The ASEAN Studies Centre hosted the official launch of the book ASEAN Centrality: An Autoethnographic Account by a Philippine Diplomat, written by Ambassador Elizabeth P. Buensuceso, followed by an engaging panel discussion on “ASEAN Centrality and ASEAN’s Aspirations for the Future of the Region”.
ASEAN Studies Centre E-Launch Event
Tuesday, 8 March 2022 – The ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted the E-launch of the book ASEAN Centrality: An Autoethnographic Account by a Philippine Diplomat written by Ambassador Elizabeth P. Buensuceso, Philippine’s Eminent Person to the High-Level Task Force on the Future of ASEAN. The book provides a deeper understanding of the concept of ASEAN Centrality through the perspectives of a long-time practitioner of ASEAN diplomacy. Through her experiences in the so-called “Jakarta Channel”, Ambassador Buensuceso provided a three-dimensional approach to the term ASEAN Centrality that is both distinctive and practical. The launch was followed by a panel discussion on “ASEAN Centrality and ASEAN’s Aspirations for the Future of the Region”.
In his Opening Remarks, Mr Choi Shing Kwok, CEO and Director of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Head of the ASEAN Studies Centre, underlined the usefulness of the book in helping to unpack the meaning of ASEAN Centrality. He noted that there is still no common definition and understanding of the term ASEAN Centrality despite the frequent use of the term by both ASEAN Member States and ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners. Against the backdrop of various geo-political developments in ASEAN and Europe, he noted the vital need for ASEAN Centrality and for ASEAN to respond proactively to such developments that may affect ASEAN Member States.
In his Keynote Address, Guest-of-Honour H.E. Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr., The Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Philippines, highlighted Ambassador Buensuceso’s distinctive approach in defining ASEAN Centrality through using both strict academic discipline and personal anecdotes while deconstructing misconceptions about ASEAN and the principle of ASEAN Centrality. He noted that ASEAN Centrality is an evolving concept that may be seen through the Myanmar crisis and the need for ASEAN members to forge unity through difficult challenges. Against the backdrop of International Women’s Day, H.E. Locsin also commended Ambassador Buensuceso for successfully establishing the ASEAN Women For Peace Registry, a key milestone in advancing peace and security for women in ASEAN.
In his Keynote Address, Guest-of-Honour H.E. Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, highlighted that the book was launched at an appropriate time during International Women’s Day to celebrate the success of one of ASEAN’s most successful female diplomats, Ambassador Buensuceso. He highlighted that the launch of Ambassador Buensuceso’s book in collaboration with the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute is another testimony to the very close ties between the Philippines and Singapore. H.E. Dr. Balakrishnan expressed gratitude to the Philippines for supporting Singapore in the fight against Covid-19 and highlighted that Singapore would continue to strengthen cooperation with the Philippines in economic and social development. He noted the importance of cooperation in promoting peace in the region and for the need for all ASEAN Member States to always uphold ASEAN unity and centrality.
The official launch was followed by an engaging panel discussion featuring Ambassador Elizabeth Buensuceso, Eminent Person of the Philippines to the High-Level Task Force on the Future of ASEAN, Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Former ASEAN Secretary-General, and H.E. Dr. Marty Natalegawa, Former Foreign Minister of Indonesia. The discussion was moderated by Ms Joanne Lin, Lead Researcher (Political-Security Affairs), ASEAN Studies Centre, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
During the panel discussion, Ambassador Buensuceso provided a quick overview of the book. She noted that while the term ASEAN Centrality is often mentioned in various ASEAN meetings or forums, the term is often understood differently by various ASEAN experts or practitioners. Ambassador Buensuceso noted that the book seeks to provide a new definition of the term ASEAN Centrality that can be understood and utilised by diplomats, experts, and practitioners alike. She noted her use of the autoethnographic approach in combining her own personal experience with academic discipline to describe and systematically define the term ASEAN Centrality. She noted that understanding and implementing the concept of ASEAN Centrality is vital in confronting the many geo-political developments and threats that may harm ASEAN in the future.
Ambassador Ong Keng Yong noted that the book provided unique ways of explaining the concept of ASEAN Centrality. He also noted that the book offered many interesting insights into how ASEAN meetings operate, allowing Southeast Asians to better appreciate ASEAN and how diplomats attempt to manoeuvre through various issues and concerns to ultimately decide on a decision that would benefit ASEAN. Ambassador Ong noted that it would be impossible to provide a definition of ASEAN Centrality that will satisfy everyone and suggested the need to consider ASEAN’s principles and ideals when discussing the concept of ASEAN Centrality. He noted that since ASEAN is of strategic value to both major powers globally and ASEAN’s neighbours, ASEAN should uphold its principles and ideals when managing itself against external actors. He noted that the concept of ASEAN Centrality is uniquely Southeast Asian and should be protected when challenged.
Dr. Marty M. Natalegawa noted that the book provided insights into the “Jakarta Channel”, an area of ASEAN cooperation that had not yet been fully explained. He noted that the book would allow Southeast Asians to be informed on the mechanisms and operations of the “Jakarta Channel”, which is becoming increasingly important in understanding ASEAN cooperation today. Dr. Natalegawa noted that regardless of the ill-defined terminology, ASEAN Centrality is urgently needed in managing the geo-political and economic developments regionally and globally. Dr. Natalegawa expressed concern that ASEAN was at risk of losing its principles if it wanted to remain in the middle of disputes. Pointing to the various examples, such as the successful management of the Cambodian–Thai border dispute and the ongoing South China Sea dispute, he noted that ASEAN had been successful in influencing the various developments in the region. He added that the Ukraine crisis is a timely reminder that ASEAN needed to navigate other relationships, not just the US-China relationship. He highlighted that ASEAN Centrality should be earned and that ASEAN should continue to cooperate against threats that could potentially harm the region.
During the Q&A discussion, issues such as the intersections between national self-interests and collective regional interests, cultivating a sense of belonging in ASEAN, threats to ASEAN’s cooperation and centrality, developments in the Myanmar crisis, the role of major powers in ASEAN including China and the US, and the possible establishment of a collective security alliance similar to NATO were touched on. The panellists also briefly touched on the role of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific and how ASEAN could further strengthen its centrality amidst global geo-political developments such as the Russia-Ukraine war.
The e-launch was attended by over 235 participants locally and overseas.
Purchase the book ASEAN Centrality: An Autoethnographic Account by a Philippine Diplomat here.