ASEAN central to Indo-Pacific concept, cooperation, says Outlook

ASEAN central to Indo-Pacific concept, cooperation, says Outlook


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) released its concept on the Indo-Pacific at the 34th ASEAN Summit in late-June 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand.

ASEAN’s vision calls for an inclusive “rules-based framework” to “help to generate momentum for building strategic trust and win-win cooperation in the region,” according to the nonbinding statement.

The Indo-Pacific should be a region of “dialogue and cooperation instead of rivalry” with “development and prosperity for all,” according to the official document, titled the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific,” which was adopted at the Thailand-led summit. ASEAN will play a “central and strategic role” to engage regional stakeholders, the statement said.

The ASEAN Outlook, which is an evolving document, is meant to “contribute to the maintenance of peace, freedom and prosperity.” ASEAN will “continue being an honest broker within the strategic environment of competing interests,” the statement said.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, pictured, who served as chairman of the 2019 summit, told reporters, “ASEAN believes that cooperation under the Indo-Pacific concept should … also complement existing frameworks of cooperation at the regional and subregional levels and generate tangible and concrete deliverables for the benefit of the region’s peoples.”

The Outlook, ASEAN said in the statement, “is not aimed at creating new mechanisms or replacing existing ones; rather, it is an Outlook intended to enhance ASEAN’s Community building process and to strengthen and give new momentum for existing ASEAN-led mechanisms to better face challenges and seize opportunities arising from the current and future regional and global environments.”

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the outlook “reaffirms our commitment to ASEAN centrality and unity. It advances economic development and a rules-based world order anchored on international law,” according to The Straits Timesnewspaper.

The Outlook listed a range of potential key areas for cooperation including maritime, connectivity, sustainability and economic collaboration. For maritime cooperation, the statement specifically mentioned the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and “freedom of navigation and overflight.”

“Ardent ASEAN advocates continue to make the case that ASEAN has been a driver of the ‘Indo-Pacificization’ of Asian regionalism over time to include the greater engagement of major powers, through mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit,” senior editor Dr. Prashanth Parameswaran wrote in the online news magazine The Diplomat. “More concretely, in terms of policy, Indonesia’s former foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, had also publicly raised the prospect of an Indo-Pacific Friendship and Cooperation Treaty in the 2010s, even though it never got off the ground in an ASEAN-wide context.”

“The value of ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific Outlook is in reminding all parties that it will remain an indispensable player in the region’s geostrategic and geoeconomic landscape,” Dr. Tang Siew Mun, head of ASEAN studies at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, wrote in The South China Morning Post newspaper.

“Given that convergence among major powers is unlikely, ASEAN will face long odds in its wish to serve as the platform for an expanded regional order. But the odds of a new regional architecture promoting peace and prosperity for countries in the Indo-Pacific would be longer still without ASEAN’s support and participation.”

Analysts acknowledge the stakes are perhaps higher than ever for ASEAN to develop a globally credible Indo-Pacific approach. “That will require not just adding ASEAN’s views to a conversation, but also clearly articulating how its much-prized centrality in the regional architecture can be leveraged to advance various conceptions by regional actors in a way [that] not only advertises ASEAN’s value-add, but also speaks to their interests as well,”Parameswaran wrote.