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ASEAN Roundtable 2017 "ASEAN at 50: Charting Our Future Together"

Opening Remarks:  From Left to Right, Mr Christian Echle, Director of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung; Mr Tan Chin Tiong Director of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute and Dr Tang Siew Mun, Head ASEAN Studies Centre

Monday, 2 October 2017 - The ASEAN Roundtable 2017, organised by the ASEAN Studies Centre of ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute was held in Raffles City Convention Centre with the theme “ASEAN at 50: Charting the Future Together”.  The ASEAN Roundtable has been held 32 years running.  The ASEAN Studies Centre partnered with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in convening the Roundtable.

Session 1 on Rethinking ASEAN: From left to right,  A/Prof Herman Kraft, Amb. Ong Keng Yong, Amb. Delia Albert and Dr Michael Vatikiotis

Session One reviewed the highs and lows of ASEAN cooperation over the past five decades, candidly assessing opportunities, obstacles, and what should be improved. Amb. Ong Keng Yong observed that despite criticisms of ASEAN as a talk-shop, it was nevertheless an important regional platform to discuss regionally relevant issues and concerns. Even so, national interests and domestic issues now tended to be prioritized above the collective future good. Amb. Delia Albert posited that the communal identity of ASEAN would help overcome the gaps in information (and understanding) on ASEAN, and it was thus imperative for ASEAN to focus its efforts on improving the well-being of the people in the region. Dr Vatikiotis highlighted that the move for regional integration had not been ASEAN’s aim fifty years ago, as the main focus then was on upholding the sovereignty of nation-states. Integration would best happen in the economic sphere, but politically and culturally, the largely Buddhist mainland ASEAN states and the largely Muslim maritime ASEAN states were an awkward fit.

Session 2 on What's next for the AEC?: From left to right, Dr Francis E Hutchinson, Dato' Steven Wong and Dr Narongchai Akrasanee

Session Two focused on the future of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Panelists evaluated the pace and progress of economic integration, including the current status quo in business sector participation, and hazarded a guess at what lies ahead for the AEC. Dr Steven CM Wong highlighted the state of affairs in ASEAN could be viewed as a constant work in progress, particularly with efforts to ‘enhance the (AEC) scorecard’, allowing for a greater focus on policy implementation from 2016 to 2025. On the other hand, Dr Akrasanee, a veteran of ASEAN economic cooperation, was of the view that the AEC has become increasingly outdated, due to the large variations between the political and economic scenario in ASEAN today. Even so, he was optimistic about the potential for ASEAN members to find complementary areas in pursuing regional economic goals.

The Secretary-General of ASEAN, H.E. Le Luong Minh, delivered the Keynote Address for the Roundtable. SG Minh stated that at its core, ASEAN was born from its members states’ aspirations for regional peace and prosperity. This has been its determining factor of success in its constant evolution over the past fifty years. ASEAN had successfully brought together nations in one of the most diverse regions in the world, and this in itself was a historic achievement. The efforts for the ASEAN Community signaled the political will of member states to become a more cohesive and credible entity in addressing common challenges, many of them with transboundary implications. A big challenge to ASEAN resilience was geo-political. In the years to come, ASEAN’s most daunting challenge would be in navigating its relations with major powers and other key external partners in an inclusive and constructive manner.  More than ever, the importance of peace and stability as pre-conditions for development and prosperity in a region too long divided by big power interventions, was vividly recognized.

Some of our VIPs with ISEAS' Senior Management during lunch. From left to right: Mrs Marty Natalegawa, Dr Marty Natalegawa, Mr Tan Chin Tiong, HE Le Luong Minh, Prof Wang Gungwu, Mrs Wang Gungwu, Mr Christian Echle, Dr Narongchai Akrasanee, Tan Sri Dato' Seri Dr Syed Hamid Albar, and Puan Sri Datin Seri Sharifah Aziah Syed Zainal Abidin

Session 3 on ASEAN Centrality: Remaining relevant amidst uncertainties.  From left to right,  Prof Khong Yuen Foong, Mr Bilahari Kausikan, Amb Dr Hoang Anh Tuan and Pengiran Dato Paduka Osman Patra

Session Three centered around ASEAN centrality, particularly its relevance and essentiality to ASEAN.  Amb Bilahari Kausikan shared his view that ASEAN centrality is a subtle, shapeshifting concept capable of adaptation, rather than a single fixed notion. ASEAN would, therefore, lose centrality only if it lost confidence in making painful and difficult adjustments, so that regionalism does not remain a utopia. Although ASEAN centrality was usually viewed through the lens of the negotiations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, Amb Hoang Anh Tuan was of the view that it is already a real challenge to regional stability. Pengiran Dato Paduka Osman Patra added his view that maintaining centrality has become a matter of necessity, and that achieving the centrality that ASEAN desires would involve not only the pursuit of ideas, action and initiatives, but for ASEAN to assume the responsibility of leadership.

Session 4 on ASEAN: What comes next? From left to right, Mr Ravi Velloor, Tan Sri Dato' Seri Dr Syed Hamid Albar, Dr Marty Natalegawa

Finally, Session Four featured a dialogue between two ASEAN luminaries on what the next decade boded for ASEAN. Tan Sri Dato Seri Dr Syed Hamid Albar highlighted that ASEAN has ‘stuck together’ despite criticisms from major powers; upholding the ASEAN Way of mutual respect and understanding. Dr Marty Natalegawa expressed his belief that ASEAN has been transformative in its impact, particularly in terms of intra-Southeast Asian relations, in ASEAN’s relations with the wider region, and also in a people-centred way. Efforts to provide economic betterment, better welfare, and for greater adherence to human rights and good governance indicate ASEAN’s future path. Both agreed that ASEAN’s constructive engagement policy achieved better results than a transactional or binary approach, but that this policy also required all members to participate in the process.

Close to 260 participants attended the forum this year.  

ASEAN Studies Centre team with Secretary-General of ASEAN, HE Le Luong Minh

Opening Remarks by Mr Tan Chin Tiong, Director, ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute 

Keynote Address by Secretary-General of ASEAN, H.E. Le Luong Minh

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