Monday, 7 August 2017

ASEAN 50th Anniversary on 8 August 2017

ASEAN's way or the highway
The grouping's advance has been steady if not spectacular and it's not done growing.
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor, The Sunday Times, 6 Aug 2017

Try asking college students in the ASEAN states where the Appalachian Range and the Visayas mountains are situated. Chances are that, unless you were putting the question to a Filipino, many would probably know of the Appalachians being in the United States but few would be aware of the Visayas in the Philippines. It's a great pity, but that's the reality.

Fifty years after the Association of South-east Asian Nations was founded, no school syllabus in the 10-nation grouping teaches ASEAN as a subject. The region's aviation sector is booming - Singapore, even as it opens Changi Airport's Terminal 4, is well into the planning of a giant Terminal 5 - but no South-east Asian carrier flies the ASEAN logo on its tail. The only currency notes in the region exchangeable at par are those of Brunei and Singapore. There is no ASEAN dispute settlement mechanism, much less a body to enforce the rules.

The ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta is a poorly funded body, its total budget only about as much as the combined annual earnings of the chief executive officers of Singapore's three local banks. For years, it has operated from modest, low-rise offices tucked away in the southern corner of the city.

In contrast, the headquarters of the European Union (EU), the body against which ASEAN is most compared, is a magnificent one.

Yet in April, when the Trump administration sought to reaffirm the US' strategic commitment to Asia, it sent Vice-President Mike Pence to the ASEAN Secretariat. There, he announced that President Donald Trump would attend three Asia summits in the second half of the year - the ASEAN-US summit, the East Asia summit in the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam. An outside power like the US now has a full-time ambassador to ASEAN. So do Australia, South Korea and several other countries.

Who'd have thought that a body set up at the height of the Cold War to protect Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore from becoming dominoes that could be knocked down by communism, would advance in such a spectacular way? From five members at its founding in 1967 to six in 1984 when Brunei signed on, and eventually 10 as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and finally Myanmar, came on board, the group has only expanded. And it's not done growing: Timor Leste could be on board next. While once-role model the EU is straining at the seams, ASEAN's hemlines are getting broader.


Indeed, people from outside the region sometimes tend to see its significance more clearly than those within.

In January, in a major foreign policy speech in Los Angeles, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop declared ASEAN not only "the geographic centre of the Indo-Pacific (but) also its diplomatic centre". ASEAN, she went on to say, "has an influence throughout Asia that is not always well-understood".

As the distinguished Singapore diplomat Barry Desker noted this week, ASEAN's foundational instrument, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, now boasts 35 state parties, including all ASEAN states and major powers.

In some ways, therefore, ASEAN is like a beehive that sways in the wind, yet is strongly rooted in its own unique fashion. Perhaps it is something to do with the loose confederation that it is, compared with, say, the centralising instinct of the EU.

There also is little question that ASEAN is far too tolerant of autocratic regimes and prone to look the other way while others are holding their noses, such as when the government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Thailand was unseated by the military.

Yet, ASEAN's surface tolerance often masks the peer pressure that goes on backstage. Witness, for instance, how the Myanmar junta was coaxed into permitting a more democratic dispensation that freed Ms Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and to eventual rise as the leader of her nation.

"ASEAN is like the air you breathe. You will notice only when it is gone," Ms Hoang Thi Ha, a political security expert who spent a decade at the ASEAN Secretariat, said at a recent forum organised by The Straits Times and the National Library Board.

In fact, there is much more to cheer.

ASEAN brands, such as Singapore Airlines, Malaysia's CIMB Bank and bananas from the Philippines with Del Monte stickers on them have become visible not only around the region but wider afield.

Powered by the lure of a 630 million-strong market, ASEAN has become a major manufacturing and investment destination. Indeed, foreign direct investment flows to ASEAN have outpaced flows to China since 2013. Tourism is booming - one in nine South Koreans, for instance, travels to an ASEAN destination every year. According to the consultancy firm McKinsey, almost 60 per cent of total ASEAN growth since 1990 has come from productivity gains.

Still, there's no shared visa policy and economic integration remains a work in progress. Much of what's been gained has been in the low-hanging fruit area. The financial industry's access to each other's markets is limited and so is labour mobility.

That said, as ASEAN gradually harmonises standards and works towards an evenness of regulatory standards, its allure will eventually accelerate. Sandwiched between China and India - Asia's tectonic plates - and with better demographics than China and higher social indicators than India, the region stands on the cusp of turning its golden anniversary into a golden opportunity.


But there's also no question that it needs to move faster for to stand still would be suicidal. Bigger markets are looming in the neighbourhood. Witness, for instance, how India has begun to soak up foreign direct investment.

Much of that will need to be in economic and security cooperation since political integration is pretty much out of the question. The one thing ASEAN members abhor most is outside intervention in their internal affairs. Besides, the region is simply too diverse. The addition of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar not only widened economic disparities, but also opened the way for political differences since the original ASEAN members were broadly pro-West in character.

Now, new fault lines are emerging, including between overtly pro-China ASEAN states and more neutral ones. After the widening discomfort over the treatment of majority Buddhist Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, there's even talk of a Muslim ASEAN and a non-Muslim ASEAN.

Adjusting to China's growing power has also brought severe challenges. Unlike the US, whose presence was largely benign, China has shown it can bestow and withdraw privileges - and exact punishment on recalcitrants.

But that dominance could prove temporary once the US gets over its internal distractions and as other powers, such as Japan and India, rise in the region and start to be assertive in their own way or jointly.

That will give ASEAN states the room they've always sought to manoeuvre between the major powers, or as Ms Hoang puts it, to be "virtuously promiscuous". It is no accident that the EU and Canada are knocking on the doors of the East Asia Summit process and that Nato officials have been showing up regularly for the annual Shangri-La security dialogues in Singapore.

Ultimately, much of ASEAN's future will depend on the trajectory chosen by Indonesia, its largest member nation. In the initial decades, under president Suharto, Jakarta's reticence about leading from the front helped the smaller states assert themselves in the ASEAN experiment.

