Whither ASEAN Centrality?

Protests against Chinese claims to territory in the South China Sea continued in Hanoi on Sunday, unimpeded by Vietnamese authorities. European Pressphoto Agency. Wall Street Journal

Protests against Chinese claims to territory in the South China Sea continued in Hanoi on Sunday, unimpeded by Vietnamese authorities. European Pressphoto Agency. Wall Street Journal

Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar, Research Assistant at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada

The South China Sea dispute has been the main focus of this year’s ASEAN summit, which was held twice under Myanmar’s leadership. In a joint statement at the 24th and 25th ASEAN Summit, ASEAN leaders have expressed concerns over increased tension in South China Sea and further urged all parties to exercise restraint and avoid using ‘hard approach’ to deal with this problem.

Indonesia’s position is quite unique. Arif Havas Oegroseno has stated, at his articles, that Indonesia has no business in the South China Sea dispute and many observer’s endorsement to make Indonesia getting involved in this issue were misleading. However, Indonesia cannot avoid the conflict if the tension is raising, since it will heavily affect the regional security.

Former President Yudhoyono and Joko Widodo responded this issue in different manner. President Yudhoyono addressed the need of strengthening ASEAN Political Security Community at to handle security threats in the future. He spoke that ASEAN Community will be able to respond to those challenges without taking military actions.

However, Jokowi, without directly pointing to the South China Sea, spoke that maritime cooperation will be a priority on Indonesia’s foreign policy under his leadership.


The ‘China Threat’?

What happened in this year’s summit and the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting reflects the rise of ‘China threat’ among ASEAN member states. China has long placed its interests in Southeast Asia, given its geopolitical proximity.

Among the most prominent Chinese interest is the South China Sea. Geo-economically this sea provides oil and gas reserves as well as Islands. As of 2012, China controls several Islands around the sea, which leads to territorial disputes.

This decade witness a growing tension between China and several ASEAN member states over the sea. Vietnam is the most prominent state who has been in confrontation with China over the sea, along with the Philippines who has another problem.

We can interpret this South China Sea problem in two perspectives. Firstly, territorial dispute between China and ASEAN reflects China’s attempt to construct hegemony in Southeast Asia. By challenging several ASEAN Member States in the sea dispute, China will be able to define who are ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ based on Bejing-defined national interest.

Secondly, the territorial dispute also reflects ASEAN’s lack of ‘common identity’ that leads to the absence of ASEAN single approach to deal with the problem. Although there has been the notion of ‘ASEAN Centrality’ in many talks on ASEAN Regionalism, in fact any issues were responded by each state’s foreign policy.

Since long time ago, ASEAN has failed to address many regional issues that involve external actors. This is not only happened South China Sea dispute. So far ASEAN was absence in many intraregional disputes, such as Thai-Cambodia or Indonesia-Malaysia border disputes.

Thus, within this perspective, South China Sea problem is in fact reflects ASEAN’s inability to solve political problems. Even though it has been widely criticized because of the more complex problem in the region, ASEAN’s quiet attitude towards conflict has found its root on the ‘ASEAN Way’ particularly the ‘non-interference’ norm which respects ASEAN member state’s souvereignty.

It is true that ‘non-interference’ norm can avoid can protect the souvereign rights of ASEAN Member States in managing their domestic environment. However, with the rising tension in South China Sea between China and the Philippines, the relevance of this norm in shaping ASEAN’s relations with other external forces shall be brought into question.

To this extent, we can raise a question: how can ASEAN resolve such political conflicts with ‘non-interference’ norms, while China and other political forces seemed to be more expansionists these days?

I argue that ASEAN should ease its ‘statist’ position over several serious international problems. It is important not to overemphasize the ‘non-interference’ norm when dealing with such problems that threaten regional environment. So far non-interference norm has proven to be an obstacle in dispute settlement in ASEAN, including in South China Sea.

In accordance to President Yudhoyono’s endorsement of ASEAN Political Security Community as main card to deal with international problems, it is important for ASEAN to create a more progressive foreign policy approach that directs every negotiation with external forces.


Bringing ‘ASEAN Centrality’ Back In

ASEAN Political Security blueprint (2009-2015) has stated that ASEAN seeks to strengthen ASEAN proactive role and centrality in a regional architecture that is open, transparent and inclusive while remaining actively engaged, forward-looking, and non-discriminatory.

To this extent, ASEAN should be regarded in the future as a regional institution, not only a group of state in region, thus bringing a more strategic approach to open dialogue and negotiation with other external forces. In this sense, ASEAN needs a specific foreign policy doctrine that can strategically respond challenges regional and international problems.

