Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wrap-up of the 31st ASEAN Summit

In today’s post, I provide a wrap-up on last week’s ASEAN Summit.  Given the focus of this blog, I will not analyze issues (such as the South China Sea) which have been well covered elsewhere. Instead, I review some institutional developments:

New ASEAN Secretary-GeneralLim Jock Hoi of Brunei was named the next ASEAN Secretary-General. Lim will serve during the 2018-2022 term (this post is rotated among the ASEAN countries based on alphabetical order, so the next Secretary General will be from Cambodia).   This is a positive development for the AEC, as Lim has deep experience in trade and investment issues, having served as Brunei’s chief negotiator during the Trans Pacific Partnership talks.  By my reckoning, Lim has the most experience in regional economic integration of any Secretary General.

ASEAN-Hong Kong FTA (AHKFTA) – ASEAN and Hong Kong signed their FTA.  With ratification not expected to be an issue, the AHKFTA will take effect before the completion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks (which have again missed a self-imposed deadline for completion).  The real value-added for the AHKFTA is in investment and services, as virtually all goods coming out of Hong Kong have China-origin and thus already qualify for the ASEAN-China FTA.  Rather, the AHKFTA will give Hong Kong companies better access and protection for investments and services, meaning that Chinese companies can use Hong Kong for their investment vehicles rather than an ASEAN country or China itself.  This may mean some small market share loss in investments for Singapore, particularly in the Philippines and perhaps northern Vietnam (due to distance and stronger links) but overall both ASEAN and Hong Kong will benefit from the FTA.

Timor-Leste – The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Aurelio Guterres was in Manila representing Timor-Leste instead of the Timorese president.  However, this was not a downgrading by ASEAN but instead resulted from internal protocol issues in Timor-Leste (and Guterres, whom I know from the Diplomatic Institute and the National University of Timor-Leste, represented the country well). The ASEAN Summit did not issue any finding on Timor-Leste’s application to join ASEAN, referring the matter to the working group that meets on December 5 in Bali. Hopefully the Bali meeting will be the end of the beginning for the Timorese accession to ASEAN.

I will update this post as more documentation comes out. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Happy 50th ASEAN Day!

Today is ASEAN Day, the 50th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN on August 8, 1967 with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.  These founding members were later joined by Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), Myanmar (1997) and Cambodia (1999).

In celebration of ASEAN Day, today’s AEC Blog entry forgoes the usual commentary and instead provides the lyrics and tune of the ASEAN Anthem:


Raise our flag high, sky high 
Embrace the pride in our heart 
ASEAN we are bonded as one 
Look-in out to the world. 
For peace, our goal from the very start 
And prosperity to last. 
We dare to dream we care to share. 
Together for ASEAN 
we dare to dream, 
we care to share for it's the way of ASEAN.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Philippines Suggests that Turkey and Mongolia Can Join ASEAN

This week Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that the leaders of Turkey and Mongolia had approached him about joining ASEAN.  Duterte said that they made the request to him, as the Philippines is currently ASEAN Chair, and that he was happy to “sponsor” their membership applications.

The difficulty with this request is that neither country is part of Southeast Asia, which was noted by Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.  President Duterte responded,

They are. I would say that they are. Turkey, it seems to be ambivalent to whether to be a bridge sa (to) Europe and Asia or being an Asian. Wala silang klaro diyan (There is nothing definite there.) There has always been an ambivalent view. Sometimes they say that they are part of Asia, sometimes they say that they are the bridge of Asia to Europe.”

However, a “definite” concept of Southeast Asia underpins the membership criteria for ASEAN.  Article 6.2(a) of the ASEAN Charter states that new members must have a “location in the recognised geographical region of Southeast Asia.”  Neither Turkey nor Mongolia could objectively be considered part of Southeast Asia. 

Blurring the “recognised” area of Southeast Asia, furthermore, would result in difficulties regarding Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya.  

By comparison, Timor-Leste is recognised as geographically part of Southeast Asia, meaning that it easily satisfies Article 6.2(a).

Thus, although the ASEAN Charter can be amended by the ASEAN Summit (which was done, for example, by changing the order of the ASEAN Chair terms), it is difficult to imagine ASEAN leaders agreeing to Turkey and Mongolia joining the grouping.

This is not the first time countries far removed from Southeast Asia have been suggested for membership in ASEAN.  Sri Lanka (at the beginning of ASEAN), Fiji, and most recently Australia have been mooted as potential members.  However, these proposals did not go very far.  The prospects for Turkey and Mongolia look similarly dim, meaning similar outcomes of either politely ignoring the proposal, or clarifying (diverting) them into the ASEAN Regional Forum or free trade agreement talks with ASEAN.

The episode demonstrates, once again, why ASEAN needs the rules and rules-based order established by the ASEAN Charter.  Without the Charter, this discussion of membership would be governed by the politics and diplomacy of the moment, rather than legal and institutional foundations.