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Why ASEAN Community? : A Key from Indonesia
Author : Azhari Setiawan*)

On the next ASEAN Summit, which will be held in Laos scheduled for April and October 2016, ASEAN will held  its first summit as community which is officiated to proceed on December, 31 2015. We certainly are expecting something new, at least something different. This article explains my opinions and some analysis that forming a community-based regional integration—instead of other kinds of regional integration mechanisms—is a rational, good, and committed choice and the best policy for ASEAN members to enhance its capacity and capability not only as a country but also as a society. I personally believe that those criteria are compatible Indonesia’s characteristics.

First, ASEANs don’t want a war. It is rational for ASEAN and others. ASEAN was established in a condition where the world is divided on two blocs of political-economic ideology. Cold War was the “rotten apple” of World War (I and II). Regarding to the history of colonialism-imperialism and proxy wars, ASEAN was the victim of war. Political-security Community is a good mechanism for ASEAN to create, keep, and maintain peace in Southeast Asia. By forming the common threats and creating the common security, ASEAN will be dissociated from conflicts. Potential conflicts in Southeast Asia could be solved, at least “talked on the table”.

Indonesia has a major role as “ASEAN Leader” in the community to pursue an understanding with Laos—as the next ASEAN Summit host—to work together in the name of ASEAN as a community on maintaining South East Asia’s stability post Japan’s new defense policy and its relation to China. Indonesia’s diplomacy success between Japan’s military rising and China regional hegemonic vision toward Asia would be possible to make Indonesia become the caretaker of South East Asia stability. Indonesia—which I could say—holds the key of South East Asia stability. The main point is on how does Indonesia’s strategy on using that key.

Asian Development Bank stated that ASEAN is one of the most open economic regions in the world, with total merchandise exports of over $1.2 trillion - nearly 54% of total ASEAN GDP and 7% of global exports. This brings us to the second reason. Economic Community could gain the economic competitiveness of ASEAN member countries. AEC was collectively the third largest economy in Asia and the seventh largest in the world in 2014.

Indonesia should consider to concern on some strategic policies which I suggest here as follow: 1) Indonesia should build an economic bridge between the ASEAN-6 and ASEAN CLMV to facilitate older and economically more advanced members; 2) Indonesia should overcome immediately the challenging requirements of economic integration with perfect domestic laws; and 3) Indonesia should enforce the national structural reforms in order to create good economic integration-based type of state.

Third, the Economic Community would gain the economic competitiveness of the ‘outsiders’ in Southeast Asia, which could be a “Chambers Cyclopedia of Simple Machine” for ASEAN member countries. As we know that based on Asian Development analysis, the center of global economic gravity is shifting toward Asia. Within Asia, it is shifting toward the two giant economies of the People’s Republic of China and India. Their emergence as economic superpowers suggests that “economic size” bestows significant advantage in accelerating growth and fostering development. With over 600 million people, ASEAN's potential market is larger than the European Union or North America. ASEAN has the world's third largest labor force that remains relatively young.

One of serious concern could come from the U.S. and China competitions in Southeast Asia through RCEP vs TPP. According to Beginda Pakpahan’s article in East Asia Forum he stated that competition appears likely to emerge between ASEAN’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Any competition between these two agreements may divide the ASEAN members which mean it could affect the intra-ASEAN economic relations. The TPP and RCEP may come into conflict due to the tension between the US and China, as each wants to shape economic cooperation in the Southeast and East Asian regions in order to secure its economic interests.

Indonesia is a perfect one could overcome this issue. I dare to state this because it’s only Indonesia who is the most and biggest market share not only for the United States, but also China. Regarding to Indonesia’s good economic relations with both countries, Indonesia has the ability to balance both of these economic onset. Indonesia is the central player between U.S. – China, toward RCEP and TPP. As a central player between RCEP and TPP, Indonesia could enforce the centrality of ASEAN as economic axis and enhance the ASEAN capacity and capabilities on responding any potential competitions and co-operations within Southeast Asia and East Asia effectively.

An effective open economic regions and good human security of ASEAN would bring us to the fifth point of ‘why ASEAN community?’ that ASEAN Socio-cultural Community has a strong capacity to enhance the interactions between members through G2G become P2P, or from P2P become G2G solidarity. The ASCC Blueprint represents the human dimension of ASEAN cooperation and upholds ASEAN commitment to address the region’s aspiration to lift the quality of life of its peoples. The top-down and bottom-up social interactions could help and empower ASEANs to lift the social quality of life within the society.

The final answer and also the most important one, ASEAN could facilitate its relations with other regional institutions. These potential relations would bring ASEAN up to the next level of regionalism history. But this wouldn’t happen early because ASEAN must be strong and capable as one entity “passing the offshore” go to the other entities of regional integration and build high level of interactions, long-term co-operations, and lift the global society quality of life. ASEAN as one vision, one identity, and one community only depends on process and result of how the Community works with its “reasons to be born”.


*) Postgraduate Program of International Relations Department, University of Indonesia and Forum for Academician of International Relations (FAIR), Universitas Riau



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