Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ASEAN Apathy Bites the Dust with ASEAN Charter?

  • "ASEAN, as an inter-governmental organization, is hereby conferred legal personality," says the Charter.

  • According to the Blueprint, the AEC builds on four pillars: a single market and production base, a highly competitive economic region, a region of equitable economic development, and a region fully integrated into the global economy

  • "When it (the Charter) comes into force, it has the potential to transform ASEAN from a loose grouping of countries into a more cohesive, more effective and a more rules-based organization,"

  • Even at a time when the South East asian regionalisms attitude towards erring members (viz: Pakistan in SAARC, and Myanmar in ASEAN) could be described as this side short of soporific, I have to confess that I am rather excited by the prospect of an ASEAN Charter. Excited, because it signals the beginning of what can be in the critical and progressive discussion on regional integration. What can be as in what is possible, where others might have failed.

    I've intoned time and again how the Europeans rejected the constitution back in 2004, yet ASEAN leaders have managed to chalk, and pass it. As to whether it will translate to the citizens is a moot point.

    Whatever the case will be, I believe history will look favourably on the 10-member regional organisation that has a population of 500 million [ECOWAS has 250-300 million, and is fifteen members] for having bitten the bullet to pass the Charter.

    Highlights of the Charter include a compulsion by members:

    to democracy and protection of human rights, the charter also mandates the establishment of a human rights body in the region and aims to turn the region into an European Union-style market.

    Though I am wont to criticise the EU-one-size-fits-all that many regionalisms touch on at least once in their life, I am avoiding that here, because I think it's time to accentuate the positive step ASEAN has taken.

    Let's remember that 4the organisation turned forty only in August this year. It didn't wait for its Jubilee before doing something constructive for its region!

    Above all, and in all seriousness, ASEAN wants to use the Charter to facilitate an Asian Economic Community by 2015. Well, deadlines are great. (Isn't the world supposed to eradicate poverty by half by 2015?) What matters is that there is a framework, a structure that can be carried forward by posterity. ASEAN now has legal personality--and that certainly, four decades after it was established, can only be congratulated.

    In many respects, however, I can understand why the celebrations over the charter eclipsed the UN envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari's visit in a way that made the meeting abortive. Put simply, the meeting didn't happen.

    I surmise that not that ASEAN was denying that Myanmar is a nettlesome issue, but that to have brought the UN envoy would have been undermining the cohesion ASEAN tried so hard to fight for in taking more than two years to draft this lofty charter.

    I have always been in favour of UN envoys--and it's not going to change anytime soon--but, again, I've seen a similar thing in West Africa with Cote d'ivoire when it launched its coup in September 2002.

    ECOWAS also decided not to expel it, but brought pressure to bear through the collective voice of ECOWAS to bring normality to the country through...talk.

    For all the necessary noise that the US is making by saying (through Susan Schwab, US trade representative) that ASEAN's relationship with Myanmar cannot be "business as usual", it makes sense that ASEAN is not going to break its party anytime soon! Let it cry when it wants to--but certainly not now that there has been a significant, critical and progressive development in ASEAN's regional integration.

    quotations taken from the following links:

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