The recent 34th Asean Summit emphasised the importance of advancing partnership for sustainability to achieve a people-centred, people-oriented and forward-looking Asean Community that leaves no one behind in the rapidly changing regional and global environment.
In preparing for the 35th Asean Summit in Bangkok and related summits, like the Asean Plus Summits and the East Asia Summit, Malaysia must punch above its weight with the region’s most experienced and longest serving leader, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, leading the way. Malaysia must aim to be a middle power in international diplomacy and a regional leader in championing regional cooperation and closer integration.
The Asean Summit should review the 4Cs of Asean that have been the bedrock of its strength over the past decades: community, connectivity, charter and centrality.
While the master plans have been formulated for Asean connectivity, Asean still faces gaps in implementing the infrastructure, information technology and seamless connectivity as enunciated in the first and seecond Asean master plans for connectivity.
Connectivity is more important than ever to bridge the development divide and to better connect Asean with the world. A digital Asean requires better connectivity. Asean also needs more highways, railways and ports to accelerate regional connectivity.
The Asean Charter was well received when it was first formulated. But it should now be reviewed, particularly the section on protection of human rights by giving the Asean Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights more bite so that it can be more effective. Asean could also do with a paradigm shift and establish an Asean Court of Human Rights similar to the European Court of Human Rights.
On the Asean Community, more efforts need to be expended on engaging the younger people — the next generation of Asean leaders so that they have a stronger sense of consciousness and belonging. We don’t celebrate our “Aseanness” as Europeans do their “Europeanness”.
Asean studies should be given greater prominence in schools and universities in all member states. Asean Centrality has been an Asean goal long cherished by all member states. It ensures Asean will speak with one voice in international meetings or over negotiations. Asean Centrality must be heard loudly in negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
I believe the way forward for Asean is to continue to focus on a people-centred Asean. Efforts to promote sustainable and inclusive development will ensure no one is left behind. Asean leaders must re-emphasise the 4Ps — planet, people, peace and prosperity.
As Asean welcomes its 54th anniversary on Aug 8, we must ensure it remains relevant, people-centred, business friendly, sustainable and cohesive.