Chairman’s Circle Strategic Forum 2017
“ASEAN @ 50”
On March 03 2017,the Human Development Forum Foundation organized its first Chairman’s Circle Strategic Forum for the year 2017 with the theme of “ASEAN @ 50”, which was graciously sponsored by The Asia Foundation as previous events in the last four years. H.E. Mary Jo A. Bernardo – Aragon, the Philippine Ambassador to the Royal Kingdom of Thailand also participated in the event as well as some Deputy Head of Missions. About 50 interested participants from different Foreign Embassies, (I)NGO’s, UN agencies, and independent journalists both based in Thailand and abroad, joined the forum and also shared their own insights towards each respected topics that were given..
Mr. Kavi Chongkittavorn, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) at Chulalongkorn University, an ASEAN scholar with also more than two decades work experience as a journalist for The Nation, gave his topic as the 1st panelist: “Quo Vadis ASEAN? 50 years and what will come next?” and Mr. John Brandon, the Senior Director of The Asia Foundation’s International Relations Program, as well as being the Associate Director of the Washington, DC office, presented his topic “New US Presidency and ASEAN” as the 2nd panelist.
“Quo Vadis ASEAN? 50 years and what will come now?”
by: Kavi Chongkittavorn
Mr. Kavi Chongkittavorn presented on ASEAN @ 50, emphasizing on a list of topics that ASEAN must cope with. These include the following:
• Mapping a strategic vision for Southeast Asia with ASEAN at the center
• Quicker decisions in responding to crisis and emergencies
• Makingthe Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) a bidding document that goes beyond Southeast Asia
• Updating the ASEAN Charter
• Setting up a peace and security council to mitigate intra-ASEAN conflict
• Creating synergy of the ASEAN Vision 2015 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals
In addition, Mr. Kavi noted that Thailand serves as a bridge between ASEANand China, whereas Singapore acts as official coordinator of ASEAN-China ties (2015-2018), thus these countries’ vital role of anchoring the United States’ strategic interests in ASEAN. These relations have led the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte to soften his approach towards China, adding up complete respect for legal and diplomatic processes in a peaceful settlement of the South China Sea dispute.He also stressed the need for the Philippine Chair to ensure ASEAN centrality.The Chair is a facilitator, driver of substance and policy initiatives, and needs to be proactive.
The Chair should also be effective – timely responds to urgent issues, actively promotes the interests and well being of ASEAN through representation,and strengthens closer ties with external partners. Mr. Kavi concluded by emphasizing that ASEAN @50 + more years to come will maintain ASEAN centrality, continue with community building, and complete Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and promote ASEAN as a peace-making organization, with ana im to win the Nobel Peace Prize by 2030. He stated that ASEAN will intensify engagement with major key powers, admitting the European Union (EU)and Canada as strategic partners, backing them as future East Asia Summit (EAS) members, and making possible new dialogue partners like Brazil, Turkey and Mexico.
“New US presidency and ASEAN”
by: John Brandon
Mr. John Brandon of The Asia Foundation mentioned the historical ties between ASEAN and the United States of America (U.S.), which began way back in 1977. In recent years the Obama administration showed interest not only in ASEAN as organization, but also increased their bilateral activities in South East Asia. Remarkable was the visit of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the ASEAN Secretariat – something that has never been done in the past 40 years.
The current US President Donald Trump is critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP). Within four days in office he withdrew the U.S. from the TPP, saying that the members were not paying their fair share(mainly Japan and Korea).He criticized Obama’s policy to be part of the TPP. President Trump has been recommending dramatic cuts (Federal Budget) that is not only affecting ASEAN alone but also the UN and humanitarian organizations. With his famous slogan “AMERICA FIRST”Trump is trying to do erase Obama’s legacy.
ASEAN is worried thatthe U.S. wants to give China more power. However no one wants that to happen.
Mr. Brandon added that everyone must know that the U.S. constitution does not allow one person to reign supreme, but Trump is not yet appreciating the diffusion of power, because in his mind it is all about competition.