Thus, ‘ASEAN Centrality’ shall be recalled in order to minimize the conflict. Bringing the ‘ASEAN Centrality’ back in means that ASEAN shall have a more flexible approach to deal with regional issues and ASEAN member states shall involve regional institutios or norms to deal with this problem. On the other words, ASEAN need a ‘common foreign policy’ to deal with South China Sea issue.

There have been many approaches that can be transformed into a more progressive foreign policy approach in ASEAN. For example, in 1990s, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan embraced ‘flexible engagement’ concept as a formula in managing ASEAN’s relations with other states. This concept was rejected –because some states feel that ASEAN should not tamper its non-interference rule— but is in fact more progressive than the traditional ‘ASEAN Way’ approach.

Surin’s proposal, at that time, was to include ASEAN in any negotiations that affect regional stability and dynamics. According to his explanation, if a dialogue partner pursues economic policies that ASEAN perceives as detrimental to its interests, it should be within ASEAN’s rights to call for changes in that policy.

There are also many other concepts, besides Surin’s flexible engagement’, that can be proposed as an alternative for ASEAN to deal with rising international problems. We should consider other ideas from Brunei or other Southeast Asian states to make sure that ASEAN can be truly served as ‘people-oriented’ community.

To welcome the upcoming ASEAN Community, it is important for ASEAN leaders to modernize ASEAN institutional framework by having a specific doctrine on its post-2015 foreign policy. Failure to do so will prevent ASEAN to strategically address territorial disputes in South China Sea.



ASEAN dan Pemberantasan Korupsi

Feature - ASEAN Sec
Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar, Asisten peneliti di ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada
 Artikel ini dimuat di Harian Kompas (Siang), 2 Mei 2014


Bisakah ASEAN mendorong pemberantasan korupsi? Seiring dengan semakin dekatnya Komunitas ASEAN, pertanyaan ini lambat laun mulai mengemuka. Apalagi, menjelang Konferensi Tingkat Tinggi (KTT) ASEAN yang tahun ini akan digelar di bawah kepemimpinan Myanmar.

Data Indeks Persepsi Korupsi yang dirilis oleh Transparency International pada tahun 2013 menunjukkan bahwa lima negara anggota ASEAN berada di bawah peringkat 110 dari semua negara yang masuk dalam riset TI. Artinya, perlu upaya pemberantasan korupsi yang lebih komprehensif dan multisektoral dari negara-negara ASEAN.

Selama ini, korupsi dipandang sebagai sesuatu yang bersifat ‘lokal’. Akan tetapi, di tahun 2013, masyarakat Indonesia dikejutkan oleh satu kasus korupsi baru: upaya suap di SKKK Migas oleh salah satu perusahaan multinasional yang, tidak tanggung-tanggung, melibatkan Wakil Menteri ESDM.

Kasus Suap di SKKK Migas memberikan sebuah insight baru: korupsi tidak melulu bersifat lokal. Kajian Patrick Glynn, Stephen J. Korbin, dan Moises Naim (1997) menyebutkan bahwa melumernya batas-batas negara memungkinkan siapapun untuk melakukan suap dan kongkalikong dengan pemegang otoritas publik di suatu negara, menjadikan korupsi sebagai sebuah isu global.

Fenomena ‘globalisasi korupsi’ tidak hanya tercermin dari suap SKKK Migas. Sejak lama, proses pemberantasan korupsi di Indonesia juga menghadapi masalah pencucian uang. Dana hasil korupsi, saat ini, tidak hanya disirkulasi di dalam negeri, tetapi juga ‘dicuci’ dengan dibawa ke luar negeri –baik hanya plesiran atau disimpan di Bank negara lain.

Konsekuensinya, proses pemberantasan korupsi menjadi terhambat karena hambatan-hambatan eksternal –untuk mengungkap aliran dana korupsi, aparat harus berhadapan dengan regulasi di luar negeri yang sangat menghargai privasi.

Hal ini setidaknya punya dua implikasi: Pertama, korupsi bukan lagi sekadar persoalan dalam negeri, tetapi juga telah menjadi fenomena yang sifatnya global. Kedua, perlu kerangka kerjasama yang lebih kuat untuk memberantas korupsi di tingkat internasional atau regional.

Di tingkat internasional, sudah ada United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) yang disahkan pada tahun 2003. Indonesia telah meratifikasi Konvensi ini pada tahun yang sama. Konvensi ini menjadi dokumen utama bagi pelaksanaan kerjasama internasional di isu anti-korupsi.

Konvensi ini punya kontribusi dalam membawa isu korupsi sebagai global concern, namun masih belum cukup kuat sebagai international policy framework yang utuh dalam memberantas jejaring korupsi di tingkat global.