Under Mr Joko Widodo, though, it has got markedly worse. Perhaps it is because there isn't enough bandwidth within Indonesia's foreign policy establishment for this role. Or it could be that Indonesia's inclusion in the Group of 20 forum has given it visions of a game beyond ASEAN.

Still, visibly if nothing else, Indonesia's ASEAN profile is set to rise.

A glittering new ASEAN headquarters building is taking shape in Jakarta and should be ready by 2019 for possible occupation the following year. The way real estate prices have been shooting up in Jakarta's "ASEAN district" suggests that investors see value in being part of the neighbourhood.

In time, the 16-storey ASEAN HQ with a helipad on the 17th level will probably host the annual summits and could be as important a physical landmark as the United Nations building in New York, and a place where the good and the great of the world travel to and state their positions. Just as US Vice-President Pence did earlier this year.

ASEAN at 50: A road map of key challenges ahead
These include economic integration, capitalising on demographics and making the most of ASEAN's tech-savvy youth. Countering terrorism is another issue rearing its head.
By Ong Keng Yong, Published The Sunday Times, 6 Aug 2017

ASEAN has enjoyed a relatively successful and prosperous first 50 years. A key milestone is the establishment of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) which laid the foundation for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), one of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community.

With this year marking the 50th anniversary of ASEAN, it is apt to chart out a road map of key issues of regional importance for the next five decades. To ensure continued success, ASEAN needs to further consolidate economic integration, capitalise on favourable demographic factors and channel the skills of today's tech-savvy youth to harness the digital revolution.

Against the backdrop of growing anti-globalisation and protectionist sentiments across the world and an unpredictable United States Trump administration, it has become an imperative to maintain economic growth for continued stability and prosperity in the region.

As such, intra-ASEAN initiatives like the AEC as well as regional initiatives such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will be the cornerstone in making ASEAN the bulwark of an outward-looking South-east Asia, championing trade liberalisation and engaging the rest of the world.

The successful completion of the RCEP will link ASEAN, a market of 628 million people, to its six partner countries (China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand) creating a bigger market of 3.5 billion people.

In recent years, ASEAN has been growing by around 5 per cent a year, ushering the rise of a huge middle class.

The Asian Development Bank estimated that by 2030, nearly half a billion of ASEAN's population will be classified as middle-income class.

ASEAN can perform better, with a potential growth rate of 7 per cent, if member states align their interests with the ASEAN community agenda. At the start of last year, ASEAN was the seventh largest economy in the world; by the start of this year, that rank had improved to sixth, and by 2020, it is predicted to be fifth.


Coupled with stable economic growth, ASEAN currently enjoys a demographic sweet spot. Governments of ASEAN member states must take the right measures today, such as restructuring the educational curriculum to ensure youth are better prepared to take on jobs of the future, before the population starts to age by 2025.

ASEAN's citizens are still very young (although Singapore and Thailand are already ageing). As the working-age population grows in number, it will not only boost the region's spending, but also increase its savings - and its capacity to invest. Investment should be made in human capital. To maintain dynamic growth, we cannot rely on natural resources and unskilled labour, but have to aim for sustainable development and equitable growth, through increased productivity and innovation, to move up the value chain.

ASEAN's rapidly growing economy and population need to be accompanied by a strong strategy for sustainable development. The region is already facing a myriad of transboundary environmental issues such as haze, water and land pollution, along with dwindling forest cover.

However, ASEAN's balancing act between environmental sustainability and economic development will be made more challenging because of existing region-wide social inequities. ASEAN member states are in varying stages of national development and the growing middle class only adds to the increasing consumption of resources and degeneration of the environment and biodiversity.

As ASEAN enters its sixth decade, the world stands on the cusp of a digital revolution, driven by technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, ubiquitous mobile Internet and accelerating progress in genetics, materials science and ultra-cheap automation.

ASEAN has the potential to enter the top five digital economies in the world by 2025. Moreover, implementation of a radical digital agenda could add US$1 trillion (S$1.36 trillion) to the region's gross domestic product over the next 10 years.

With a large and youthful population increasingly equipped with smartphones, ASEAN has an opportunity to pioneer the development of new digital services, especially advanced mobile financial services and e-commerce. A recent report from Google and Temasek calculates that the region's online population is expanding by 124,000 new users every day - and will continue at this pace for the next five years.


With the digital economy come tough questions about how to navigate the accelerating pace of technological change and digital disruption. In terms of job creation, we have to ensure that the ASEAN population is equipped with the right skills in the digital age.

There is an urgent need to update the educational curriculum, retrain teachers, and bring computers and the Internet not only to rural areas but also to the urban lower middle class and below for more digital inclusion.

With digital inclusion and the right skill sets, the Internet and social media will strengthen the basis of governance.

An important dimension is the issue of transparency. As it becomes increasingly easy to expose corruption in the digital age, there is also a simultaneous need for more engagement with citizens and more measures to deal with those who are corrupt.

As we see education, skill sets and technological transparency increase, we also have a situation where people in northern Laos and the far-flung eastern provinces of Indonesia are becoming more aware of job opportunities in other parts of ASEAN, leading to intensified migration of people across the region.

The dynamic movement of people in ASEAN will also attract increased drug and human trafficking, and other kinds of transnational crime will rise. ASEAN security and the police authorities will require a stronger framework of cooperation in managing the consequences of this movement of people.


What are the applicable legal regimes? We do not have them yet. ASEAN member states are still caught up with arguing about sovereignty issues.

The problem is getting acute. Extremism and terrorist activities must be checked and threats eradicated. This requires enhanced cross-border cooperation and effective legal measures. Considering the geography of the region and the fact that we are now equipped with increasingly sophisticated technology, only a concerted ASEAN agenda will prevent ASEAN from imploding in the next 50 years.

Apart from these internal challenges, there are the geopolitics and prevailing strategic and security circumstances as well. The diversity of ASEAN culture, history and society is legendary. Going forward, how the 10 member states manage external relations for ASEAN will decide its enduring qualities and effectiveness.

Will it be a regionalism revolving around a risen China or harking back to the principles underlying ASEAN's Zopfan (Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality) initiative of the 1970s? Or could it be an orientation to preserve the international order as we know it today, with ASEAN able to play a balancing role?