In closing, Mr. Brandon posed these questions and gave recommendations to the future relationship between the U.S. and ASEAN: if the relationship between the U.S. and ASEAN is deepened, will South East Asia and ASEAN trust Trump? Will Trump trust ASEAN? What is the major concern between South East Asia and President Trump? As ASEAN is at the moment only one community with multiple voices, Mr. Brandon recommended:
1. Agreement onthe U.S. interest to the region (why is the U.S. and ASEAN relationship neutrally beneficial), should be articulated in three minutes – which is the time President Trump gives for briefings
2. A common person to represent ASEAN- either a person knownfor, or someone who is familiar with the U.S. governmental system; but especially a person who can speak like (as) a businessman
3. A short document(one to two pages only)tocapture President Trump’s attention
Mr. Kim McQuay of The Asia Foundation and Dr. Wilfried A. Herrmann Board Member of HDFF gave the closing remarks. Mr. Kim McQuay gave a summary of how the long-term friendship between HDFF and TAF began,as well aspointing out the success of the Chairman Circle events in the last four years. He was happy with the outcome of the series of events, which were all planned and managed to produce positive results in accordance to the vision, mission,and objectives of HDFF. These included increasing awareness of burning issues in the ASEAN and Thailand context, and promoting networking.
Dr. Wilfried A. Herrmann gave the background summary of the Chairman Circle,which started on 29 January 2011 and lasted until 19 March 2013,with 12 events sponsored by the IRPC and HDFF. The Chairman Circle then resumed on 28 May 2013 and continued until 03 March 2017, with 21 events supported by The Asia Foundation. About 1,200 participants attended the events held from 2011-2017 – these included international non-government organizations (INGOs), United Nations (UN) agencies, Thai government institutions, the diplomatic corps, Civil Society Organizations, and the corporate and public sectors.
In addition, the series of events had outstanding keynote speakers,e.g. the Ambassadors from Russia and Indonesia, former ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Magsaysay Award Winner 2013 “Daw LahpaiSeng Raw” (Myanmar) as well as high ranking officials from the UN,media representatives. These keynote speakers were complemented by a wide range of panelists from Thai government organizations, INGOs and the academic field. This led to about 150 recommendations of policies developed and distributed to advisors and policy makers.
Question and Answer:
Question 1: Can you please comment on the future of EAS?
Answer (Mr.Kavi): Firstly, ASEAN is working on forms that shallmake EAS more attractive. Secondly, ASEAN will be more openly dependent on the Chair; hence EAS must have asubstantial discussionwith issues regarding ASEAN. Assumingly, under the Philippine leadership, EAS might have a big transformation.
Question 2: To what extent is ASEAN willing to frame consensus around values, vision, and,to some extent,delegation to empower technical people to develop mechanisms to guide implementation of presidential and EU functions? Can you comment more on what happened late last year in Myanmar with the Rohingya issue, and the public protest against Myanmar Government?
Answer (Mr.Kavi):T he Myanmar case cannot be labeled as genocide because Myanmar has been accepting humanitarian assistance. ASEAN has to balance between national interest, sovereignty, and nationalism with the broader ASEAN interest.Malaysia pushed the Rohingya issue to the International level.The results remain to be seen.
Question 3: Can you give advice to the international community?
Answer (Mr.Kavi): ASEAN is a simple group, and the problem is that many countries jump in with their own ideologies. ASEAN won’t allow that.Australia and New Zealand prepared all the dialogues of ASEAN and, as such, they have been successful. It’s best to understand the ideologies of ASEAN, and refrain from trying to insert your own doctrines. Use the ASEAN charter and expand; don’t come in with your own new ideas. If you do that,you will be able to engage ASEAN effectively.
Question 4: What are the new directions of the Trump administration?
Answer (Mr. Brandon): It is still early to draw conclusions about the Trump administration because the administration is still trying to find its way.
Question 5: Do you think an interest-based policy is easier to work within ASEAN, as compared to value policy?
Answer(Mr. Brandon): There are changing dynamics in the Trump administration, moving away from a values-based policy to an interest-based policy.There is an open debate with the new government, and there is a need to follow the results of this debate.