Wednesday, June 18, 2003

# Posted 8:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES ASEAN MATTER? The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is best known for its belief that subtlety is the essence of diplomacy and that public criticism can only aggravate interstate conflicts. In practice, this means that ASEAN members prefer to bury their heads in the sand rather than address the issues of the day.

Thus, it is heartening to see that all of ASEAN's member states (Myanmar excepted) have chosen to make a public demand for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

But why act now? Given all the inhumane actions taken by the junta before, why speak out now? As Daniel Drezner shrewdly observes, the Western media tend to portray ASEAN's response as a reflection of American and EU pressure, whereas the Southeast Asian media are reporting that ASEAN's criticism reflects a principled commitment to the rule of law and quiet diplomacy. Moreover, the Southeast Asian's argue that vocal Western criticism will only provoke an even more militant response from the Myanmar junta.

While Dan isn't sure which of these versions is a better reflection of reality, my experience with ASEAN suggests that its members are, in fact, responding to Western criticism, but denying their susceptibility to pressure in order to avoid both setting a precedent or exposing their vulnerability.

Yet as is always the case with ASEAN, actions speak louder than words. The question is, how far will ASEAN go? Will it only do enough to placate the West? Or will it go as far as to threaten Myanmar with expulsion from ASEAN if it continues to embarrass the other member states?

The initial reluctance of even the Philippines and Thailand -- ASEAN's most democratic states -- to speak out suggests that their is no real interest in confronting Burma.

However, united front presented by the United States, the EU and (lately) Japan, may have persuaded ASEAN that it cannot have credibility as an international actor if it doesn't confront those issues that are of concern to the world's leading states.

In practice, that means that ASEAN's member states will have to start monitoring each other's internal affairs. Before ASEAN expanded in the mid-90s to include Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, this sort of monitoring would not have been much of a problem. But now ASEAN will have to ask itself "What matters more? Quantity or quality?"

Whereas quality enhances ASEAN's presence on the international stage, quantity helps protect the ASEAN states from Chinese aggression. For the moment, the Chinese threat is dormant because of the war on terror. But if the Middle East calms down and the Taiwan Strait heats up, there will be a real test of ASEAN's commitment to human rights and the rule of law.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments: Post a Comment