ASEAN is not perfect. Community-building is an ongoing learning process. There is no alternative to this inter-governmental regional grouping to enable the South-east Asian nations to engage external powers and states beyond the immediate neighbourhood.

We need to accelerate ASEAN's visionary plans to realise an open, inclusive and peaceful region to secure its future. Leaders matter in this endeavour.

Much will depend on the leaders of member states going beyond parochial and national considerations to exert the regional ego to develop a resilience for ASEAN to stay in business and for the ASEAN Community to flourish. 

The writer is executive deputy chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. He served as ASEAN Secretary-General from January 2003 to January 2008. The Ambassador-at-Large with the Singapore Foreign Ministry was High Commissioner of Singapore to Malaysia from 2011 to 2014 and to India from 1996 to 1998. This is a special series of articles to mark the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping by The Straits Times and the ASEAN members of its media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 regional media entities. This article was contributed by The Straits Times. 

Five decades on, a transformed and dynamic region
ASEAN has evolved to be one of the world's most successful inter-governmental groupings. New challenges lie ahead, but there is much cause for optimism.
By Le Luong Minh, Published The Sunday Times, 6 Aug 2017

This year marks the golden jubilee of ASEAN's establishment as a regional organisation founded on the ideals of peace, prosperity and harmony. Five decades of evolution and development have brought ASEAN an unprecedented level of economic growth and peace dividends that have galvanised its position as one of the world's most successful inter-governmental groupings, and transformed South-east Asia into a vibrant and dynamic region.

The ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and its three corresponding Community Blueprints, adopted at the 27th ASEAN Summit in November 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, provide the overall guidance of ASEAN's work between last year and 2025.

They reaffirm ASEAN's commitment to forge ahead together and, in doing so, reinforce the importance of ensuring that benefits of integration are felt by the ordinary citizens of the region, achieving a people-oriented, people-centred ASEAN Community.

To achieve that, it is fundamental that ASEAN must first and foremost preserve the current peaceful and stable regional environment so that the 628 million ASEAN people can continue to enjoy the opportunities brought about by its Community-building process.

Over the past five decades, many mechanisms have been established - spearheaded by ASEAN - for political and security-cum-economic cooperation within the region, and between ASEAN and external partners. Such mechanisms have resulted in tangible outcomes for ASEAN, laying the foundation for economic and socio-cultural development.


ASEAN must continue to uphold its centrality and maintain its cohesiveness in the face of an increasingly unpredictable geostrategic and geopolitical global environment. ASEAN will need to always be "Friends to All, Threat to None".

To date, 87 countries/organisations have established diplomatic relations and appointed their ambassadors to ASEAN. The number of non-ASEAN contracting parties to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South-east Asia - originating from the first ASEAN Summit held in 1976 - has also grown to 25, and ASEAN continues to receive requests from various countries to establish formal partnerships. One way of enhancing interfaces with the world is to remain proactive in deepening cooperation and collaboration with external partners and parties.

Economically, ASEAN's resilience will be enhanced to buffer repercussions of unfolding global uncertainties. ASEAN's viability, inclusive growth and integration will be given high priorities to ensure that the region continues to prosper amid the rising trend of populism and protectionism.

The journey of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is a testimony to ASEAN's commitment to its regional economic integration agenda.

Through collective efforts, national and regional economic resilience has been upheld in the face of structural changes, economic crises and policy uncertainties in the region and beyond. ASEAN's commitment to open regionalism will lead it to a more prominent role in the regional and global economic architecture.


The AEC will need to continue to be relevant to its stakeholders and deliver benefits to all. To this end, more effective stakeholder consultation and participation is required, including with the private sector.

Swift and successful conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations and continued efforts to further narrow the development gaps so as to promote more equitable growth within the region are among the top priorities.

Similar efforts will continue to be exerted in advancing the ASEAN socio-cultural agenda. Constant adaptation and evolution in the approaches and mechanisms to make them more effective, inclusive and responsive to the challenges in building a people-oriented, people-centred Community will be critical. The challenges will become increasingly cross-cutting, and the impact amplified, given the increasing interdependency across countries, all of which make it compelling for ASEAN member states to deepen and broaden cooperation.

ASEAN, with all its diversities, bound by ties of friendship and legitimate shared interests, through regional cooperation and integration, has so far delivered to its people the dream of a prosperous and peaceful community with enhanced political cohesion, economic integration and social responsibility, narrowed development gaps within and among its member states and achieved greater physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity.

Such regional cooperation integration has not only benefited South-east Asia and its people, but also contributed significantly to the efforts to secure a better future for the international community at large.

Community-building is a continuous and forward-looking process. While no one can claim to know exactly how the world will evolve in the next decades, the future of ASEAN will be always in the hands of its people who have all reasons to be optimistic. 

The writer, from Vietnam, is the ASEAN Secretary-General. He took charge in 2013 and his tenure ends this year. Prior to that, he was Vietnam's deputy foreign minister and also served as his country's permanent representative to the United Nations. This is a special series of articles to mark the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping, by The Straits Times and the ASEAN members of its media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 regional media entities. This article was contributed by Viet Nam News. 

At 50, ASEAN is a neighbourhood, not yet community
By Endy M. Bayuni Editor-in-Chief The Jakarta Post, Indonesia, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2017

South-east Asian countries today are far more integrated than they have ever been in the modern history of the region, but Asean has some way to go before it can call itself a real community.

The 10 member countries grouped in Asean are glued together more because of their geographical proximity, and out of that perhaps comes a sense of shared destiny.

But a community, where members have shared values and principles, Asean is not.

For now, it is looking more like a neighbourhood.

It's a neighbourhood of nations, big and small, rich and poor, at different stages of economic and political development, and they are already trading with one another more and more.

But they ruled under vastly different political systems and ideologies, and often they have little in common other than the knowledge that their prosperity is closely tied because they are neighbours.

Asean marks its 50th anniversary on Aug 8, and although the group has officially become the Asean Community since the end of 2015, one could hardly find the spirit or the sense of being part of an emerging community when travelling and meeting with ordinary people across the region.

Their governments rarely talk about Asean being a community. In speeches, they still refer to it as just Asean. Some call it an Asean economic community because of the closer economic integration.

