Monday, February 3, 2014

US Names New Resident Ambassador to ASEAN/Thoughts on the Role of the CPR

Happy Year of the Horse! January was a relatively quiet time for this blog, as I was teaching my NUS Law School seminar on the law and policy of the ASEAN Economic Community.  This involved 36 hours of lecturing and discussion over a 12 day period, as well as covering my trade litigation work in Malaysia and Thailand, so I was very tired.  Thanks to Simon Tay, my NUS faculty colleague and head of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, who helped with the class and will be co-teaching the course with me in future editions.  Also thanks to the ASEAN Secretariat for again hosting my class for another on-site seminar in Jakarta.

One January development I didn't comment on was the Obama Administration nominating Nina Hachigan as the new US resident ambassador to ASEAN.  She is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, with a focus on US-China relations and international institutions.  Thus, unlike current US ambassador David Carden, Ms. Hachigan will come to the position with more experience in foreign policy. Ambassador Carden did perform very well, drawing upon his legal experience to develop the job (it should be noted that Hachigan also has legal training).  Hopefully he will remain engaged in the region after his term ends.

I also hope that Ambassador-designate Hachigan can help the ASEAN institutions continue to mature and share the US experience with institution-building with ASEAN.  During our on-site visit to the ASEAN Secretariat, the NUS Law class learned that the Committee on Permanent Representatives (CPR) or its subcommittees meet on virtually every working day at ASEAN headquarters, with most meetings focusing on oversight of the Secretariat’s activities.  That is akin to having US congressional oversight hearings being conducted every day inside the White House, with Obama administration officials being called to testify  (or available to testify) at a moment’s notice.

This is not what was intended when the CPR was created by the ASEAN Charter, of course.  The CPR was supposed to take over the work of the hundreds of ASEAN regional meetings that are held each year in support of the ASEAN Communities.  Yet those meetings still take place, and in some policy areas have actually increased in number.   Hence one could view the CPR’s current focus on oversight as bureaucracy filling a vacuum, particularly as the ASEAN member states continue to send senior foreign ministry types as permanent representatives to Jakarta, and not fully staff the delegations with experts from other ministries, as is done in the EU.

On the other hand, if the CPR oversight process gives the ASEAN member states more confidence in both the capabilities of the ASEAN Secretariat, as well as their own capacity to oversee the activities of the ASEAN Secretariat, then perhaps the ASEAN member states will become more accepting of a stronger role for the Secretariat and the ASEAN institutions.  This also happened in the EU.   

Thus, unlike others, I do not think that the CPR’s role necessarily is detrimental to ASEAN’s continued development.  However, this will depend on whether the CPR’s oversight focuses purely on administrative oversight or expands into a collaborative policy role that works with a stronger ASEAN Secretariat.