Thursday, October 6, 2016

CLMV ASEAN Accession Lessons

This week the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) published a study on the experience of diplomats from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) within ASEAN.    The study looks at how these countries integrated (or re-integrated) with the world after trauma and isolation, through the process of joining ASEAN, as well as their interactions with and within the ASEAN institutions.    It posits that, by using the smaller forum of ASEAN, the CLMV countries learned or re-learned how to operate in the world system.

I would agree with this proposition, as one of ASEAN’s major successes has been to bring the heretofore isolated CLMV countries into the world system, even if that process has required more time and resources in some countries rather than others. 

However, the study focused on the experience of the CLMV countries in ASEAN, but not on the converse, e.g., how did the incumbent ASEAN+6 countries view this process?  Not all of the ASEAN+6 countries took a positive view of the CLMV countries’ accession process, as some countries (e.g. Singapore) have cited human resources and capacity concerns as obstacles to ASEAN’s taking on new members (e.g., Timor-Leste), clearly reflecting the lingering effects of the CLMV experience.

To this, I would say that the CLMV experience is illustrative but not indicative of what will happen when Timor-Leste joins ASEAN.

Unlike the CLMV countries, Timor-Leste has existed as an independent country for a far shorter period of time.  That means many institutions had to be created from scratch, relying on the leadership and experience of the Timorese resistance movement and diaspora.  The English language issues cited in the ISEAS study as affecting the CLMV countries do apply to Timor-Leste, which uses Portuguese and Tetum as official languages.

On the other hand, that same Timorese resistance movement developed strong capabilities from dealing with the international community during the years of resistance.   Unlike the CLMV countries at the time of their accession, Timor-Leste has had more experience in dealing with larger international forums, like the g7+ and CPLP (the Portuguese language community of countries). This capacity was most recently demonstrated by Dili’s hosting of the ASEAN People’s Forum. 

The younger generation of Timorese leaders has also made great strides in English language capability as well as substantive aspects of policy and international relations.  I can attest to this from personal experience:  
the 30+ students in my August 2016 “Introduction to ASEAN” class at the Diplomatic Training Institute of Timor-Leste were articulate (in English), knowledgeable and energetic, far exceeding the capabilities of the Timorese officials I interacted with in the early days of independence.  This impression comes both from the classroom experience and their examination papers.

Timor-Leste will present the ASEAN institutions with integration issues, like any new member.  However, in many ways Timorese officials will be better equipped to deal with these issues.  Either way, Timor-Leste is ready to begin the ASEAN accession process.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Japan Supports TPP Membership for ASEAN Members

During this week’s meetings in Laos, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered to support any ASEAN country that wishes to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), according to the Japan Times:

“The TPP will not divide ASEAN,” Abe said. The importance placed on the TPP by Japan and the U.S. has been interpreted as an effort to counter the regional influence of China, which is not party to the pact. “The TPP was agreed after clearing political hurdles,” Abe said. “Japan will support ASEAN countries wishing to participate in the TPP so that they can bring their plans to fruition.”

This is important for Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar because ASEAN members do not automatically qualify to accede to the TPP.  According to Article 30.4.1:

"1. This Agreement is open to accession by:

(a) any State or separate customs territory that is a member of APEC; and

(b) any other State or separate customs territory as the Parties may agree,

that is prepared to comply with the obligations in this Agreement, subject to such terms and conditions as may be agreed between the State or separate customs territory and the Parties, and following approval in accordance with the applicable legal procedures of each Party and acceding State or separate customs territory (accession candidate)."

Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are not members of APEC, whereas Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are APEC members and satisfy these criteria.  Thus, Mr. Abe’s proposal will need to be supported by the other TPP members to qualify Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar for the TPP.  Given their less developed economies, these countries would probably be in a potential third group of TPP candidates, after countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and South Korea who are currently considering joining in the next wave.

In any event, the TPP needs ratification by its existing parties, particularly the U.S.  Without U.S. ratification, the TPP will not come into force, and that will largely depend on domestic political conditions in America.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Wrap-up of the 2016 ASEAN Summit(s)

This week Laos hosted the 2016 ASEAN Summits in Vientiane.  The media will largely focus on the communiqué’s language on the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea.  However, as a result of efforts to downplay the dispute, including those of the new Philippine government, the document was not likely to adopt a more active stance on the issue. This, coupled with the bete noire with the United States over Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s choice of words, will cause some observers to view the Vientiane summits as a relative disappointment.  That would overlook some of the achievements announced in Laos in the Chair’s statement:
  •  ASEAN Summit -- The timing of the summits themselves reflects the inherent flexibility of ASEAN.  Laos felt that it did not have the infrastructure to hold two major summits in 2016, as is required by the ASEAN Charter.   Hence Laos was permitted to conduct both summits this week, but with the same participants.  This complied with the letter of the law, but it also meant that ASEAN decisions were delayed several months until the Vientiane meetings (with an excellent explanation of why this is the case here).  On the other hand, reducing the administrative burden of hosting the ASEAN Summit will help when smaller countries (e.g., Timor-Leste) serve as Chair, assuming that the 2016 Laos precedent is not followed too often.
  • Timor-Leste – The Summit announced that all 3 feasibility studies on the accession have been completed, and that the application is now with the ASEAN Coordinating Council Working Group (ACCWG). That means that the ACCWG is the last formal hurdle before the start of the official accession process.  The Summit also announced that Timor-Leste would participate in more ASEAN meetings for capacity building purposes.  Last year Timor-Leste attended its first ASEAN meeting (on connectivity) but since then has not attended any other meetings (although it was invited to, but did not participate in, the ASEAN Law Ministers meeting last year).
  • Development – The third work plan for the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI III) was announced.  The IAI serves as ASEAN’s wish list for projects in the less developed parts of the region, with funding to come from donor countries.  The real question will be how the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will interact with existing donor countries and entities in implementing the IAI as well as the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which covers the entire region.
  • Institutions – The communiqué states that ASEAN has addressed the recommendations of the High Level Task Force on Strengthening the ASEAN Secretariat and Reviewing the ASEAN Organs, noting that most of them are “perpetual” in nature and will require continuing implementation. 

Now the Chair passes to the Philippines, a founding member of ASEAN.  In addition to the usual responsibilities of the Chair, the Philippines also will supervise the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of ASEAN as well as the selection of the next ASEAN Secretary General (who will come from Brunei as per the national rotation).