Saturday, January 13, 2007

Southeast Asians to draft EU-style charter - International Herald Tribune

I'm still fairly stunned by all this. Even as late as yesterday, I was outright snorting that the IHT report that the member states of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) were contemplating such a charter was going to be more of the same old same old. Especially in light of the traditional ASEAN notion of consensus and non-interference in the affairs of member states.

And also I think, the remarkable ineffectualness of most ASEAN led multi-lateral interventionist actions, in particular the absolute remarkable failure to deal with the Indonesian forest fires that lead to the year haze (and which lead to losses of over USD 9 billion in 1997 and a near similar amount just last year). I would include in this assessment, too, the stalling over further trade liberalization since the 1970s-80s. And the outright stagnation since the 1990s, see e.g. Proton in Malaysia and agricultural products generally across the board.

And of course there is Myanmar, the backlash against them and ASEAN coming surprisingly in the form of Malaysia (although apparently they have been pushing this stance since the 1970s making them the earliest and arguably most consistent nation with regards to relations to the military junta). But read in another light, together with most vocal opposition to Indonesia recalcitrance and general trade illiberalization, maybe this was the final logical step seeing as ASEAN is acknowledged as the next closest regional organization after the EU (this idea was tossed around a little during the St. Gallen Symposium last year).

But as always, the formal law does not always correlate to events on the ground, especially in South East Asia so it's worth looking at the meat of the Charter.

Among the agreements approved on Saturday, the first day of the meeting of the heads of state in this central Philippine province, were the drafting of a new charter that seeks to integrate Southeast Asia much like the European Union, establish a free-trade zone by 2015, intensify the war on terrorism, protect the region's migrant workers, and improve the campaign against HIV/AIDS.
Eh...okay.... I have no idea what that means but let's play pundit anyway.
1. Integrate like the EU. It's worth mentioning that the EU evolved from a partnership primarily between Germany and France on the Coal and Steel Committee to the European Economic Committee (EEC) to the European Committee (EC) and finally the European Union (EU). Along the way, it expended in size, scope and ambition, from trade liberalization to globalization (including freedom of movment to work) to human rights consolidation and the creation of a quasi-federal system in the form of the European Parliament. Oh and yes, the Euro system (which necessitates a EU Central Bank).

So a term tossed out like this makes me wonder how far they want to push this thing. I wonder if Singapore will become like the next UK within the EU.

2. Establish a free-trade zone by 2015. Well if they succeed, it'll only be 5 years outside of the original goal. Singapore can only stand to benefit from this honestly.

3. Intensify the War on Terror. A lot of scope for synergy and consolidation there. And it's blindingly obvious that it's necessary. The normal issues of sovereignty, interference and opposing sympathies will rear its head but that's par for the course. In the meantime, the suggestions seem innocuous enough...
Meanwhile, the leaders also signed a counterterrorism agreement that, among other things, makes it obligatory for each member country to share information. The landmark agreement should also allow the extradition of terror suspects. It called on Asean nations as well to stop terror financing and hold counterterrorism trainings.
The devil is in the details and I foresee problems about extradition primarily between Malaysia and Thailand but it would be interesting to see how that gets sorted out.

3. Improving the campaign against HIV/AIDS. This, I humbly submit, is code for dealing with Myanmar, which not only has a massive problem which is leading to a refugee crisis that is upsetting Thailand, but they also recently kicked out the Red Cross which makes things a lot more dire. There was a Foreign Affairs article a while back which makes a very strong case that on the five grounds of humanitarian intervention, Myanmar is a candidate on all five grounds.

But it's a massive problem which will only get worse if nothing gets done immediately.

And of course there's the drug problem as well....*sigh*

Nevertheless, this is an exciting development (not necessarily in a good way but still exciting) so we'll see what comes up in the next few months and years.

p.s. It seems that Terrence Lee is a Doctoral Candidate at the Department of Pol Sci at UW. I wonder if he'll write an article for this

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