Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Wrap-up of the Spring 2014 ASEAN Summit

The 24th ASEAN Summit was held in Naypyidaw this past weekend.  To the casual observer (and most of the mainstream media), perhaps not much happened beyond the usual press releases and handholding ceremonies (including a relatively bland statement on supporting the ASEAN Economic Community’s (AEC) implementation). That would be a wrong assessment.

First, the major accomplishment is that the ASEAN Summit was held without much of a hitch.  Considering the great apprehension when Myanmar was named ASEAN chair for 2014 regarding its political situation, that is quite something.  I say this with regard to both the procedural and substantive conduct of the ASEAN Summit.   

On the former, the Myanmar government did show that it can pull off a major regional event and gives confidence that it can repeat the task when the ASEAN dialogue partners come for the fall 2014 summit.  With the recent court-ordered departure of former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, it would appear that Myanmar is more politically stable than Thailand at the moment (although the real test is whether we will be able to say the same thing during next year’s runup to the Myanmar elections). 

On the latter, fears that a Myanmar chairmanship would turn into a repeat of the 2012 Cambodian chairmanship have been largely dissipated.  Although perhaps Vietnam and the Philippines did not get as strong a reaction on the South China Sea issue, neither did we have the complete breakdown on the issue that occurred at the 2012 Phnom Penh summit. This attests to Myanmar’s different outlook on relations with China as well as to the difference between Cambodia’s and Myanmar’s approaches to the ASEAN chairmanship.

Second, Malaysia reiterated its push for reform of the ASEAN institutions.  As discussed in the previous post, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has proposed changing the financial structure for the ASEAN Secretariat and other proposals, which he tabled with the other ASEAN leaders during the Naypyidaw summit.  With Malaysia taking over as ASEAN chair in 2015, Malaysia’s active support of ASEAN institutions is a promising development for ASEAN. The timing is also good, as the ASEAN Charter is due for a review and the impending December 31, 2015, ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) implementation deadline looks set to be only partially met, meaning that post-2015 AEC efforts will need additional ASEAN institutional support that the current setup does not currently offer.  Hopefully, this effort will go further and incorporate the institutional reforms proposed by former ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan as well as improving dispute resolution in ASEAN.