UNCAC memang punya beberapa poin menarik, seperti Asset Recovery atau Technical Cooperation and Assistance yang memberi ruang bagi kerjasama-kerjasama teknis antar-negara. UNCAC juga memberikan beberapa norma, seperti efisiensi, transparansi, dan akuntabilitas (Article 7) yang memberikan porsi besar pada masyarakat sipil untuk terlibat.

Akan tetapi, Konvensi ini belum punya ‘taji’ yang cukup tajam untuk, misalnya, mengantisipasi pencucian uang dan simpanan ke Bank-Bank yang ada di luar negeri. Alasannya sederhana: regulasi tentang perbankan di masing-masing negara berbeda dan masuk dalam yurisdiksi kedaulatan negara.

Hambatan ini juga terasa dengan adanya penekanan ‘protection of souvereignty’ yang menjadi prinsip dasar bagi UNCAC (Article 4). Meskipun tidak terhindarkan, karena norma kerjasama internasional yang sangat menekankan pada kedaulatan negara, hal ini kerap menimbulkan persoalan karena tidak jarang banyak negara yang memberikan perlindungan terhadap buron-buron korupsi di negara tersebut.


Payung ASEAN

Pertanyaannya, mampukah ASEAN, sebagai kerangka kerjasama regional di Asia Tenggara, menutupi kelemahan-kelemahan yang ada di UNCAC tersebut? Sebetulnya ASEAN sudah meng-address problem korupsi ini sebelum adanya UNCACN, melalui ASEAN Declaration on Transnational Crime yang ditandatangani di Cebu, Filipina (1997).

Dalam deklarasi tersebut, persoalan korupsi dan suap memang dianggap sebagai salah satu transnational crime. Akan tetapi, tindak lanjut untuk mengatasinya baru sebatas rekomendasi kepada Expert Group Meeting dan dorongan kepada masing-masing negara untuk memperkuat tata pemerintahan yang baik.

Hal ini membuat ASEAN Declaration on Transnational Crime tak lebih dari sekadar konsensus regional yang, lagi-lagi, membuat pelaksanaannya diserahkan pada masing-masing negara.

Perkembangan berikutnya, muncul Southeast Asian Parliamentarians Against Corruption (SEAPAC) pada tahun 2002 yang menjadi dasar kerjasama anggota-anggota parlemen untuk memberantas korupsi. Perkembangan ini cukup menarik, tetapi lagi-lagi sangat state-centric.

Konsekuensinya, adanya SEAPAC bahkan tidak berbanding lurus terhadap korupsi yang dilakukan oleh anggota-anggota parlemen, terutama Indonesia. Hal ini disebabkan oleh karakter SEAPAC yang berbasis pada ‘kerjasama’ tanpa adanya kekuatan yang mampu mencegah korupsi secara struktural.

Sehingga kita bisa melihat problem paling mendasar dari kerjasama antikorupsi di tingkat ASEAN: tidak adanya basis kelembagaan yang cukup kuat untuk menjadi wadah kerjasama dalam memberantas korupsi secara serius.

Kerjasama untuk memberantas korupsi di ASEAN berada pada wilayah ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC). Pemberantasan korupsi telah masuk menjadi salah satu agenda di Blueprint APSC, namun sejauh ini belum ada policy framework yang mewadahinya. Hal ini bisa mengakibatkan kerjasama yang sudah ada sebelumnya menjadi ‘jalan di tempat’.

Sehingga, ada dua hal yang perlu dipertimbangkan untuk membangun desain kerjasama yang lebih efektif di wilayah pemberantasan korupsi

Pertama, perlunya sebuah regional policy framework di ASEAN yang sifatnya lebih komprehensif untuk mengatur format kerjasama yang tepat dalam memberantas korupsi. Regional Policy Framework tersebut setidaknya mampu memberikan kerangka kerja dan pemberantasan korupsi yang mengikat untuk bisa dimplementasikan di masing-masing negara anggota ASEAN.

Kedua, ASEAN perlu membentuk semacam Commsision yang bekerja di wilayah pemberantasan korupsi. Komisi tersebut akan bekerja untuk menangani aktivitas-aktivitas korupsi yang bersifat transnasional dan mengembalikan pelaku serta kerugian yang diberikan pada masing-masing negara.

Pembentukan komisi ini dimungkinkan mengingat sifat dari korupsi yang global dan extraordinary. Apalagi, ASEAN juga sudah punya komisi sektoral yang mewadahi kerjasama di bidang HAM (AICHR) dan perlindungan perempuan (ACWC). Sehingga, pelembagaan kerjasama di wilayah pemberantasan korupsi juga masih dimungkinkan.

