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Talking About Contribution of ASEAN (and Their Youth)

Socially active and politically empowered, ASEAN youth have been provided with many platforms to share their ideas and advocacies and promote cross-cultural understanding on a regional level. Examples of these youth platforms are the Ship for Southeast Asia and the Japanese Youth Program (SSEAYP), and the ASEAN Youth Forum (AYF). They allow the ASEAN youth to join in cultural activities that encourage cooperation and enhance ASEAN awareness. They also provide a chance for youth to represent their countries and act as youth ambassadors, empowering them to generate alternative perspectives in seeing the world through their interactions and learning of other's perceptions. 

These regional youth platforms emphasize the youth's role as the state's harbinger of soft power. Through these exchanges, the youth can help shape public policies, promote country programs, affect public thoughts, develop the country's image, and craft ways to advance national interests at the ASEAN level. The chance to speak and act on behalf of the country and impact high-level decision-makers in ASEAN breeds the modern concept of youth diplomacy. By engaging in such platforms, youth can be further enhanced as a contribution to peace-building, understanding, and tolerance in the region.

Today, ASEAN is at a critical crossroads. The widely accepted idea of ASEAN Centrality asserts that ASEAN should be the predominant regional platform for engaging with external powers and addressing shared challenges. However, increasing geopolitical competition puts new stress on ASEAN Centrality, and development cooperation is becoming a significant facet. 

Recent developments in Southeast Asia prove that ASEAN's efforts to shape regional cooperation are being tested. These new dynamics have also directed to increasing priority and profile for ASEAN within the foreign policies of major external powers. On the whole, there is growing commitment within the international community to strengthen ASEAN's role in regional architecture. 

By spreading ASEAN regional architecture to development cooperation, ASEAN Member States (AMS) will have much more scope to shape the future of development in Southeast Asia. Externally shaped and driven approaches to development cooperation will become less common. Besides, ASEAN actors will be better positioned to reduce risks and set standards.

There would be less pressure on the individual ASEAN Member States (AMS) from competing regional initiatives and more positive benefits from reduced duplication and improved coordination. AMS will ultimately benefit from having added leverage if ASEAN plays a role in monitoring, coordinating, and engaging with Dialogue Partners and other development actors. In some cases, ASEAN might usefully slow processes to allow for more systematic and careful implementation or shed light on practices not in the collective interest of AMS. 

An improved ASEAN capacity for maintaining regional peace and security is also crucial if ASEAN aims to contribute and respond to critical global issues of common interest and concern. That is why ASEAN Institute for Peace & Reconciliation fits in the ASEAN regional architecture.

The institute contributes towards promoting and building democracy in the region by doing at least these four:

1. Sharing experiences and lessons learned on democracy and peace. This provides opportunities for reflection and sharing on the significant lessons learned in ASEAN nations' journeys of democratic reform;

2. Training and equipping the broad range of actively engaged individuals with democracy;

3. Designing and consolidating the institutions of peace and democracy;

4. Making democracy deliver by leadership, initiatives, and networking.

In the end, the promotion of democracy in the region should be part and parcel of intensified regional cooperation and integration. The promotion of democracy will further help create peace and stability in the increasingly important Asia-Pacific region and, consequently, the world. Democracy, after all, is a work in progress.

Even though ASEAN principles of "consensus" and "non-interference" have often been criticized and viewed more as a hindrance rather than an advantage, for the organization, they will be able to provide an advantage if they are complementary to each other. For example, in the case of Myanmar, if the principle of non-interference can not solve the problem, consensus can still be used to address the issue of Rohingya asylum seekers who are still by the fundamental principles of ASEAN without injuring the sovereign rights and integrity of Myanmar as the country where the Rohingya conflict originated. By teaching human rights norms and democratic values implemented through forums and high-level conferences, the ASEAN community is increasingly concerned with humanitarian and humanitarian issues understands the importance of ending discrimination against ethnic minorities.

However, as voluntary-based approaches, these principles must be maintained in cooperation to promote human rights in the ASEAN region. ASEAN is not an organization led by a general secretariat leadership that has the power as a supranational. The principles of consensus and non-interference can work effectively because these principles are commitments from ASEAN member countries.

[Reference]

  Adducul, L. A. M. (2020). Strengthening the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Pillar through Youth Diplomacy.

  The Asia Foundation. (2018). ASEAN as the Architect for Regional Development Cooperation.

  ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR). (2014). Symposium on Peace and Reconciliation Processes and Initiatives.


Notes: This is my forth-week commentary paper for AYIEP 2021

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