Their peoples, according to most surveys, are mostly ignorant about the community idea. Many do not even know what the Asean acronym stands for let alone the benefits the association brings. Yet, Asean officials tirelessly churn out new acronyms with every new meeting.

The Asean motto "One Vision, One Identity, One Community" has hardly taken root among the 625 million citizens. Few people will be singing the Asean anthem, aptly titled "The Asean Way". Few people actually are aware that there is such an anthem. But at least there is the aspiration, or the stated intention, to turn the region into a community. As the anthem goes: "we dare to dream, we care to share, for it's the way of Asean."

What is grossly missing is the political will of its leaders to take up the community idea more seriously and see Asean as more than just a geopolitical and economic concept.

This, however, does not take away the value of Asean in the first 50 years of its existence, to the member countries, to their peoples, and to the rest of the region of Asia and beyond.

People's ignorance about Asean extends to the most important contribution that the association has given: Five decades of uninterrupted peace which has afforded member countries time to focus attention and devote resources to nation building and economic development. People in the richer Asean countries may not appreciate that their prosperity is because of the relative stability their leaders have painfully built through the association.

Asean meetings have expanded with offshoots such as the Asean Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit that bring all the major powers in the world and the Asian region to discuss political and economic security of the region and the world.

Asean has been dubbed the most successful regional organisation in the world. So successful, in fact, that Asean has often been in the driving seat for some initiatives seen in the Asia-Pacific region. Asean enjoys the centrality of its role in the larger region.

Fifty years ago, this region of Asia was a zone filled with tensions and conflicts. Every country had some bones to pick with all its neighbours over historical overlapping territorial claims or ideological differences. In the Cold War context, South-east Asia gave the perfect theatre for the big powers to conduct their proxy wars.

The original five founding Asean members - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand - worked out the perfect way to overcome their differences and their territorial disputes: Put them aside, sweep them under the carpet. It's a formula that has survived the test of time as the group expanded over the years, with the addition of Brunei in 1984, and later Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam in the late 1990s, to make it a complete 10.

Throw in the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other members, and of the decision-making process by consensus. Together, these make up the elements that created the "Asean Way", a slow but almost sure, and most importantly, peaceful mechanism. It takes one member to kill any initiative or to slow down the process.

Asean has moved nevertheless. That is the way Asean has grown - with some ascribing its success to these principles. It is still going to be the way it moves forward for the foreseeable future.

With the group now turning 50, the Asean Way may become the one factor that slows and limits the process of closer integration. The Asean Way defines not only how fast but also how far it can move with the community idea.

The integration of their economies has moved so far afield with countries trading with one another more, and investing in one another more than before.

Political integration is a different story. It is moving at a slower pace, if at all.

Asean never has the pretension to replicate the European Union (EU), and the Brexit episode makes it even more unlikely for Asean countries to want to move faster towards political integration.

The EU places more emphasis on members having shared values and principles. Former East European communist states had to work hard at political reforms to strengthen their democracy, freedom and human rights guarantees before they were admitted to the club.

No such requirements in Asean. It's purely geography. If the map shows you're part of South-east Asia, welcome to the neighbourhood. No questions asked.

Unlike the EU, Asean is a collection of diverse political regimes: an absolute monarchy (Brunei), communist states (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), military junta (Thailand), semi-democracies (Singapore and Malaysia) and struggling democracies (Philippines, Indonesia and now Myanmar).

There was an attempt to write in the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights when Asean was drafting its charter as part of the move to become a community.

The original White Paper, prepared by eminent Asean individuals, was a very progressive document, but by the time their officials got their hands on it, they shot down the requirement that member governments must subscribe to basic democratic principles.

The Asean Charter, enacted in 2008, was a milestone nevertheless for the regional grouping.

The official launching of the Asean Community on Dec 31, 2015 marked the intention of their leaders to bring their countries closer together, if not politically, then certainly economically.

Now they look to 2025 as the new target for some of the community ideals to be fulfilled.

But the march towards a community, in the real sense of the word, will likely have to wait until these countries decide to come and live together under some shared principles and values.

For now, let's be content with Asean being a neighbourhood. It's not a bad one.

ASEAN@50: The next chapter
By Retno L. P. Marsudi Minister for Foreign Affairs, Indonesia, Published The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2017

As Asean celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, there is much to cherish. Despite its imperfections, as The Economist magazine puts it, the association is "the only game in Asia" whose networks also "provide a rare opportunity for global leaders to build trust".

Although Asean has much to rejoice over, there is even more to reflect upon. What does the future hold for Asean? What would its next chapter look like?

As a proud daughter of Asean, I passionately share its story in various international fora, from the recent Oslo Forum to the Group of 20 summit. I learnt that the international community holds Asean in high regard, and they have plenty of good reasons to do so.

The saying that "we do not know what we have until it's gone" also goes for Asean.

It is tempting to criticise Asean for its shortcomings, but let us imagine our region and our world without Asean. A region where disputes easily transform into full-fledged wars, where each country only competes and forsakes collaboration, and a world where South-east Asia is just an arena for major powers to flex their muscles.

Instead of that, thanks to Asean, we have a region that has been relatively free from any major intra-state armed conflicts since the Vietnam War; a region where the 1992 free trade agreement has enabled intra-regional trade to soar from US$80 billion in 1993 to almost US$550 billion (S$748 billion) in 2015, propelling Asean to be the world's sixth-largest economy; and a world where South-east Asia is one of the engines of peace and prosperity.

In short, Asean has succeeded in building an ecosystem of peace and prosperity in the region.

Furthermore, Asean has evolved from a somewhat-loose association to a more robust Asean community that seeks to serve its people better.

Not to mention that, today, when regionalism seems to have taken a hit elsewhere, from Brexit in Europe to the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf, Asean continues to display unity and stability.

These accomplishments by no means imply that we should be complacent. Putting in extra effort is the trait here, as reflected in the successful conclusion of the framework of a code of conduct by Asean and China.

Nonetheless, we are constantly reminded that "we are made wise not only by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future".

As benefactors who have inherited a more peaceful and prosperous South-east Asia, our generation is responsible for shaping a better future for Asean.


