Commenting on ASEAN 50th Anniversary, Miguel Chanco, Lead ASEAN Analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said: “Sustained peace and sunny economic predictions are worth celebrating, but The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can’t afford to ignore its problems.
In the commentary, Chanco said the group has achieve a lot since 1967, but one cannot help but feel it’s presently in the grip of a midlife crisis.
“It is seeking, but failing, to find a new sense of purpose and identity. ASEAN leaders need to break from tradition and find the courage to make difficult decisions if the group is to flourish over the next 50 years.”
Chanco said the issues partly lie in the half-baked formation of the ASEAN Community in 2015.
“This much-vaunted establishment – which would encompass the three blueprints of economic (AEC), political-security (APSC) and socio-cultural (ASCC) cooperation – at the end of that year took place without any real change.
“For the most part, the group’s response has been to kick the can down the road – to 2025 – putting a stamp on new(ish) “blueprints” for said community building,” said Chanco.
The midlife crisis also stems from ASEANs inability to respond in a unified way to challenges both old and new.
The territorial disputes between a number of member states and China in the South China Sea could be more quickly resolved, and to the greater benefit of claimants in ASEAN, if there was less bickering within the group about communiqués.
There are some structures in place to mitigate the yearly transboundary haze that engulfs large swaths of the region, but enforcement remains weak.
Not surprisingly, ASEAN has taken a hands-off approach to a host of festering domestic issues that have regional consequences.
“But the bloc is thriving economically, which is a double-edged sword because such performance has bred complacency,” said Chanco.
“Nothing of substance has been proposed at a regional level to respond to a slowing China and inevitable labour displacement through automation.
“The longer ASEAN dithers on its grand ambitions and these regional challenges, the greater the risk that it starts to lose whatever faith has been placed in it being a responsive regional institution – and this vicious cycle will only worsen.
“The heads of ASEAN member states should not let the group’s 50th anniversary go to waste. It will mark yet another opportunity to undertake a wholesale rethink of how the region should manage its affairs,” he said.