The Integration Paradox

Commemorating the 49th Anniversary of ASEAN

“We do not make trouble. We do not create trouble. But we are not afraid of trouble … [and in relation to the] territory which has passed down from our ancestors into the hands of our generation … China cannot afford to lose an inch.” — General Fang Fenghui

Background: Lessons Learned from EU and Brexit

Last June, 2016 all people of the world were shocked by UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. 52% of British people vote to leave while the others want still remains. This is a turning point for Europe and European unification process. With this decision, Britain has became the first country that leave the 28-member bloc, which also the world’s largest trading zone, consist of 508 million residents and a commitment to the free market: movement of labor, capital, goods and services. Several experts say that this historical event is warning for the EU to rethink the status quo. Incapability of EU government on dealing with 2008 crisis, Euro-zone crisis which change diplomatic landscape from partnering state into lenders-debtors state, and the recently immigration influx, believed as the main and yet strong cause for this British-exit or commonly called as the Brexit. Therefore, the dream about greater, stronger and unite Europe has sink on the English Channel.

People believe, what the Britain gets from the EU was lesser that what they give. The 2008 crisis show the proof that Britain which not using Euro currency, recovery its economic performance faster than Euro-zone do, thus the conclusion is the Britain will stronger outside EU. This fact, push the Anti-EU groups in UK to support for leave from the EU. Similar cases were appears in Hungary and Poland with different causes. The Anti-Immigration groups were rising in these countries to against the open-border policy regarding the immigration flow from the Mideast to the Europe, then followed with several countries after.

Citing the Ian Bremmer thesis on the G-0 (Government Zero) World, following by this Brexit case, it seems clearer that “Every nation for him-self” be the most expression to describe the phenomenon. The anti-globalist group grow stronger, all nation conscious to put the domestic things first before the foreign things. There are currently no single or several world superpower leadership who take in charge to solve the International issues and conflicts. The one-sided nationalizing process of foreign assets and company in Latin America and third world countries; the isolation of new shale oil technology in USA; the long-standing conflicts in Syria; the ISIS existence; and currently dispute at South China Sea between China and ASEAN claimant nations, show the proof, how egoistic (or nationalist?) every nation at these days are. However, the changes of this behavior, both direct and indirectly will also effects on how countries are interact each other. How about in ASEAN?

From The ASEAN Way to the ASEAN No Way

Since its flexible policy –different with the European Union which has the parliamentary, government, judiciary bodies and single currency “Euro”, we have not experience what occurs in EU (Thanks to the slow integration progress). However we deal with different issues like illegal refugee rafts, and most hot conflicts in region: ASEAN-South China Sea dispute. ASEAN have role modeling the EU for a long time and desire to follow the integration process like the EU has done in early 1990. However, the ASEAN is not the EU, even after the ASEAN Community has been signed. We have different “game-play” called ASEAN Way. The ASEAN Way consists of four elements:

  • Informality of Interactions
  • Non-legalistic cooperation
  • Consensus based approach
  • Inclusivity in membership and external relation

ASEAN way is attributed to the way that be the identities of ASEAN, also on how ASEAN takes decisions, which achieved by a process of consultation and consensus. However, this ASEAN way brings the ASEAN to the “No Way” condition for current South China Sea dispute. First, the lack of cohesion among the members make the ASEAN has no official position in South China Dispute. Cambodia chairmanship in 2012 fails to issue a joint communiqué about the territorial dispute. Divergent views appeared responding on the mentioned conflict. ASEAN as one region has no business on these conflicts, and it should be seen as bilateral problem, which ASEAN cannot steps too much into any members’ countries problem according to its non-interventionist policy. As a matter of fact, ASEAN is already committed to building an ASEAN Community last year, 2015 and effectively implemented in this year 2016. One of the three pillars of the community is ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC), which have main goals to create a vision of common mechanisms to deal with regional security issues. The absence of unity among ASEAN members show the proof that in fact, the organization as a whole cannot agree on a regional approach to the problem. This indicates that the APSC seems to be very far to achieve, still distant goal and also faces serious challenges.

Second, the ASEAN Way of decision making is very slow, because of its decision making mechanism, must be go through the consultation and consensus process. ASEAN failure to issue a joint communiqué on 2012, expose the organization’s inability to reach consensus on key issues. If the consensus cannot be achieved, then an ASEAN Summit will make the decision. However, the decision making in ASEAN Summit is also based on consultation and consensus process, so this will be never ending cyclical problem and we will have never any way out from the conflict mentioned except to solve it bilaterally, like what the China’s preference.

Third, the implementation of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation as a code of conduct has never been adopted to settle any dispute, whether among ASEAN states or between ASEAN states and other signatories to the Treaty. Treaty of Amity is now widely recognized code of conduct between state relations in Southeast Asia even it began as “peace treaty” among its own member states. Therefore, the treaty inability to solve any issue has resulted China percept that the South China Sea dispute is not a matter between China and ASEAN but a bilateral problem with the individual disputants.

The Integration Paradox

After 2010, ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) has been in effect and boosted regional trade ever since. Even in the face of 2008 global economic crisis, this region is well acknowledge as the motor for global economic recovery for its sustainable high growth.

According to many liberal theorists, increasing economic interdependence and deepening integration should reduce conflict potentials between state, Integration and Interdependence increase incentives for cooperation and cost of conflict and defection. However, the paradox reveals as we juxtapose the economic relations and the political dynamics of South China Sea affairs. What happens there so far been quite different from what liberal theorist expects. The SCS dispute shows the opposite: the increase in economic integration and interdependence do not automatically cause cooperative gesture in solving dispute. Contrary, tensions between China and ASEAN claimants were heightened recently.

Given ASEAN as an institution is not able to handle this prolonged conflict , as Cambodia and Laos slow progress of the peace by rejecting a regional approach to this conflict and prefer to resolved bilaterally among the disputant countries. The initiatives from the Philippine, to file the case to the International Arbitrary Tribunal in The Hague, Netherland 22 January 2013, shows that the Philippine is very frustation to place a hope in the what we called as ASEAN Community.


British people had been decided to leave the EU on last June. Will the Filipino or Vietnamese, Malaysians, Bruneians follow the Brexit step to leave the dysfunctional communities, ASEAN at this 50th anniversary? Or instead the leaving action, the ASEAN countries will fix the institutional error “ASEAN Way” which limiting the peacemaking progress, and move forward to the more serious community integration, with not only at Economic pillars, but also in Socio Culture and the most important, Political Security as a whole ASEAN Community?

Whatsoever the decision is, well Happy 50th ASEAN Day!

Luthfi Muhamad Iqbal
Ministry Coordinator of Social Politic Affair of Cabinet KM ITB

Submitted to the Literaksi Journal, Volume 6/August

Pangripta Loka

Gurat Tinta Perencana

Luthfi Muhamad Iqbal

Written by

trying to do something best, not to be someone great

Pangripta Loka

Gurat Tinta Perencana

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