Having said all this, I remain very excited about the future to which Asean is heading. I am convinced that the best is yet to come.

The best that I mention refers to the people.

The future of Asean is one that is not only peaceful and prosperous, but also a future where the people are at the heart of it all.

Asean's next chapter should be more people-oriented and people-driven, where its endeavours are dedicated to catering to people's needs in all areas.

To that end, in concrete terms, there are three issues that Asean should concentrate on, if the association wants to secure its premier place in the future.

First, Asean needs to focus on fostering an inclusive and competitive economy that works for all of its people. As gross domestic product per capita of an Asean member is 40 times smaller than of another member, inequality between and within states remains a formidable challenge.

Asean must embrace the rapid digital transformation in the globalised world while ensuring that nobody gets left behind.

Platforms to reduce inequality, such as the initiative for Asean integration, must be strengthened.

Asean should boost its connectivity in accordance with its connectivity masterplan in order to galvanise trade and investment in all corners of the region.

Moreover, Asean should work on trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that delivers benefits for all of its people.

Second, Asean should also tap the tremendous potential of low-skilled migrant workers.

Asean has made great headway in the movement of high-skilled professionals through the Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA).

However, the overwhelming majority of migrant workers in the region are not skilled professionals. For instance, the MRA covers only less than 1 per cent of the total workforce in Thailand and Indonesia.

More should be done to ensure the protection of low- and medium-skilled migrant workers in a way that safeguards the interests of both the countries of origin and destination.

Third, Asean has no other alternative but to continue to stay united while redoubling efforts to strengthen its institutional capacity. This has been especially pertinent in the face of proliferated challenges the association must tackle, ranging widely from traditional and non-traditional security issues to an urgency for a strengthened Asean Secretariat.

The future of Asean will be marked, by, among other things, the exigency to address its external relations especially with major powers, in the context of geopolitical rivalries, the threat of terrorism and how Asean can stay relevant amid the rapidly changing regional and global strategic landscapes.

Coping with all these would require a greater sense of unity as well as a fresher and more inclusive outlook that would keep Asean relevant.

With its revived focus on the people and their needs, in the next 50 years, Asean will grow to be not only an even greater powerhouse in the world but, more importantly, it will instil a more profound sense of belonging and ownership among all its people, not just the diplomats or corporate moguls.

Today, many of our people might be puzzled when asked what Asean is or what it means to them, but it is not far-fetched to conceive of a future whenpeople say, in addition to being Indonesian or Vietnamese or Filipino, "I am also Asean."

The writer was Indonesia's former ambassador to Norway and Iceland. This is a special series of articles to mark the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping, by The Straits Times and the Asean members of its media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 regional media entities. This article was contributed by The Jakarta Post for this series.

Finding the right equilibrium
By Syed Hamid Albar Former Foreign Minister, Malaysia, Published The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2017

Asean embraces its golden jubilee this year as it enters its 50th year of existence in 2017. Examined through the lens of foreign policy officials, diplomats, scholars and politicians, undoubtedly such a milestone calls for introspection. Indeed, the time is right to understand what worked and what we could have done better, and how we can move ahead as one cohesive alliance against the backdrop of ever-shifting global dynamics.

An inescapable question at the outset: Following the failures of ASA (Association of South-east Asia) and Maphilindo (Malaya-Philippines-Indonesia), have the aims and visions of the founding fathers of the five original Asean member states who signed the Bangkok Declaration on Aug 8, 1967, to chart a new future for the region been fulfilled?

The crisp answer would be yes. Becoming 10 from just five at inception, the coalition weathered the ups and downs of member state relationships anchored upon a set of core values. We call this the Asean Way, where the approach has been to strike a balance between consensual decision-making and non-interference in each other's domestic affairs in a show of mutual respect.

We can take pride that the Asean region is principally stable and peaceful. The measured pace has helped it to attain this position and it would not be wrong to say that Asean has done well, taking into account the fact that the region is a microcosm of religion, language, ethnicity and culture.

However, the inter-subjective structure of Asean has proven to be a stumbling block in resolving potential flashpoints or conflicts that could destabilise the region and Asean unity due to exposure to a hotbed of geopolitical happenings, such as overlapping land and maritime claims, China's advancing presence and the alleged 'cold war' between the United States and China.

Additionally, member countries do not appear to share a common view on what is democracy or human rights. Let's be honest. Asean is still cumbersome and sensitive on the question of non-interference and its treatment of human rights issues. Reticence to take a firm collective stand, for example, on the Rohingya issue in Myanmar has been a thorn in our sides, questioning the very values that Asean stands for.

There is undoubtedly a need for deeper examination into challenges confronting Asean as it embraces democracy and economic liberalism. Continued denial on this subject will not bode well in sustaining Asean's credibility and integrity.

The Asean Economic Community has been firmly established and an integrated people-centred Asean has been declared based on the three pillars of Asean under the Bali Concord I and II. But what do these mean? Has Asean been able to build a cohesive and united body, consistent with its charter? Has it succeeded in building trust and understanding in order to create an Asean identity?

For too long, we have made this an exclusive 'talk shop' platform for government-to-government dealings but the time has come for us to recognise that as a political platform, Asean must take sustainable and constructive steps to make a firmer collective stand on issues affecting the region. Its institutional and government- centred character of the past must be shed to make way for inclusive- ness and relevance to civil society.

These are important to resolve as we have seen how different member states have varying interpretations of the relationship between the individual, state and civil society, and, sometimes, the core values of freedom.

Due to rigidly sticking to the issue of sovereignty and non-interference as a regional organisation, Asean has been in critical instances slow to give its collective or common response to natural disasters, such as the Boxing Day tsunami, Cyclone Nargis and the transboundary haze. If these were a test of our effectiveness, we failed, and it is sometimes quite a wonder how member countries are able to rise above conflicting areas to register healthy political and economic growth.

In the Malaysian case, it has used the slogan of unity and diversity as a source of its strength. Otherwise, the differences and diversities of Asean can be a threat to peace, stability and security.

There are also frustrations over the rigid application and inflexible processes of Asean's decision-making and yet, we have witnessed how hope and optimism steered the evolution of this organisation.

