Friday, December 7, 2012

Papua New Guinea as an ASEAN Member?

Yesterday a contributor to the Jakarta Globe suggested reasons why Papua New Guinea (PNG) would qualify to join ASEAN.  PNG has been attempting to join ASEAN since it received observer status in 1976.  The article provides strong reasons both for and against ASEAN membership for PNG.  The major reasons against membership are related to governance in the country.  However, the article did not discuss the institutional barriers in ASEAN against PNG membership.

Article 6 of the ASEAN Charter lays out the criteria for membership:

(a) location in the recognized geographical region of Southeast Asia;
(b) recognition by all ASEAN Member States;
(c) agreement to be bound and to abide by the Charter; and
(d) ability and willingness to carry out the obligations of Membership.

PNG qualifies under criteria (b) and (c), but the other criteria are more difficult.

First, PNG arguably does not fall within the recognized geographical region of Southeast Asia, a requirement of criterion (a).  Unlike Timor Leste, PNG was not directly administered by the British, Dutch, French or American governments that controlled the colonies of Southeast Asia (with the exception of Thailand).  PNG was partially under German control, then later administered by Australia (with a very brief stint under British control) until its independence.  This differs from Timor Leste, which was occupied by Indonesia and routinely considered part of Southeast Asia.

Second, the governance problems in PNG raise major issues regarding criteria (d).  As a Commonwealth member, the laws and regulations would appear to make PNG easier to comply with ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) commitments, much as Commonwealth members Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore have done.  However, the governance issues and poor infrastructure in PNG would make it difficult for the country to implement AEC obligations.  This is despite the head start that it has on Timor Leste as an independent nation. Yet as this blog has noted, ASEAN is not ready take on Timor Leste as a member, given its own difficulties (although it wil eventually join).  PNG as a member would be an even greater challenge, given its larger size and deep-set governance issues.

Both of these factors, in particular the sense that PNG is not part of Southeast Asia, will likely prevent PNG from receiving serious consideration as an ASEAN member.  Unlike Timor Leste, economics and history do not favor PNG.  Rather like Sri Lanka, PNG can play a supporting role in Southeast Asia even if it is not an ASEAN member.