On the first day of 2011, Indonesia assumed its greatest job yet on a regional scale as the ASEAN chair nation. Indonesia will lead the new ASEAN at a crucial moment, entering into the ASEAN Community 2015.
ASEAN is entering its fourth historical phase called the “democratic plus” stage, after establishing permanent peace and stability in the Southeast Asian region for 43 years. Which direction will ASEAN go after 2015, which will be marked by sustainable peace, stability and a higher stage of economic integration?
It is relevant, too, to know at what stage of development ASEAN is in now after more than four decades of existence.
Now it is clear that ASEAN is entering its highest stage yet, thanks to the ASEAN Charter. The group aims to play a significant role not only for ASEAN itself in its “democratic plus” challenge, but also beyond the ASEAN community’s regional architecture, which Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa called a dynamic equilibrium.
ASEAN is passing through a historical period and moving forward to the next stage which Prof. Donald E. Weatherbee says is a reinvention of ASEAN in its struggle for autonomy in the region, marked by the ASEAN Charter.
ASEAN has demonstrated regional statecraft in forming its new identity and practicing political autonomy in a new global community. ASEAN centrality means an independent and free posture to make its own choices and be an autonomous entity expressing its own positions.
The founding fathers of ASEAN drafted their agreement to build peace, stability and economic development as the first stage of their mantra of bringing gradual changes to the region.
The ASEAN mode was expected to be a new approach in building a conflict-free region and promoting cooperation. The Bangkok Declaration, the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation were the first foundations to establish peace while experimenting with a regional economic grouping.
The Preferential Tariff Agreement and the Common Economic Preferential Tariff were followed by a higher level of regulating market access, competition and free-market workings through the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, and proved ASEAN’s commitment. It has even moved a step further by creating what has become known as the “noodle-bowl” free trade agreement.
Despite entering a period of peace and economic euphoria, stability and economic development alone are not enough. ASEAN focus — which is truly capitalistic — has widened economic disparity and encouraged Indonesia to promote a new approach to balance this paradox of ASEAN development.
Indonesia led ASEAN through the Bali Concord II in 2003 to set new shared democratic norms of balancing economic and political development. The “stability plus” period must be completed with new democratic values. ASEAN is entering a new stage of high economic growth and with the consensus of democratizing the region.
The world is changing. Domestic political demand has changed significantly as well toward true voices of democratization in the region. ASEAN has no choice but to follow the voice of the constituency if it wants to be seen as credible and pro-people.
The ASEAN Charter is the highest political product to try to anticipate and manage all these new challenges.
After passing through the third stage of stability, economic development and high economic growth, followed by the fourth stage, a democratization of the ASEAN region, what’s next? The answer is obvious: regional prosperity.
The next challenges for ASEAN leaders entering the “post-democratic plus” stage and moving toward the ASEAN Community 2015 are the domestic aspects. Leaders will deal with all those domestic aspects to uplift constituent prosperity through concrete, equal distribution of wealth.
ASEAN aims at a quality of life in which the majority of people enjoy better living, education, housing, employment and health services, and at eradicating poverty at the grassroots level.
Equal distribution of wealth is the key element to providing a better quality of life. After 43 years, ASEAN is relevant for the majority of the 500 million people in the region. ASEAN people have to be the hosts of the next Asia-Pacific century, and Jakarta is ready to become the diplomatic capital of ASEAN.
This “post-democratic plus” stage is a crucial moment, not only for ASEAN but for its dialogue partners and the global community of nations as well. Indonesia, ASEAN and its partners must join forces in handling and accelerating implementation of programs and going through this important stage.
This challenge is not only the basic element for the future of ASEAN leadership, but for regional peace and stability and presenting a successful ASEAN profile to our global community of nations as well.
The writer is a senior official at the Directorate General for ASEAN Affairs, the Foreign Ministry. The views expressed are his.
Opini The Jakarta Post 10 Januari 2011