Is ASEAN still a symbol of peace

Photo: Gunawan Kartapranata/CC BY-SA 3.0

ASEAN’s 50th anniversary was hardly eventful. Is consensus impossible among the ten different nations?

By Fiona Tang

A closer look at ASEAN’s 50th anniversary shows that not all is well. Some may call it a “miracle”, a “world star” and well deserving of a Noble Peace Prize. While many others sensed inactivity, disunity and inactivity.

ASEAN’s silence on the Rohingya crisis was deafening. During the Chairman’s Statement, there was no mentioning of the Rohingya community. ASEAN’s inability to address the humanitarian situation has confirmed a “culture of inaction”.

Malaysia’s disassociation further proved division among ASEAN members. It shows that ASEAN is having great difficulty gaining consensus among the members.

The slow process of the consensus rule

There are headline-grabbing events that suggest consensus is problematic within ASEAN. First being a failed joint communique at the Foreign Ministers Meeting in 2012. Followed by Malaysia’s public disavowing of the “Rohingya statement” in September 2017. The lack of unity is also revealed in use in ASEAN communique of the caveat “some ministers”.

This suggests a failure to achieve consensus via consultation and negotiation. A consensus is crucial among the members to address the issues happening in ASEAN. However, the urgency of crisis continues to grow amidst discussion.

Analysts concern over ASEAN minus X formula

ASEAN’s consensus rule stems from the logic of majority over the minority. Results are slow due to this process of consultation and consensus achievement. Unlike the EU decision-making system based on unanimity. Analysts have issued concerns about this rule and advised for a change or an adjustment.

To regain faith, ASEAN must achieve unity in acting on existing regional issues. The collegial decision system in the ASEAN minus X (A-X) formula does not equate unanimity. It is a practice that requires compromising of own national interest for the sake of the region. The process may be slow but often produced good decisions among the members.

An example would be the adoption of ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) in 2012. Followed by the Phnom Penh Statement. The aim of the statement was to address international human rights standards.

Consensus rule unites ASEAN

The consensus rule holds ASEAN together. It prides ASEAN on being different from the structure found in the West counterpart. It enabled states to be independent of colonial power. It enabled the creation of an institution that defends and protects their independence.

It is a process that encourages cooperation from sovereign states within the region. A cooperation that will bring transnational peace and uphold regional relationship. ASEAN is a symbol of stability, peace, unity and dynamic. With the solidity of a consensus rule, ASEAN should work on the unanimity among its members and unity.

The challenge for ASEAN is acting on some regional issues as a united organisation. The challenge would be to adjust the process of consensus and achieve unity among its ten members. The A-X formula should also be in favour of all ASEAN activity as it originally intended.