Dengan semakin dekatnya Komunitas ASEAN 2015, hal tersebut menjadi semakin mendesak. Setidaknya, format-format perundingan di ASEAN yang akan semakin kompleks ke depan harus memberikan kerangka kerjasama yang lebih baik dari sebelumnya. Mari dorong pemberantasan korupsi yang lebih progresif!

Making ASEAN Democratic

25th ASEAN Summit, Myanmar. Photo Credits: Strait Times

25th ASEAN Summit, Myanmar. Photo Credits: Strait Times

Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar, Research Assistant at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada

ASEAN has held its 24th and 25th Summit in Myanmar this year. The latest Summit has just held this month, discussiong several important topic about ASEAN’s future, including those happened in South China Sea.

The ASEAN Summit is formally regarded as the highest level in ASEAN Structure. It means that the result of the summit will determine the future of ASEAN.

Thus, for ASEAN leaders, the ASEAN Summit is highly important to craft their own interests in Southeast Asia. It is not only a place to discuss important issues in building ASEAN Community (which will be established by 2015), but also an arena to negotiate state’s interest in the regional.

However, I doubt the issue will be concerned by the ordinary people who do not directly engaged with the ASEAN issues. Every year I regularly travel to Banjarmasin and Martapura (a fair town located in South Kalimantan) and rarely I hear any discussion about ASEAN in the public space, traditional market, or warung. ASEAN is still located outside of their minds –even the villagers have no idea what the ASEAN is.

The phenomenon portrayed an unresolved gap in ASEAN: while the ‘talk’ about regionalism is getting more complicated in the elite level, people’s perception about it is still very low. It is, as Amitav Acharya analysed, has been a main constraint to make a participatory regionalism in ASEAN.

Why do the people of ASEAN seem to be ignorant, or in other words, disengaged, with the ASEAN Summit that will direct this regional organisation in the future? John McCormick, in his popular book criticising the European Union, described this phenomenon as ‘democratic deficit’ –the lack of democracy that is generated by the inability of people to articulate their interests in decision-making process.

McCormick argued, following deliberative approach to democracy, that democracy is determined by people’s ability to influence the decision-making process. According to this approach, one can say a transnational governance model (like ASEAN) is democratic if it supports political participation from internal interest group within it.

Participation is central in deliberative democracy. To make a democratic or –to borrow a slogan— ‘people-centred’ ASEAN, the most important aspect that should fulfilled is maintaining participation from any interest group inside ASEAN Member States. In other words, we have to include regional Civil Society in ASEAN governing forum or institutions.

Since 2003, ASEAN has been institutionalised into a more complex form of regionalism. There has been three community inside ASEAN, which are aimed to be established by 2015 –ASEAN Political Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community, and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. According to deliberative approach, to make democratic ASEAN, these institutions should be openned for participation and engagement from civil society entities.

But in fact, the development of those institutions has turned into a bureaucratic-technocratic form within ASEAN Secretariats. Thus, we can see a new configuration within ASEAN decision-making process: the political decision will be discussed in a summit which is highly elitist and state-based, while the implementation of those decisions will be conducted in ASEAN Secretariat.

It has emerged a question: where was the space for civil society organisations to engage in ASEAN decision-making process? To respond the existed regime, some Non-Governmental Organisations launched ASEAN Civil Society Conference in 2005, which contained many NGOs in ASEAN Member States to participate and voice their interests in the forum.

At the beginning, the Conference has been greeted by ASEAN Leaders by inviting the Conference representative to the Summit to present the result before the Summit (Dang, 2008). However, as time passes by, relations between NGOs and ASEAN leaders weakened. There is still no room allocated for civil society to engage in decision-making process, particularly at the summit. The political decision still belongs to representative of the States.

Thus, the ASEAN Civil Society Conference –later changed as ‘ASEAN People’s Forum’— still left a gap: it is not adequate to accommodate people’s interests in decision-making process. The ASEAN People’s Forum is suitable to mobilise and consolidate interest group in Southeast Asia, but in the context of advocacy and engaging in decision-making process, there is no adequate room.

I argue that the lack of room for people’s participation in ASEAN is prominently caused by two variables. First, the elitist and state-centrist nature of ASEAN. Historically, ASEAN has been constructed by a consensus of state which was aimed to promote regional peace and stability as well as cooperate in social, economic, and cultural sectors. It is originally designed as a room for states, not people, to negotiate its interest in regions, and consequently makes the regionalism to be very state-centred.

Second, there is no significant effort from ASEAN Leaders to accommodate people’s participation in decision-making process. The 2003 ASEAN Summit only transformed ASEAN’s institutions (into Community) but not the decision-making process. It still lies on the hand of ASEAN leaders who attend the Summit. Thus, the state-centrist nature is still preserved until present and becomes a constraint for people’s participation in ASEAN.

