Monday, June 27, 2011

Who Else Will Name Resident Ambassadors to ASEAN?

During my trip to Washington, a  Japanese company representative asked me  which other countries would appoint resident ambassadors to ASEAN.  Although many countries now have ambassadors who are accredited both to Indonesia and ASEAN, and others have ambassadors who are accredited only to ASEAN yet not resident in Jakarta.  Right now, only the United States and Japan have ambassadors resident in Jakarta who are accredited only to ASEAN.

Having a resident ambassador to ASEAN represents a country’s commitment to work with the ASEAN institutions on a continuing basis.  More importantly, that commitment is on a bilateral basis; the resident ambassador is continually available for direct communication in Jakarta with the ASEAN Secretariat and the member states’ permanent representatives to ASEAN.

On this basis, I think that eventually, most of the major economic powers will have a resident ambassador to ASEAN.  The EU has had a strong presence in Jakarta already, and is aggressively negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs) with ASEAN members.  Korea, Australia and India  already have regional FTAs with ASEAN and will eventually follow Japan’s example. 

In my opinion, however, China will not follow suit, despite showing support for ASEAN by appointing one of the first ambassadors to ASEAN (non-resident) after the signing of the Charter.  Unlike the other FTA partners, China has major non-economic issues at play with ASEAN, e.g., the Spratly/Paracel Islands-South China Sea territorial dispute.  Although China has been willing to discuss the dispute diplomatically with individual ASEAN members involved in the dispute, it has avoided attempts to discuss the issue on an ASEAN-wide basis.  Appointing a resident ambassador to ASEAN would encourage such discussions, while having its ASEAN ambassador be resident in Beijing allows  China to keep control over access and scheduling for its ASEAN mission.   Thus, until the territorial dispute is resolved or (more likely) China decides that its economic interests are better served otherwise, China will not open a resident mission to ASEAN.