LETTER: Today, we commemorate Asean Day as Asean was established on Aug 8, 1967.
Asean has come a long way as a regional organisation, though some continue to doubt its effectiveness. Asean has crafted several long-term plans, such as Asean 2025, and rolled out many master plans.
I had the opportunity of representing Malaysia on the High Level Task Force on Connectivity, which developed the first Asean Master Plan on Connectivity, focusing on enhancing physical, institutional and people connectivity. Now, Asean has a second master plan emphasising on digital, logistics and regulatory connectivity.
Connectivity is one of the 4Cs of Asean. The others are Community, Charter and Centrality. The Asean Community is now a reality with the Asean Economic Community coming into effect in 2015.
But more must be done to strengthen the newer challenges — Asean consciousness and China, in particular the South China Sea (SCS). China is an important strategic partner and the biggest trading partner for Asean. Asean must continue to work and engage with China, but SCS must remain open to freedom of navigation. China and Asean need to conclude the Code of Conduct on SCS.
Asean consciousness needs to be strengthened, especially among the younger generation, so as to create a better sense of belonging to Asean. It must remain relevant to next-generation leaders. I would like to propose an Asean Youth Parliament be established.
The Asean Charter should be reviewed by enhancing the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as deciding on the traditional practice of consensual decision-making. Asean must have stretch goals and push the envelope to make a quantum leap forward and review the consensus approach.
Asean needs to also pursue the 3Rs — responsiveness, relevance and rights. Asean must prioritise digital transformation, sustainability and SME business continuity.
With the growing emphasis on and importance of sustainability, the leaders should also establish an Asean Sustainability Commission with representation from government, business and civil society.
Here’s to greater heights. Happy 53rd birthday, Asean.
TAN SRI MICHAEL YEOH
President, KSI Strategic Institute
Chairman, Asean Leadership and Partnership Forum