To make ASEAN more democratic, on the context of the upcoming I hereby propose two steps. First, making ASEAN Summit as an inclusive meeting. This step can be conducted by allowing civil society organizations and interest groups to participate in the Summit, not only as observer but also as participant. The ASEAN Summit, therefore, should be perceived not only as an ‘arena of negotiation’ but also ‘place for dialogue’ between ASEAN leaders and its people.

Second, building some institutional bridge to connect ASEAN People and ASEAN leaders. It can be conducted through formalising ASEAN People’s Forum as a part of ASEAN Governing Institution, and then transform it as an influential institution in ASEAN decision-making process. Building a more representative institution as place for people’s representative is necessary, so that the people can articulate their interest in ASEAN.

I believe that if ASEAN leaders have a little political will to open more chances and opportunities for non-state actors to participate in the upcoming Summit, we can optimistically make a more democratic ASEAN in the future.

What Does Jokowi’s “Pro-People Diplomacy” Mean for ASEAN?

Retno Marsudi, Minister of Foreign Affaris, Republic of Indonesia. Source: progresivenews.com/

Retno Marsudi, Minister of Foreign Affaris, Republic of Indonesia.
Source: progresivenews.com/

By Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar, research assistant at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada

Foreign Minister H.E. Retno LP Marsudi has launched her first speech on Indonesia’s Foreign Policy in Wednesday (29/10). At that speech, she embraced several new ideas on what she will do in her term as Foreign Minister and how Indonesia’s foreign policy will be directed under her leadership, including what is now popular as “Pro-People” Foreign policy.

Three important points are highlighted in her speech. Firstly, she acknowledges that strengthening Indonesia’s economy will be a priority in Jokowi’s administration. Therefore, Indonesia’s foreign policy should go side-by-side with economic development policy.

Secondly, Indonesia’s bilateral relations with strategic partners will be prioritized rather than takes part with multilateral forums. In other words, Marsudi seems to put aside Indonesia’s energetic movement in endorsing  multilateral talks and instead focusing on strengthening bilateral affairs.

Thirdly, she wants to reposits Indonesian diplomats not only as a negotiator abroad, but also as a ‘salesmen’ who takes part in promoting Indonesian products. Therefore, she insists that Indonesian diplomats should be able to do ‘blusukan’ in order to know what Indonesia has to be sold in international market.

Marsudi’s speech clearly indicates that Indonesia’s foreign policy, during Jokowi’s administration, will be served as a hub to strengthening economy in international level. Different with ‘Zero Enemy and Million Friends’ tagline brought by SBY administration, who aimes to posit Indonesia in global level, her ‘Pro-People Diplomacy’ seems to take inward-looking position in global politics.

This position can be understood by her intention to strengthen Indonesia’s bilateral relations rather than actively engage in multilateral forums, as well as making diplomacy as a means of enhancing economic development in international arena.

Nevertheless, we can also see that Marsudi’s speech has also sent a strong signal for the return of ‘national interest’ in Indonesia’s foreign policy. By crafting foreign policy with economic measure, Marsudi is not only abandoning SBY’s ‘million friends’ stance in international politics, but also she attempts to make Indonesia’s perspectives on global and regional environment firmer, that is to defend the state-defined national interest in his campaign.

Even though two previous ministers were also, to some extent, holding ‘national interest’ as a basis in foreign policy making, her stance in ‘national interest is quite stronger. During Hassan Wirayudha (2001-2009) ministerial period, Indonesia’s regional involvement is stronger. Wirayudha’s initiatives in ASEAN Political Security Community, as noted by Donald Weatherbee (2013), has made clear that Indonesia put ASEAN as a priority.

Not much different with Wirayudha, his successor Marty Natalegawa (2009-2014) also put Indonesia’s involvement in global level, particularly the South-to-South talks, as a priority in Indonesia’s foreign policy. His doctrine on dynamic equilibrium and peace doctrine was intended to support SBY’s vision on ‘Zero Enemy and ‘Million Friends’.

Compared with what Wirayudha and Natalegawa has done in previous years, Marsudi’s inward-looking approach will be less involved in positioning Indonesia in global and regional level. Her ‘pro-people’ approach will be focusing mainly on preparing Indonesia’s domestic economy to face economic integration in Southeast Asia.

Thus, what will this ‘pro-people’ stance, taken by Marsudi, implies to ASEAN, which aimed to be politically and economically consolidated after 2015?

Since the Second ASEAN Summit in Bali, 2003, Indonesia has been involved in integration processes in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has played important role in designing ASEAN Political Security Community as well as contributing in democratization in several states, thus contribute in driving political integration process in the region.

