumah pertama penyelenggara Bali Interfaith Dialogue di bawah Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). Tidak hanya itu, pasca penyelenggaraan, Indonesia menetapkan inisiatif untuk membangun International Center for Religious and Cultural Cooperation (The Jogja Center). Di sisi yang lain, Filipina juga menunjukkan komitmennya dengan menjadi tuan rumah ketujuh untuk forum internasional yang sama. Kelebihan dari penyelenggaraan di Manila adalah adanya rancangan pra-acara yang melibatkan tokoh agama berusia muda untuk berdiskusi dan berdialog. Melalui dua penyelenggaraan ini, Manila lebih menunjukkan adanya keterlibatan masyarakat secara komprehensif dalam isu dialog antar-agama, sedangkan Indonesia hanya diwakili oleh representasi negara.

Namun, dalam konteks ini, persoalan isu antaragama masih berada dalam penanganan pemerintah. Pengadaan fora dialog antar-agama cenderung berkesan eksklusif dan tidak melibatkan kelompok-kelompok lain yang tergolong ‘radikal’. Padahal, di sisi yang lain, isu sosial semacam ini juga menjadi tanggung jawab masyarakat sebagai komunitas ASEAN. Masyarakat sebagai elemen terdekat yang melingkupi hubungan antar-agama dapat dimanfaatkan sebagai jalur untuk tidak hanya sekadar membangun, namun juga memperkuat agenda dialog antar-agama. Di tingkat yang berbeda, hal ini juga dapat mendorong pemaknaan terhadap terminologi ‘komunitas’ dalam ASCC 2025.

Mematahkan Paradigma ‘Elite-Driven’
Dalam teori hegemoni kultural, Antonio Gramsci menjelaskan bahwa dalam sebuah struktur masyarakat, terdapat dua golongan yang dibagi sesuai tingkatannya, yakni elite dan massa. Gramsci membangun konsep masyarakat modern, dimana elit ditempatkan pada bagian atas sementara massa  pada bagian bawah, yang sarat dengan dominasi kelas atas terhadap kelas bawah. Ia mengatakan hal itu sebagai hegemoni. Namun, menurutnya, tatanan semacam ini seharusnya dapat dilawan dengan melihat pada potensi massa sebagai intelektual organik. Dengan begitu, konfigurasi hubungan antara elit dan massa dapat diubah melalui dekonstruksi tatanan tersebut.

Demikian pula, dalam beragam diskursus, integrasi ASEAN cenderung dipandang sebagai sebuah proses penyatuan negara-negara yang berbasis pada intervensi elit. Dirunut dari visi dan misinya, rancangan integrasi ASEAN yang meletakkan kerjasama ekonomi sebagai tujuan utama harus diikuti oleh situasi politik yang stabil di tingkat nasional maupun regional. Dengan begitu, kontrol politik dan dominasi pemerintah adalah konsekuensi logis, dimana pemerintahan yang otoriter mulai berkuasa pasca Perang Dingin.

Namun, implementasi agenda Komunitas ASEAN 2015 di kawasan, dan relevansi mengenai dominasi pemerintah mulai dipertanyakan ketika krisis ekonomi melanda wilayah Asia Tenggara. Di saat yang sama, perluasan jaringan masyarakat dalam bentuk kerjasama antar lembaga swadaya masyarakat (LSM), aktivis, dan stakeholders lainnya mulai intensif dikerjakan oleh masyarakat. Beberapa LSM yang aktif dalam isu antar-agama, antara lain Asia Pacific Interfaith Network yang menaruh perhatian pada isu antar-agama di kawasan ASEAN, Asian Resource Foundation yang mendirikan kantor di wilayah Myanmar dan Thailand, dan International Center for Law and Religion Studies yang bekerja sama secara intensif dengan Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) dan Coalition of Indonesian NGOs for International Human Rights Advocacy di Asia Tenggara. Paling tidak, hal ini menunjukkan tumbuhnya kesadaran kelas di tingkat massa terhadap kegagalan pemerintah negara ASEAN dalam menangani persoalan antar-agama. Maka dari itu, momentum ini patut dilihat sebagai modal untuk menginisiasi dekonstruksi tatanan pemerintahan yang cenderung solid dan kaku.

Pentingnya Kebebasan Berpendapat
Dalam tataran linguistik, untuk membangun sebuah wacana yang berkaitan dengan isu-isu sosial, tidak terkecuali isu antar-agama, maka setiap individu atau kelompok perlu berdialog guna membaca ulang titik singgung di antara perbedaan yang ada. Upaya dialektis ini cenderung dikemas dalam bentuk diskusi guna mencapai inter-subjektivitas (kesepakatan antara subjek-subjek terhadap nilai tertentu). Namun, jika berbincang soal kebebasan berpendapat di ASEAN, maka sesungguhnya kebebasan berpendapat merupakan persoalan krusial untuk dibahas.

Untuk mendorong adanya dialog antar-agama yang intensif di wilayah Asia Tenggara adalah tantangan besar bagi masyarakat di negara-negara semidemokratis atau monarki, seperti Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Singapura, Brunei Darussalam, Kamboja, dan Vietnam. Kekuasaan mutlak yang dipegang oleh pemerintah cenderung membatasi ruang gerak masyarakat, sehingga kesadaran intelektual yang muncul pun tidak dapat berkembang menjadi suatu political force yang memadai. Tanpa adanya political force, maka pewacanaan mengenai pentingnya dialog antar-agama guna mencegah terjadinya konflik di tingkat nasional akan sangat sulit diadvokasikan.

