chapter  1
31 Pages

Understanding regional governance in Asia

ByNICHOLAS THOMAS

The birth of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967 was a modest event for an organisation that is rapidly becoming the hub for East Asian integration. Such modesty is, however, not surprising when the history of the region immediately prior to the creation of ASEAN is considered. In the aftermath of the Second World War, three other regional groupings had been created as Southeast Asian states sought to foster security and economic development in the region and at home.1 Each one had failed, brought down by either intraregional tensions or geopolitical shifts. Given that the objectives of the earlier organisations were also incorporated into ASEAN, its modest beginning was perhaps a reflection of the difficulties these other groups had faced in maintaining their momentum and cohesion. But the region was changing. ASEAN’s arrival coincided with the rapid

development in all four dragon economies – Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore – and the start of Japanese investment into Southeast Asia. Over the next decade the development of the ASEAN economies – supported by inflows of regional and international foreign direct investment – helped to promote social and economic capital. At the same time, conflicts between member states began to lessen – creating a space for cooperative activities at the regional level. During this same period China emerged from the shadow of the Cultural Revolution and began to increase its involvement in world affairs. The opening up of China provided a further economic stimulus to Southeast Asia, with most ASEAN members sending trade and political delegations to China during this time.2 Reflecting their increased socio-economic and political capacities as well as a desire to deepen regional ties, the ASEAN leaders met at the end of this decade to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and the Declaration of ASEAN Concord. With these agreements in place ASEAN gained a framework for an institutional and normative identity, which continues to develop today. Over the next two decades ASEAN expanded the scope of its intrar-

egional cooperation. Three key events can be seen as having a significant

impact on shaping this cooperation. First, Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia (1978-1990) forced ASEAN members to work together in developing a common negotiating position and achieving a mutually desired outcome. Although the influence of ASEAN in developing the Paris Accords is debatable, it is clear that this experience highlighted for ASEAN the opportunities to be gained from deeper collaboration on regional and international issues.3 Second, the end of the Cold War removed many of the geopolitical obstacles that had impeded regional cooperation – not only in Southeast Asia but also between Southeast and Northeast Asian states. These two events not only encouraged ASEAN members to work collectively but also provided the organisation with the necessary political and economic space in which to do so. The third key event was the 1997 Asian financial crisis. This had a number

of significant outcomes for the region. The most important outcome was the understanding that Southeast Asian and Northeast Asian states were not only intraregionally connected: they were also pan-regionally linked. In other words, problems in one state could not only spill over to neighbouring states – detrimentally affecting their ability to provide economic stability and socio-political security for their peoples – but they were not confined to a single subregion and could spread, to impact on other states across East Asia. The 1997 Asian crisis also fostered the belief that this was a problem for the region to deal with. The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s interventions were not viewed favourably by most affected governments, who perceived the organisation to also be furthering a US-centred policy rather than solely focusing on alleviating the crisis.4 Finally, it again reinforced the idea that deeper cooperation could yield synergistic results for the benefit of all states, economies and peoples in the region. The task was how to achieve such cooperative outcomes, given that the regional response to the 1997 crisis was driven by states and external actors rather than by ASEAN. During this period ASEAN expanded its membership to include all ten

Southeast Asian countries. It has also enlarged its cooperation to include the three main states of Northeast Asia. This success has presented the region with a singular challenge, namely how to integrate these disparate countries, with their different needs, capacity levels and worldviews. This was already a pressing issue when ASEAN moved to incorporate Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam in the 1990s. The inclusion of China, Japan and South Korea – with their own sets of interests, norms and worldviews – in the ASEAN+1 and ASEAN+3 (APT) dialogues further complicated the situation. An unexpected challenge to the relevance and focus of ASEAN’s work

emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s with the creation of numerous other organisations and networks with an interest in East Asia. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group was established in 1989; with a focus on economies rather than states, this is the only regional organisation with Taiwan and Hong Kong as members. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

has – since its inception in 1994 – involved members with very different political and security norms from those in the core Southeast Asian countries. The Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) dialogue began in 1996 and was the first regional organisation to have China, Japan and South Korea grouped with the then seven-member ASEAN, as representatives of Asia. The region also witnessed an expansion of subregional initiatives throughout the 1990s – such as the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), the Brunei DarussalamIndonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT). Most ASEAN states were members of one or more of these regional and subregional groupings, all of which required resources (both human and capital) in order to achieve their respective agendas. The redirection of these resources meant that member states had less capacity to commit to regional projects, requiring a hierarchical prioritisation of regional initiatives based on members’ self-interest. In order to avoid the fate of the pre-ASEAN groups – all of whose utility

was diminished by other events – and to clarify its position in this emerging constellation of regional bodies, the organisation sought to refine its raison d’être by developing a blueprint for institutional evolution. To this end, at the 1999 Informal ASEAN Summit, regional leaders agreed to establish an eminent persons group – the East Asia Vision Group (EAVG) – to find a way forward for the region. In their final report, towards an East Asian Community (EAC), the 13 members of the EAVG noted that they aimed to ‘offer a common vision for East Asia that reflects the rapidly changing regional and global environment, as well as provide direction for future cooperation among East Asian nations’.5 This vision encompassed private sector actors and civil society organisations operating in conjunction with states to further regional integration. It also placed ASEAN at the centre of regional integration efforts, even as it acknowledged the work being undertaken by other institutions – such as APEC. In other words, the report not only offered a final destination, an EAC, but a roadmap as to how to get there. In the period since this report was handed down there have been a number

of other studies and initiatives undertaken whose effect has been to speed up the process of regionalisation and governance in Asia. While some of these have been significant in articulating a grand vision for what the region should look like – the East Asian Community as described in the Bali Concord II, for example – there has been relatively little work published on the fine details as to how this end point will be achieved, with competing visions held by different members, leading to the region’s collective leadership preferring to see this aspect of regionalisation as more of a work in progress. These various initiatives have created new opportunies for dialogue and

cooperation all of which need to be integrated with each other. Indeed, there are presently in excess of 700 ASEAN meetings held each year. ASEAN’s success in its expansion has, therefore, become an impediment to the smooth

functioning of the organisation and limits its ability to realise its many objectives. This tension – between deeper and wider regionalisation, on the one hand, and better institutional functionality, on the other – has led policy makers in Asia to seek new partners, for both policy formulation and execution. Even as states remain the key actors in regional institutions, the broadening out of the policy processes has involved actors from the private sector as well as civil society. In order to understand the implications of this tension for East Asia, this

chapter draws on the governance literature to model the articulation of regional institutions and norms by regional actors. In particular, this chapter seeks to go beyond traditional state-centric analysis by incorporating examples of sub-state and non-state actors in a multilevel governance framework. Three examples highlighting the evolution of regional governance – the APT process, the East Asian Summit (EAS) and the drafting of the ASEAN Charter – are then presented. These cases highlight many of the ambitions and struggles implicit in the governance formation process. As observers of Asian regional affairs have noted, the process of regional integration and governance has faced numerous problems. Some of these have been resolved over time, while others remain as impediments to regional affairs. This chapter focuses several of the more serious obstacles to the further development of Asian regional governance before concluding and presenting a summary of the chapters that follow.