Former Foreign Minister Wirayudha spoke with at CSIS, Jakarta (24/10) that Indonesia has been actively provided intellectual leadership in ASEAN and it should be maintained in Jokowi’s administration.

With Foreign Minister Marsudi send the first signal on Indonesia’s foreign policy in the upcoming years, it will be interesting to see how Indonesia involve in regional politics. Given her pro-people approach in diplomacy, it can be predicted that there will be hope and concern from Marsudi to Indonesia’s position in ASEAN.

I will start with the hope. By taking a ‘pro-people’ approach with emphasis on economic diplomacy, Indonesia can be more prepared in facing the upcoming ASEAN Economic Community. With economic diplomacy, we can hope Jokowi’s administration can be more focused on developing Small and Medium Enterprises to deal with regional market.

ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada has mapped small and medium enterprises’ (SMEs) preparedness in ASEAN Community and it is found that many SMEs are not yet prepared to compete in regional level. Public should push Jokowi and his cabinet to be more serious in this issue.

However, we should also be concerned that ‘pro-people’ diplomacy can also make Indonesia’s leadership in several regional forums, particularly the ASEAN Political Security Community, will be weakened. So far Indonesia has driven several agenda in promoting democracy and human rights in the region.

By focusing on bilateral relations, Indonesia is less likely to continue its effort in becoming ‘the largest muslim democracy’ in the world that, to some extent, will implies on Indonesia’s passive stances in multilateral forums. Indonesia can also less involved with other multilateral groups such as G-20.

This concern shall be answered by our Foreign Minister Marsudi under her leadership. Indonesia should maintain the ‘ASEAN Centrality’ in dealing with regional issue, while strengthening bilateral relations with strategic partners.

Other than that, our foreign policy should also address many changes in global politics that will be occurred in the upcoming years, particularly with the political succession in the US which will influence Indonesia’s position among other states as well as Southeast Asian  politics.

Notwithstanding that, Marsudi’s innovative paces are still to be awaited in the future. Will she able to build a new style of leadership in the region is still the biggest challenge in the future. And most importantly, she is expected to make sure that ‘pro-people’ diplomacy can goes hand-in-hand with Indonesia’s intellectual leadership in ASEAN.

A new ASEAN community? Many already live it

Feature - Farish Strait Times

By Farish Ahmad-Noor, For The Straits Times

It is a question that may strike some as being somewhat simple: Where is Asean? However, the simplicity belies a deeper and more complex line of inquiry.

In reply, someone may simply pick up a map and point to the region designated as South-east Asia, and say, “There is where Asean is located”.

But is it? This leads us to ask: What is Asean?

Over the last few decades, the Association of South-east Asian Nations – as a multi-state pact of nation-states – has proven itself successful in many respects, from the prevention of war in South-east Asia to dealing with complex multilateral issues, ranging from cross-border pollution to the movement of Asean citizens to smuggling and terrorism.

These achievements, however, may pale in comparison to what may follow from next year, with the creation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC), a move that will bring about greater economic integration and cooperation.

As far as knowledge of the AEC is concerned, it would appear that not all the countries of Asean are equally prepared.

However, since 2012, Indonesia has begun to invest in think-tanks, departments and research centres in universities to promote the idea of Asean and the AEC, with one such being the newly minted Asean Studies Centre at the faculty of politics and social sciences at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Central Java.

These centres have been set up “to socialise”, or popularise, the concept of Asean and the AEC, in preparation for the changes ahead.

The Asean Studies Centre at Yogyakarta has conducted public awareness campaigns among workers and members of the public to inform them further about the importance of Asean and what the AEC can do for them.

Here lies the answer to “Where is Asean?”

For surely Asean – as a complex abstract idea – cannot simply lie in the buildings and institutions associated with its work, impressive though those buildings may be architecturally.

Complex ideas are not things that are embodied in non-sentient monuments, but rather embedded in the collective socio-psychological architecture of societies. Asean may be symbolised by objects like buildings, flags and logos, but as an idea, it is carried in the hearts and minds of people.


Giving life to an idea

SO WHAT would make Asean something real, and less of an abstract concept to people across South-east Asia?

Here we need to distinguish two processes: While Asean integration has been happening on a multi-state level, driven by governments and capital, centuries before Asean was even concocted, there was already the longer history of South-east Asian integration and social movement.

The latter is still evident today. Across many parts of South-east Asia, ordinary people continue to live as their ancestors have always done: Field-working researchers will tell you that in the waters of the region, nomadic itinerant communities like the Bajao Laut sea nomads still move across the archipelago with ease, and are spread across Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Communities, such as the Dayaks of Borneo, straddle the political frontiers of both Indonesia and Malaysia, as do many cross-border communities in other parts of mainland South-east Asia.