Beginning its initial journey based on a loose framework of rules, over the years, Asean has graduated into a full-fledged legal and rule-based regional organisation guided by its charter. The challenge moving forward will be to introduce mechanisms and enforcement tools compelling member states to play by the rules.

It is encouraging that Asean leaders, previously criticised for leaning towards "golf diplomacy", are more willing to come to the table to confront intractable issues. However, discussions alone will not be enough. In grappling with complexities the future will bring, we must form meaningful responses to the needs of a changing world. Our actions must not just resonate with governments but also with civil society from all walks of life. As leaders, we must have the courage to act with gravitas and gumption in the interest of greater good for the continued growth of our region.

The value proposition for standing together as one coalition is strong. With a total population of 628 million and a combined GDP of US$3 trillion (S$4.2 trillion), the Asean region today is a formidable global power bloc from economic, political and security perspectives. We stand on the cusp of an era that will see Asean leadership make its way into the global order.

Thus, in mulling over the existential narrative for Asean over the next 10 years, we must build greater resilience in our region and tackle existing challenges with all the seriousness we can muster. Asean cannot afford to be lulled into a false sense of security (because of ) past glories. Instead, we must take a brave, no-nonsense approach to finding that point of equilibrium that will further elevate our standing amid new realities in the international system.

The writer, an Umno politician, was also Malaysia's former Home Minister. This is a special series of articles to mark the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping by The Straits Times and the Asean members of its media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 regional media entities. This article was contributed by The Star.

Time for an Asian-ASEAN century
By Roberto F. de Ocampo, Published The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2017

The first step in Asean's long journey to where it is today can perhaps be said to have been taken about 13 years before its formal founding in August of 1967 with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration by the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

That first step, which became the impetus for the idea of connecting South-east Asia economies, was called the South-east Asia Treaty Organisation (Seato).

Seato was an international organisation of eight member economies created after World War II for the purpose of establishing a strong, collective defence in South-east Asia.

In this group, only the Philippines and Thailand were actually South-east Asian economies while the rest, such as Britain, the United States and France, were the principal colonial powers in the region.

Among other reasons, the consensus approach of Seato greatly limited its military significance - not to mention that it seemed to be a copy-paste model of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation which did not work in an Asian setting.

It was a more security-focused cooperation with the two-pronged objective of preventing the advance of communism from happening via a "domino theory" (that is, if one country fell to communism, the others would follow suit) and promoting a China containment policy led by the West.

This security focus had not significantly waned even during the establishment of Asean in 1967 at the height of the Cold War, and Asean's main objectives then were to create a bulwark against communism and to prevent conflicts between newly created post-colonial nations.

In the 50 years since then, times have significantly changed. The pre-eminence and regional standing of the two main Cold War protagonists, the USSR and the USA, were seriously dented with the break-up of the USSR and the disastrous experience of the US in the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile, Deng Xiaoping launched China on its march to the less threatening economic powerhouse that it is today, thus making a continued China containment policy anachronistic. As these developments unfolded, Asean became more aware of the economic potential of its population of 700 million, expanded from five to 10 nations, and began to shift its focus towards a continued commitment to promote regional peace and stability, while emphasising acceleration of the region's economic growth and the development of a single market and production base in goods.

Asean countries emulated Japan's export-oriented economic strategy and became known as tiger economies; the Asian economic crisis notwithstanding, economists and pundits alike have forecast the advent of the "Asian Century".

To pull that forecast off successfully, Asia (including Asean) has to achieve the kind of dynamic economy the West has attained by putting into place the indispensable economic pillars that have become basic structural elements of all progressive Western economies.

Thus, first: a robust and globally recognised financial system. Asia has the world's highest savings rates but continues to rely on Yankee and euro bonds for large-scale finance.

The case for less reliance on the West already had its genesis during the Asian financial crisis that originated in Thailand, an Asean country, when the West, led by the US and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), dragged its feet towards a financial rescue package on the grounds of moral hazard, in contrast to its mad rush to provide one for Mexico during the earlier Mexican crisis. I personally witnessed this as chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation finance ministers at that time. Asia learnt the important lesson of needing to wean itself from dependency on the West.

Thus, the resulting establishment of the fledgling Asian bond market and the recent recognition of the Chinese yuan as an international reserve currency have become important elements upon which to build Asian finance.

Second: widespread development of infrastructure. Through its One Belt, One Road Asian infrastructure development programme, China will inevitably take the lead in transforming the economies of countries all along the ancient Silk Road from eastern China to Central Asia, all the way to Moscow. The effect on Asia could be similar to the transformation the US economy experienced via its building of the US interstate highway system and the expansion of its rural electrification programme that transformed its Dust Bowl states into progressive economies.

But it will also advance a geopolitical manoeuvre to expand the Chinese sphere of influence throughout Asia. Asean, on the other hand, has launched its Master Plan for Asean Connectivity comprising 15 priority projects, including the Asean Highway Network, the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link, the Asean Broadband Corridor and the Mindanao-Bitung (Indonesia) Roll-on Roll-off Network.

Since this requires significant levels of financing, the China-led infrastructure bank (AIIB) as well as the establishment of the Asean Infrastructure Fund are steps in the right direction- but increased Asian influence on the leadership structure of the World Bank (should its president always be American?) and the IMF (should its head always be European?) may also be needed.

Third: intra-Asian agreement on security arrangements concerning potential flash points such as North Korea and the South China Sea. Asian countries must evolve modus vivendi on such matters or leave their fate to a continuous US role as the regional policeman of last resort.

Fourth: further development of an Asian trade community. The European Union model with its open trade and borders is a good one to emulate, but without a pan-Asian government or common currency.

The Asean Economic Community and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership are positive inputs towards the formation of a trade community based on a market whose population is 60 per cent of the world's.

Should continued progress along these lines be taken, this will indeed be an Asian Century crafted primarily by Asian initiative. And even as it faces the challenges of megatrends such as increasing urbanisation, competition for finite natural resources, the inevitable rise of a larger middle class, and the technological revolution, Asean will be an integral part of this Asian Century, maintaining the peace and stability of the last 50 years of its existence, and achieving its desired inclusive growth objective.