Namun, di sisi yang lain, sebagai salah satu negara yang telah menaruh perhatian besar pada isu antar-agama, Indonesia memiliki potensi untuk menjadi promotor penguatan dialog antar-agama di tingkat regional. Diwakili oleh AM Fachir, sebagai Wakil Menteri Luar Negeri Indonesia, ia berpendapat bahwa dialog antar-agama perlu diintensifkan untuk menghindarkan munculnya berbagai konflik yang bersinggungan erat dengan agama. Tidak hanya itu, munculnya LSM yang bergerak di bidang antar-agama, seperti Institute for Interfaith Dialogue in Indonesia (Interfidei) menjadi bukti kuatnya komitmen untuk mencari solusi atas permasalahan isu agama di Indonesia. Meskipun demikian, hal ini tidak secara keseluruhan meniadakan konflik antar-agama di Indonesia.

Pada titik ini, perlu adanya kesadaran untuk memanfaatkan jaringan-jaringan antar-agama yang telah terbentuk sebagai titik awal. Keterlibatan dalam fora semacam ini dapat memberi kontribusi ide kepada masyarakat di negara semi-demokratis atau absolut mengenai kebebasan berpendapat. Dengan kata lain, masyarakat tidak lagi mengandalkan pemerintah untuk belajar memahami ide-ide mengenai kebebasan dan toleransi yang relevan dengan tujuan menciptakan keharmonisan di tingkat negara dan regional. Di saat yang bersamaan, LSM dan aktivis dapat memanfaatkan kondisi ini untuk memperluas jaringan kerjasama.

Maka dari itu, dapat disimpulkan bahwa ASCC telah memberikan fondasi bagi pengupayaan toleransi antar-agama di dalam Cetak Biru ASCC 2025. Namun, hal ini masih berada dalam kendali pemerintah, dimana tidak ada penjaminan secara mutlak atas solusi terhadap permasalahan antar-agama yang ada. Di sisi yang lain, masyarakat perlu untuk membangun kesadaran agar tidak terjebak dalam kondisi ‘elite-driven’ dengan cara membentuk dan atau memanfaatkan jaringan antaragama yang telah bekerja. Dengan begitu, penguatan masyarakat untuk mendorong upaya dialog antaragama di kawasan dapat tercapai.

(Artikel ini sudah dipublikasikan dalam Newsletter Interfidei Edisi Juli-Desember 2015.)

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Japan-Philippines Defense Pact May Worsen South China Sea Tension


Dedi Dinarto, Research Assistant at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada

On February 29, 2016, the signing of a defense pact between Japan and the Philippines confirmed as a strategic security partnership that does not refer to any context or circumstance, instead for increasing defense equipment supply. In the news reported by The Jakarta Post (re: Japan signs pact to supply defense equipment to Philippines), Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin stated that this move is not against certain country instead of strengthening security cooperation as both the US allies. However, this momentum should be seen beyond the mere statement that the signing of such a defense pact could exacerbate the situation in the South China Sea.

Under the reign of Xi, China’s foreign policy has been directed for the active participation and involvement at the international level. Xi’s diplomatic mapping orientation showing the possibility to override the status-quo by putting national interests as the main objectives at the global level, and take the geopolitical role that focuses on Asia.

In other words, he tries to show that China is able to become a revisionist power that does not merely consider and follow the American-driven international political structure instead of reorganizing international politics based on China’s national interests.

National security as one of the agenda prioritized by China has to be seen interestingly. Closely related to the modernization of the military that carried and operated since 2000 until today, there is a reason why such modernization needs to be done. The importance of military modernization cannot be separated from the trajectory of China as an international victim of foreign invasion. Through this historical reflection, Xi in his speech underlined the importance of carrying the national security against every external intervention.


Both the Philippines and Japan are parties to the border dispute with China in the South China Sea and East China Sea. History proves that the conflict between China and the Philippines has been initiated since the incident of Cloma at Itu Aba Island in 1956. In fact, in the historical trajectory, the Philippines has experienced an economic embargo at that time China strictly prohibited the import of bananas as a valuable commodity from the Philippines. To date, both governments still insist on unilateral claim to the Spratly Islands regardless the initiative of the Philippines to invite China’s complying on the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s dispute mechanism process.

On the other hand, the rising tension between China and Japan related to the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is also experiencing the same conditions without any significant resolution. Each of these countries consider that the area is not included in the boundaries that fall into dispute. However, military contacts between China and Japan are common. The latest data revealed 117 cases of military contacts between the two countries jet aircraft in the third quarter of 2015. This issue remains the main reason why the political tensions between the two countries cannot be resolved easily.

However, both the status of the Philippines and Japan as US allies may worsen dispute. In the context of the South China Sea, relations between China and the US were strained when the US conducted freedom of navigation (FONOPs) in the South China Sea. Allegations that the Chinese claims made about sovereignty is disputed by the United States Navy as a form of blaming international maritime law. In this case, the US puts real deprecation rejecting of the island reclamation project and the militarization of the South China Sea by China. Under these conditions, China may appears to look at the ‘triangle cooperation’ of US-Japan-Philippines as a threat to the stability of the region as well as the intervention for China’s long-projection structure to change world politics.

At least, there are two ways to find a resolution amidst high tension in the South China Sea. Firstly, China should communicate to external party about the real intention of island reclamation. It cannot be neglected that the rising tension in South China Sea is basically determined by lack of communication between disputed and external parties.

Secondly, both US and China has to enforce the strategic security cooperation in order to reduce the skepticism from both side’s indistinguishable intention.

Thirdly, the needs of recalling ASEAN as a regional platform. The ASEAN member states should make clear their perspective towards China’s aggressiveness. Not only put concern under every ASEAN’s statement, but also establishing real initiative for resolution reviewing the significant progress of Marty Natalegawa’s initiative on the South China Sea Code of Conduct.

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