When we speak about the “global age” of “cosmopolitan citizens”, we tend to focus more on urbanised elite communities, but we forget that along the border zones of the entire region, there remain communities who are hybrid, polyglot, who have multiple identities and who are just as comfortable with the reality of living in complex plural environments.

For millions of South-east Asians like them, the prospect of living in an integrated AEC is hardly new: Many of them already cross borders on a daily basis, and sometimes without passports or identity papers.

It is here that the connection has to be made, between the abstract idea of Asean integration and the realities of people who live in a South-east Asia that is intertwined and inter-connected. When bodies such as the Asean Studies Centre of Yogyakarta try to socialise the idea of Asean among ordinary Indonesians, they are rooting that abstract legal-political concept in the lived experience of people who will soon feel the impact of Asean economic integration, but who do not have the vocabulary to express it.

It provides them with the language and the means to understand the impact of multilateral arrangements upon their personal lives, and allows them to take part in that process and claim some ownership of it.

The reasons why this is so important at this stage are twofold:


The concept of a common home

FIRST, in order to give societies the means to appreciate and understand the processes of change as a result of closer Asean cooperation and integration, and to buffer against the possibility of a hyper-nationalist reaction against that process – should the inflow of capital and other influences from neighbouring countries be seen as “foreign” or “predatory”.

Second, to remind South-east Asians that living in an Asean economic community that is more inter-connected and inter-dependent is not a new or threatening thing, but in line with the history of movement, migration and investment in the region for hundreds of years.

Yet, many of us still do not know one another well enough: A glance at history textbooks used across the region will show that young South-east Asians may know more about the French Revolution or World War II than the history of the country next to theirs.

With the AEC almost upon us, the need to socialise and popularise the concept of Asean – and the notion of a collective belonging to South-east Asia as the common home to all in the region – is greater than ever before.

This has to be a comprehensive effort which extends beyond legislatures and debating chambers, and must reach the schools, streets and living rooms of the 600 million people who inhabit this part of the world.

And the end goal has to be the situation where the answer to “Where is Asean?” is “in me, and all of us”. For no amount of concrete or monuments can give life to Asean identity unless there are Asean-minded people who see the region as their home in the first place.

– – – – – – –

Farish Ahmad Noor is an Associate Professor at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. This article first appeared in The Straits Times on 6 November 2014.

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/more-opinion-stories/story/new-asean-community-many-already-live-it-20141106#sthash.TDfqGsEL.jB3F3ZhC.dpuf

Making ASEAN Works in Rohingya: A Southeast Asian Perspective

Slider - Rohingnya

Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar

Research Assistant at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada


Rohingya has become the most ironic phennomenon in Southeast Asia. Since 1990s, they have been exiled, displaced from their homeland in northern Myanmar. According to UNHCR, almost 140,000 people still displaced in Rakhine State, while over 800,000 persons are estimated to be without citizenship in the northern part of the State. This conditions “were gravely concerned” by UNHCR and seem to be one of the biggest humanitarian challenge in Southeast Asia today.

However, while international community has expressed its concerns regarding the Rohingya problem, we also witness lack of responses from Government’s officials in Southeast Asia. Until present, there is no significant response from ASEAN as the biggest regional institution in Southeast Asia, who aims to construct a ‘political security community by 2015.

What went wrong with Rohingya and, in particular, ASEAN? I would like to analyze this problem from three level of analysis: the ‘communal identity’, state regime, and regional institution.

First, the Rohingya problem is related, most importantly, with the question of identity. If we want to identify Rohingya, there will be a question: “who are Rohing people? Are they Burmese, or belong to other nationals? Myanmar’s citizen act has ironically denied Rohing as one of their citizen, thus excluding the Rohing people out from Myanmar. However, they are also unable to be identified as Bangladeshi, for example, because they have inhabited the Burmese land since hundreds years ago, even before the British colonial age.

Thus, the main problems facing Rohing people now is the identity problem –the exclusion of Rohing from the existing Westphalian political order. This should be addressed more critically by International Relations scholars.

Second, the Rohingya problem is also closely related to the political authoritarianism in Myanmar who uses its political apparatuses to repress the Rohings and exile them out from the state. Even though the authoritarian government has been much more softened within these years, the Rohingya problem is still untouchable. According to Ahmad Suaedy, one of Indonesian activist who declared his support to minority groups in ASEAN People’s Forum 2014, any attempts to discuss the Rohingya problem was cut by the local Monk. Even the government stopped any attempts to discuss this issue at ASEAN meeting. Therefore, any attempts to find a political solution to Rohingya problem have been constrained by the authoritarian regime in Myanmar.