The writer was secretary of finance (1994-1998) during the presidency of Fidel Ramos. He was the first Filipino to be nominated for the "Global Finance Minister of the Year" award from Euromoney in 1995. This is a special series of articles to mark the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping by The Straits Times and the Asean members of its media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 regional media entities. This article was contributed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Continue to build on the dreams of ASEAN's founding fathers
By Khairy Jamaluddin Minister of Youth and Sports, Malaysia, Published The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2017

There has never been a better time to examine Asean as a regional bloc, how far we have come and where we are heading next. It has been exactly 50 years since Asean was formed, and since then, this regional bloc has never been stronger and more prominent on the global stage.

Malaysia will always be a pro-active member of Asean and other multilateral organisations for our success story as a nation has been predicated upon the stability provided by a multilateral framework. Malaysia as a country is one that reaches beyond its potential and one that has always set its sights on the distant future. For that reason, we must be integrated into a region that is greater that the sum of its parts.

The past is prologue while the future is ours to shape. While taking lessons from the past we must continue the work of building the future.

Immediately after the 1969 riots, Malaysia embarked on the New Economic Policy, which was to be a new deal for Malaysia in eradicating poverty and rebalancing the economic distribution in the country. Thirty years later, that was followed by Vision 2020 which would leapfrog Malaysia to a country that is modern and developed.

As we are nearing 2020, it became imperative for us to ask ourselves, "What's next?" The world in 2050 will be much different from the world today - what will guide us to face this future?

This is why my ministry has been tasked to reach as many young people as possible to get their aspirations of what they want to see the nation be in the future, to be recorded in a massive plan called the National Transformation 2050 (TN50). TN50 is an initiative to plan for the future of Malaysia in the period 2020 to 2050. From the vision of becoming a developed nation, we should strive to be among the top countries in the world in economic development, citizen well-being and innovation. For this, I've spent the first six months of this year travelling through all the corners of Malaysia, reaching out to more than one million young people and what they aspire to. Most of them coalesce around wanting a future that is fair, sustainable, competitive, united and happy.

What that means in the context above is we want a future that goes beyond the old measurement of gross domestic product growth as an indicator of success to one that looks at well-being more comprehensively. One that looks into wealth and income inequality, healthcare, access to quality education, environmental protection, a good standard of living, integrated public transport, sporting achievement, civic consciousness, greater investments into scientific research, among many others.

With shared dreams come shared responsibility - and nothing binds a society better than having a common weight on their shoulders. So similarly, as Asean heads towards 2050, it is an opportune time for us to take a step back, ask our people what they want of Asean in 2050 and then strive forward together as one community.

The challenge of automation and robots, the need for a differently skilled and adaptive workforce, the breakdown of societal fabric into smaller family units, the shifting powerhouses in global trade and many other challenges await us on the near horizon.

Though individual countries are looking at these in their own respective ways, there are many areas which we can embrace together, leveraging on individual strengths to compensate for individual weaknesses, so Asean can future-proof the region and truly become a global powerhouse in the next 33 years.

What would we like Asean to be in the next decade, or five decades? The current generation entrusted with the heavy responsibility to shape the future of Asean, would like to see an Asean that will be able to realise all of its potential. An association consisting of 10 sovereign high-income nations fully developed with prosperity for all. It is indeed a tall but not impossible objective, for Asean is a work perpetually in progress passing from one generation to the next, a sacred trust to be upheld.

I am an eternal optimist on the future of Asean and I am a firm believer in its role as the catalyst for peace and prosperity in this region. Our fate in Asean has been pre-determined by our geography. As the saying goes, we can choose our friends but we cannot choose our neighbours.

The success of one nation in the region will have a positive bearing on all while the failure of any will have a calamitous effect on all. Asean's future is in its togetherness. We can either leverage on our collective strengths to soar together towards greater heights or go separately to face a more dangerous and challenging world.

Economically we must continue to build upon the Asean Economic Community. More integration is needed, not less. By all means draw lessons from Brexit but the right ones, not the wrong ones. We must be serious to further bring down barriers to trade - both tariff and non-tariff.

We must work to better integrate our economy and welcome investments, ease the process of doing business, and protect intellectual property while better leveraging on our various competitive advantages. Healthy competition coupled with pragmatic cooperation must be the way forward for member states.

Moving forward, we must work to make Asean more relevant to the current needs of members and the challenges that they are currently facing, be it political, security or economic. Asean will continue to thrive despite the many challenges if every member perseveres to make it a national priority; for the national interest of each member could be advanced effectively only through Asean collectively.

The first 50 years is coming to an end; let us now turn the work at hand to the next 50 years, dedicating it to the future generation. Let us continue to build on the dreams of the founding fathers of Asean who started a journey so improbable that they themselves in their wildest imaginations never could have thought how successful it would eventually be.

That 50 years later we are marvelling at their collective wisdom in every capital of a united Asean is the most fitting tribute of all to this greatest and most enduring of endeavours.

This is a special series of articles to mark the 50th anniversary of the regional grouping, by The Straits Times and the Asean members of its media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 regional media entities. This article was contributed by The Star.

ASEAN and the EU: Differences and challenges
Both organisations mark important anniversaries this year. ASEAN will learn from the EU to make sure it is not viewed as elitist.
By Tommy Koh, Ambassador-At-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Published The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2017

This is a big year for Asean and the European Union. Asean is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The EU is celebrating its 60th anniversary. The EU, notwithstanding the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the union, is often referred to as the most successful regional organisation in the world. Asean is often referred to as the second most successful regional organisation.

In this essay, I would like to compare and contrast the similarities and differences between Asean and the EU. I will begin with the similarities.


The first similarity is that both are regional organisations with legal personalities. The EU has 28 members and will have 27 in March 2019. Asean has 10 members, with Timor Leste knocking on the door.

The second similarity is that both were founded to promote peace. The EU was founded, after two disastrous world wars, to prevent the recurrence of war in Europe and to institutionalise peace through economic integration. Asean was founded to create a peaceful environment in South-east Asia so that the Asean countries could focus their energies on their economic development.

The third similarity is that both seek to integrate the economies of their member states into a single market and production platform.

In the case of the EU, there is freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour.

