Re-engaging ASEAN, Re-affirming Its Centrality
ASEAN Secretariat, 19 November 2009
The plethora of regional architectures that has been proposed in recent times, not by ASEAN but by some of ASEAN's Dialogue Partners, seem to convey that the region is no longer playing a central role in the evolving regional make-up. Nevertheless, the re-engagement by one of ASEAN’s oldest Dialogue Partners with the region seems to have debunked that theory. Specifically, the pace and manner that the US, under the Obama administration, is re-engaging the region, is certainly re-affirming that centrality, observed the Secretary-General of ASEAN. "In less than one year, the US is reclaiming lost time and recovering lost space," said Dr Surin Pitsuwan.
In just eleven months, the steady beat of ASEAN-US dialogue relations has certainly reached a crescendo. In February 2009, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the ASEAN Secretariat, where she announced that the US has initiated inter-agency consultations on acceding to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia of 1976. The US acceded to the TAC in July, a mere five months later. She had also participated in the ASEAN Regional Forum this year.
The icing on the cake was the historic maiden ASEAN-US Leaders' Meeting held in Singapore over the weekend, where, in their Joint Statement, the Leaders said that the United States will support ASEAN's continuing role in multilateral efforts where ASEAN has a growing ability to make contributions.
“The President of the United States also supported regional efforts initiated by ASEAN and ASEAN-led fora, to address the impact of the global financial and economic crisis in the region and looked forward to continued close coordination between such regional efforts and the global efforts undertaken by the G-20,” they went on to say.
This re-affirmation comes in the wake of the participation of the ASEAN Chair and the Secretary-General of ASEAN at the previous two G-20 Summits in London and Pittsburgh.
The Leaders, in recognition of the important role of ASEAN in regional issues, said that it shared a vision of a regional architecture that is inclusive, promotes shared values and norms, and respects the diversity within the region."We agreed to work closely together in building this regional architecture, and were ready to study initiatives of this nature. We reaffirmed the importance of ASEAN centrality in this process,” the statement reads.
President Barack Obama in his remarks had referred to ASEAN as an “organization of global importance”. President Obama was also quoted as saying that, the “US is not just a Dialogue Partner but a member of the ASEAN family due to linkages with families in America.”
Noting the series of high-level interactions with ASEAN in the past eleven months and characterising the transformation as "seismic", Dr Surin said that ASEAN centrality has received a crucial boost at time when recent developments seemed to question it. During the recent 15th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in Thailand, Japan had proposed building, in the long run, an East Asian community, while Australia had proposed an Asia Pacific community.
It is the responsibility of the region to ensure ASEAN centrality, as it is the cornerstone of the region’s architecture, said Dr Surin, adding that ASEAN had to deepen its political and economic integration and also contribute more to the direction of any evolving architectures.
The ASEAN Charter, both in its Purposes under Article 1 and Principles under Article 2, refers to the centrality of ASEAN with regard to its relations and cooperation with external partners.