Thursday, July 29, 2010

ASEAN's Elusive Regional Identity Lives!

Remember the ASEAN Charter back in 2007? If we forget the integration snobbery of the EU (where the EU believes its regionalism is the model for world-wide regional initiatives) for a second, we will understand why ASEAN is still not in a hurry to become like the EU. After all, it has its famed ASEAN way.

So when one reads that at their upcoming 43rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting they are going to discuss the ASEAN Charter in Vietnam, Hanoi, "with a focus on the implementation of the newly-ratified 2008 charter", we can only wait and see with baited breath.

The reports indicate that the Charter is supposed to "provide a legal framework" and set goals for the political, economic and socio-cultural development of its member states.

It has been riddled with holes on account of the fact that some observers wonder why such a Charter when ASEAN remains adamant that they will not deal decisively with Myanmar (Burma).That country continues to be the black sheep of the ASEAN family, and without ASEAN wielding the stick, any implementation of the Charter will come to naught.

So distressing has been the situation that even a few scholars were pointing to no less than the African Union as a model for ASEAN! You can read that article here:

That article maintains:

In 2005, the African Union even suspended Togo in response to an
unconstitutional seizure of power, which convinced the government to
call new elections. Moreover, the African Union is currently
establishing a stronger African Court of Justice and Human Rights to
hear human rights cases. As a result, according to the U.S. think-tank
Freedom House, Africans on the whole currently enjoy more civil and
political freedom than Southeast Asians. While Africa still faces many
challenges, human rights violations are no longer accepted as the norm
thanks in part to efforts of the African Commission on Human and
People's Rights.

By contrast, ASEAN has yet to adopt a single human rights treaty and
struggles to condemn gross rights violations committed by its member.
Unlike African human rights treaties, neither the ASEAN Charter nor
the ASEAN Human Rights Body's Terms of Reference detail specific
rights, but rather list vague principles, such as non-discrimination
and the rule of law. Thus, it is not even clear whether Southeast
Asians possess the same human rights that Africans currently enjoy.

As much as the ASEAN Charter is important, and needs decisive implementation, I think the 14-member grouping must actually also be credited for trying to promote ASEAN in an innovative way.

Given that this is not the first time ASEAN has made efforts at show-casing the organisation, we can only sit bemused by what next they have to offer.

Vietnam currently has a National Committee for ASEAN in collaboration with the Voice of Vietnam radio station.

This idea is basically:

in line with the regional body's attempts to raise public awareness of ASEAN and its role in member states, the radio contest centered around the "ASEAN Community of Solidarity and Prosperity", as part of the socio-cultural agenda of ASEAN under the recently ratified 2008 Charter. The radio contest is just one initiative aimed at communicating the concept and role of ASEAN to people in the region.

Although there remain challenges around the promoting of ASEAN, I think it's safe to say that it is a concept that can be replicated in different regional groupings--all with the aim of offering a constructive and progressive outlook to regional integration!

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