In the case of Asean, the movement of labour is not free. The Asean Charter obliges the member states only to facilitate the movement of business persons, professionals, talents and labour. This is a major difference between Asean and the EU.

The fourth similarity is that both organisations share a commitment to human rights. The EU has a Charter of Fundamental Rights and Asean has a Declaration of Human Rights.

The Asean Charter contains several provisions in its Preamble, Purposes and Principles on human rights. Asean has two commissions on human rights: the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and the Commission on the Rights of Women and Children.

However, the EU has a European Court of Justice. Asean does not have a court.

The fifth similarity is that both Asean and the EU have concluded many free trade agreements or comprehensive economic partnership agreements with other countries. For example, the EU and Singapore have concluded a free trade agreement which is pending ratification. Asean has concluded such agreements with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand but not with the EU.

The sixth similarity is that both Asean and the EU hold regular political and economic dialogues with important external partners. The EU holds annual summits with, among others, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

Asean has created three forums to engage its external partners, namely, the Asean Regional Forum, Asean Plus Three and the East Asia Summit. In addition, Asean holds bilateral dialogues with its 10 dialogue partners. Finally, Asean holds an annual summit with the US, China, India, Japan and South Korea.


There are several important differences between Asean and the EU.

The first difference is that Asean is an inter-governmental organisation. The EU, in contrast, is a supranational organisation in which its member states have agreed, in certain areas, such as trade, to pool their sovereignties. In other words, the member states have voluntarily agreed to give up part of their sovereignty. The pooled sovereignty is exercised by the European Commission on behalf of the member states.

The second difference is that the EU has a common currency called the euro. Only 19 of the EU's 28 members are members of the euro zone.

Asean does not have a common currency and has no plans to have one. However, in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Asean, together with China, Japan and South Korea, launched the so-called Chiang Mai Initiative. The project brings together the 13 finance ministers and central bank governors. Their agenda is to promote greater financial cooperation among the 13 countries.

The third difference is that the EU has a Parliament and Asean does not. The European Parliament has the power to legislate, as well as the power to veto budgets and appointments. Asean has the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly which has only the power of moral suasion.

The fourth difference is that the EU has a very powerful secretariat called the European Commission and Asean has a relatively small and weak secretariat.

The European Commission acts like a government and is entitled to enter into treaties. The commission has the power to put forward proposals for legislation.

The Asean Charter has enhanced the power of the secretary-general. One of his most important responsibilities is to issue an annual report card on each member state's compliance with its obligations.

The fifth difference is in the decision-making process. Asean takes all its decisions by consensus. The EU can decide by taking votes. There is a system of weighted voting, with different countries being given different numbers of votes. However, in the area of common foreign and security policy, decisions are based on unanimity.

In Asean's case, there is an exception to the consensus rule: economic agreements can be adopted by a majority, using the "Asean minus X" formula. The logic is that the majority can proceed first and the minority will catch up later.

The sixth difference is on language policy. The EU has 23 official languages. In the cast of Asean, English is used as the sole medium for meetings and communications.


I want to conclude by expressing my confidence in the EU. I believe that the EU, without the UK, will be stronger and not weaker because it will be more cohesive. I do not believe that the EU will break up or that the euro will fail.

In the same way, I believe that Asean will overcome its challenges and remain united and independent. Learning from the experience of the EU, Asean will redouble its efforts to ensure that it is not viewed as an elitist project. Instead, Asean must ensure that it enjoys the support of the 625 million citizens of Asean.

The author, a Singapore diplomat, served as the founding executive director of the Asia-Europe Foundation and chairman of the High Level Task Force which drafted the Asean Charter.

ASEAN must 'benefit citizens to succeed'
Future success of regional grouping hinges on it bringing tangible benefits to citizens of its nations: Tommy Koh
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2017

The success of Asean in the next 50 years hinges on it bringing tangible benefits to the 630 million citizens of its member nations, said Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh yesterday.

He was speaking at the Asean Day reception to mark the regional grouping's 50th year, where he also launched a book titled Fifty Years Of Asean And Singapore.

The collection of essays was written by diplomats, government officials, academics and civil society representatives who were involved in Singapore's Asean efforts.

Professor Koh had made a similar point in the book, cautioning that "Asean should not be seen by our people as an elitist organisation serving the interests of the urban elite and of big businesses".

At the reception, the retired diplomat gave a short speech on the achievements of the grouping in its last 50 years, and on how it can continue to succeed in its next 50.

Asean's 50th anniversary is worth celebrating for three reasons, he said.

First, Asean has enabled its 10 member economies to grow and prosper, and to integrate into a single Asean Economic Community, with the eventual aim of having a single market and production base.

Second, the grouping has been a force for peace in the region, bringing together all the regional countries, the major powers and other stakeholders, both economically and politically, he said.

Third, Asean plays an indispensable role of being the convener and mutual chairman of important institutions and forums, such as the East Asia Summit.

But Asean cannot rest on its laurels and must constantly reinvent itself to stay relevant and competitive in a world facing technological revolution, said Prof Koh.

"The future of Asean depends very much on whether we are able to maintain our unity, independence and neutrality," he added.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who was the guest of honour at the reception, said Asean's founding fathers had recognised that this spirit of unity would allow their countries to grow and prosper.

But being part of Asean means countries must not think only of national interests, but also posit them against regional interests, he said.

"We must accept that regional existence sometimes means painful adjustments from just thinking in our national hat, within our respective countries," he added. "We are still going to need this spirit to ensure that Asean remains united, credible and relevant in the next 50 years."

Both Dr Balakrishnan and Prof Koh said that Singapore's future is inextricably intertwined with Asean's, and noted that Singapore will chair Asean next year.

Dr Balakrishnan thanked Prof Koh and his co-editors for highlighting the efforts of Singapore's pioneers at making Asean a success.

The two other editors are Ms Sharon Seah, associate director of the National University of Singapore's Centre for International Law, and former Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Chang Li Lin.

Said Prof Koh: "We wanted to use this book to explain to fellow Singaporeans why Asean is important to Singapore."

The book is being sold at all major bookstores at $98 for the hard-cover edition and $38 for the paperback edition, excluding GST.

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