Third, the Rohingya problem is also aggravated by the lack of response from ASEAN Member States as well as the ASEAN Institution. This is ironic because since 2003, 10 ASEAN Member States have agreed to establish a political community in the region by 2015 and since 2009 they have signed the ASEAN Charter. According to the Charter, ASEAN shall become a ‘people-oriented organisation’ and there will be a Human Rights Body in ASEAN (Later known as ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights/AICHR). Even though the body has been established since 2009, it also faces incapacity in dealing with various human rights issues, including its silence in a ‘sensitive’ minority issue like Rohingya.

I argue that bringing Rohingya problem to bigger Southeast Asian level, or by using ASEAN Perspective, can fill the gap left by ‘identity’ or ‘authoritarian regime’. By placing Rohingya as ‘ASEAN People’, for example, we can identify the Rohing people without referring them to any particular Burmese identity. Bringing ASEAN to solve this problem will also be, idealistically, avoid the use of force in dealing with Rohing people. However, with the lack of capacity, ASEAN  is still unable to do something to solve Rohingya problem.

Having said that, ASEAN’s incapability in dealing with Rohingya issue will be critically discussed. Why does ASEAN incapable to deal with Rohingya issue? To answer this question, I would like to look deeper into ASEAN’s institutional design. Since its inception in 1967, ASEAN seems to be perceived by many states as a room fit only for state’s purpose to cooperate. It did not, originally, provide space for non-state entity to participate in the decision-making process. Therefore, ASEAN, since its very beginning, tends to be state-centric or, in other words, ‘elitist’.

The construction of ASEAN as merely ‘a room for state’ was brought into discussion in 2003, when ASEAN Political Security Community was agreed in Bali. Each member states, at that time, agreed to create a regional community and, later, placed ASEAN as the main foreign policy focus. However, the state-centric nature in ASEAN was still preserved. The highest decision-making level in ASEAN is posited at the ASEAN Summit, which is attended only by state representatives. Therefore, there is no adequate room for non-state entity to influence the decision-making process.

The problem is similar in Human Rights issues –even worse. Even though ASEAN has included the establishment of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights in 2009, The Commission was not able to engage with any Human Rights cases in the region. This limitation was occurred due to lack of authority that the Commission owns in dealing with Human Rights cases. Thus, they are only able to make cooperation with other state in Human Rights issues. Another problem that is faced by the Commission is the low degree of democratization in several ASEAN Member States, including Myanmar. Many member states do not believe with democracy as well as Human Rights and even see them as threat for national sovereignty. The nature of authoritarian regime in ASEAN Member States prevents ASEAN to discuss prominent issues in Human Rights, even weaken the Human Rights Body itself.

Against this backdrop, this paper argues that state-centric nature in ASEAN Institutional Design and Mechanism is the main constraint in Rohingya problem. From previous experiences, that any attempts to establish a progressive Human Rights decision in ASEAN were prevented by the state. It leads to several controversies over the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, that was signed in 2012. This declaration was accused by Human Rights Activist as ‘legitimizing Human Rights violation by the state’. This declaration contains controversial points that were rejected by Human Rights activist, including “the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms must be balanced with the performance of corresponding duties as every person has responsibilities to all other individuals, the community and the society where one lives” (Article 6), the inclusion of term “in accordance to national law” (e.g. article 16, 17, 18). Civil society alliances have denounced the adoption of the Declaration and stating that the Declaration “falls far below international standards”.

With this controversy, it is evident that ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights has been incapable to deal with Human Rights violation in ASEAN Member States, including the Rohingya problem. Apart from that, ASEAN also does not have any instrument to regulate refugee. Consequently, the Rohingya refugee problems were left unmanaged by ASEAN, hence raising many derivative problems on other ASEAN Member States.

Thus, what is to be done? I argue that advocacy attempts to all level should be conducted continuously. However, there are two urgent agenda that could be exercised by all parties who wants to solve the Rohingya people. First, making ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) works in dealing with Rohingya problems. AICHR should be given further authorities to facilitate state in dealing with Human Rights issues as well as preventing the Human Rights violation. Since AICHR is filled by state representatives, they should be given adequate knowledge on basic Human Rights issue so that regional awareness on ASEAN can be built, at least among ASEAN officials.

Second, establishing ASEAN Refugee institution. ASEAN has never been prioritizing refugee issue since this issue was not a dominant issue in the region. However, with the emergence of Rohingya problem, ASEAN Refugee institution should be established. This institution can coordinate with UNHCR to manage Rohingya refugee in many Southeast and South Asia States. Therefore, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) problem can be managed well in the region. These important decisions should be advocated in the upcoming ASEAN Summit.