Monday, May 09, 2011 11:27 AM
Mon, 05/09/2011

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta


There are great expectations for Indonesia’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). As a founding member, the largest member and the most vibrant democratic nation in the 10-state organization, the privilege to hosting several high level ASEAN-related meetings this year is a measure of how Indonesia can truly lead Asia’s pre-eminent grouping.

Despite regularly hosting many high-profile meetings over the past two decades, organizational and technical preparations received a passing grade — but not with flying colors.

As reported by this newspaper, preparations were often chaotic and unprofessional. In the lead-up to the summit, for example, dissatisfaction was rampant among the press corps — locally and internationally — about the inefficient registration process. As a proud Indonesian institution, we were embarrassed by the less-than-positive comments heard.

Organizers should never forget that hosting such high- profile events offers a window as to the professionalism by which this country is measured. We hope the criticism that has emerged can be a source of introspection, as several more high-level events immediately lie in wait.

Substantively, there is room for concern amid the proud smiles of the leaders over the weekend. While ASEAN has been superior in creating structures and processes, it has found that instilling the values needed to implement these high visions are low in execution.

Indonesia’s chairmanship has been particularly challenging. With the deadline of an ASEAN Security Community just four years away, it must begin to cultivate a novel decorum among members beholden to the idea of a shared community.

The deadly border shootout between Thailand and Cambodia does not bode well for the future of the so-called ASEAN Security Community. Progress is not a matter of the leaders coming together in Jakarta at the summit to say they would resolve the dispute amicably. International diplomacy will always weigh in after the fact.

The fact that both parties so readily resorted to armed force to begin with was very disconcerting. With a multitude of overlapping disputes dotting the region, who is not to say that more than one place will soon become the next flash point?

We should further be anxious that parties involved in these conflicts would rather bring their dispute to international bodies, rather than seek a solution within ASEAN itself.

These events all indicate that in the face of acute challenges, ASEAN members are not fully ready to embrace the sacrifices — tolerance, cooperation, mediation and patience — needed to be part of a community.

Indonesia, as ASEAN chair, and in particular the Foreign Ministry, should be lauded for taking the initiative in helping to lower tensions and promote mediation within the ASEAN process.

But what happens when other members take the rotating chairmanship?

With Myanmar next, how much of a role can we expect it to pursue in aggressive foreign policy when the regime is still marred by international doubt?

Rather than conjuring new slogans such as “ASEAN Community in a Global Community of Nations”, perhaps it is wise to keep ambitions small. ASEAN will be judged not on how it responds to crises outside the region, but how it resolves its own conundrums.

If the dispute between Cambodia and Thailand cannot be truly resolved — not just suspended as is the custom in ASEAN — by the end of Indonesia’s chairmanship, we are skeptical that the vision of community will be realized by 2015.

It is irrelevant to talk about the ASEAN Community withering away, since achieving it is increasingly likely to be a wonderful but stalled idea, rather than a reality.


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