Saturday, February 11, 2017

AEC 2025 Consolidated Strategic Action Plan

This week ASEAN published the “AEC 2025 Consolidated Strategic Action Plan (CSAP).” The plan lays out both the specific steps associated with implementing the Asean Economic Community (AEC) 2025 Blueprint, along with the anticipated timeframe. 

ASEAN stated that the CSAP “allows for more structured tracking and reporting of the implementation progress of the AEC Blueprint 2025. The AEC 2025 CSAP also facilitates stakeholder feedback to ASEAN economic integration priorities in the succeeding years, as it will be reviewed and updated periodically over the 10-year period.”

The CSAP is indeed a positive step forward, as the AEC Blueprint 2025 was necessarily aspirational in nature.   The CSAP is more practical and has more specified tasks, although much of the CSAP is aspirational as well.

Yet the CSAP does not indicate how the “tracking and reporting of the implementation progress” will be done.  ASEAN has only done two AEC Scorecards, and the most recent scoring, which was not in the form of a scorecard, was limited only to a review of “key deliverables” for 2015.  Since that time, there has been no detailed reporting, on a country-specific and program-specific basis, provided by ASEAN. Hopefully the CSAP will allow for this in the future, as the lack of monitoring and compliance mechanisms is a deficiency in ASEAN’s institutional structure.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

How Does Trump's America View ASEAN?

How does America view ASEAN in the new Trump era?  After two weeks, there is one big news item and some smaller ones.

First, the big talking point is the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea dispute.  Comments by Trump administration figures regarding the maritime dispute have been much discussed in the media, particularly in the U.S.-China context.  Yet the comments go beyond that. They remind all players in the region that the dispute is an international dispute with multiple parties involved, which cannot be resolved on a bilateral basis only between China and the Philippines, for example.  If the new U.S. administration can maintain the narrative on this basis, and avoid the on-the-ground escalations with China which have plagued previous new U.S. administrations in their early days (e.g., Taiwan in the Clinton administration or the Hainan island incident in the Bush 43 administration), so much the better for a peaceful management of the situation.

Second, less publicized was last week’s formation of a bipartisan ASEAN caucus in the U.S. Congress.  This comes after more than two years of effort in Washington, and is a positive development. As I discussed in a previous post, perhaps the biggest gain is the creation of another link with ASEAN countries for whom bilateral relations are strained at the moment, such as the Philippines. 

Third, a recent poll by YouGov published in the New York Times illustrates that country’s fall in reputation in the U.S. since 2014.  Polls taken in 2014 and 2017 surveyed Americans’ perceptions of other countries as allies or enemies of the United States, further breaking down perceptions based on party preferences; I post some selected data here (green shading means positive, red shading means negative):



This poll should be viewed as an indication of both familiarity and popularity.  The former explains why European countries are the highest ranked, given that most Americans originated in Europe, and Europe is closer geographically.  The latter is affected by historical memory; Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia and Pakistan fall near the bottom of the rankings, and North Korea is consistently ranked as the worst enemy.

For ASEAN countries, the poll shows mixed results.  The Philippines went from being the highest ranked Asian country in 2014 (9th) to falling to 41st place in 2017.  This reflects the constant negative media coverage of the Duterte administration since it came to power.  On the other hand, this ranking is consistent with rankings for the other ASEAN countries and is still higher than the other seven ranked members (the poll itself is distorted by not including Brunei and Singapore, although it did include sparsely-populated Greenland, which was ranked 10th in 2014 and 23rd in 2017!).

For the other ASEAN countries, the polls show their relative lack of impression on the American public. The rankings show relatively little movement from 2014 to 2017, which was the case for most Asian countries (the above chart shows Japan, South Korea, China and North Korea for reference).  Furthermore, it is hard to discern the links between favorability and recent developments in the region.  For example, Myanmar went through a transition to a democratic government led by the popular Aung San Suu Kyi, yet the poll says that it fell in rankings from 102nd in 2014 to 117th in 2017, and ranked lower than Cambodia.    Vietnam, which has a large diaspora in the U.S., ranked lower than Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, which do not, probably because of lingering sentiments from the Vietnam War (which ended more than 40 years ago).

The foregoing indicates that ASEAN members will need to be resourceful in the coming years, given their diplomatic and political situations.  The ASEAN congressional caucus is a useful forum for ASEAN members, but other tools and means should be pursued.   ASEAN members need to expand American perceptions of ASEAN beyond the South China Sea and media reports, and increase economic and cultural ties. For example, the Trump administration has signaled that it may pursue bilateral free trade agreements with Malaysia and Thailand. This opportunity comes because of the demise of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and should be pursued by all sides.

In other words, ASEAN faces a significantly different relationship with the United States. Rather than simply throwing up their collective hands in frustration (or worse) its members need to engage and work with the United States to build upon that relationship.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

CLMV ASEAN Accession Lessons

This week the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) published a study on the experience of diplomats from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) within ASEAN.    The study looks at how these countries integrated (or re-integrated) with the world after trauma and isolation, through the process of joining ASEAN, as well as their interactions with and within the ASEAN institutions.    It posits that, by using the smaller forum of ASEAN, the CLMV countries learned or re-learned how to operate in the world system.

I would agree with this proposition, as one of ASEAN’s major successes has been to bring the heretofore isolated CLMV countries into the world system, even if that process has required more time and resources in some countries rather than others. 

However, the study focused on the experience of the CLMV countries in ASEAN, but not on the converse, e.g., how did the incumbent ASEAN+6 countries view this process?  Not all of the ASEAN+6 countries took a positive view of the CLMV countries’ accession process, as some countries (e.g. Singapore) have cited human resources and capacity concerns as obstacles to ASEAN’s taking on new members (e.g., Timor-Leste), clearly reflecting the lingering effects of the CLMV experience.

To this, I would say that the CLMV experience is illustrative but not indicative of what will happen when Timor-Leste joins ASEAN.

Unlike the CLMV countries, Timor-Leste has existed as an independent country for a far shorter period of time.  That means many institutions had to be created from scratch, relying on the leadership and experience of the Timorese resistance movement and diaspora.  The English language issues cited in the ISEAS study as affecting the CLMV countries do apply to Timor-Leste, which uses Portuguese and Tetum as official languages.

On the other hand, that same Timorese resistance movement developed strong capabilities from dealing with the international community during the years of resistance.   Unlike the CLMV countries at the time of their accession, Timor-Leste has had more experience in dealing with larger international forums, like the g7+ and CPLP (the Portuguese language community of countries). This capacity was most recently demonstrated by Dili’s hosting of the ASEAN People’s Forum. 

The younger generation of Timorese leaders has also made great strides in English language capability as well as substantive aspects of policy and international relations.  I can attest to this from personal experience:  
the 30+ students in my August 2016 “Introduction to ASEAN” class at the Diplomatic Training Institute of Timor-Leste were articulate (in English), knowledgeable and energetic, far exceeding the capabilities of the Timorese officials I interacted with in the early days of independence.  This impression comes both from the classroom experience and their examination papers.

Timor-Leste will present the ASEAN institutions with integration issues, like any new member.  However, in many ways Timorese officials will be better equipped to deal with these issues.  Either way, Timor-Leste is ready to begin the ASEAN accession process.