According to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, while a lot has been done by Asean, there is still a lot more to do. (Antara Photo/Widodo S. Jusuf)

Geopolitical Rivalry, Security and Inequality Are Asean's Key Challenges: FM

BY :TABITA DIELA

JULY 20, 2017

Jakarta. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which unites 10 Southeast Asian countries, needs to make stronger efforts to address geopolitical rivalry, transnational organized crime and social inequality, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Wednesday (19/07).

"The first 50 years of Asean are a success story," Retno said during a seminar in Central Jakarta.

Asean, which is the world's third largest market with its 630 million population, and the sixth largest economy with a combined gross domestic product of about $2.4 trillion, observes steady economic growth.

"Moving forward, Asean must strengthen its unity to meet the challenges of the future," the minister said ahead of the 50th anniversary of Asean's birth on Aug. 8.

Geopolitical Rivalry

According to Retno, the first challenge for Asean is in coping with geopolitical rivalry, which typically involves border issues.

"This is the most obvious challenge for Asean," she said.

Retno took as an example the tense situation in the South China Sea — one of the regional issues that always emerges during top-level meetings.

Asean, Retno said, should find a way to keep the strategic waterways stable and peaceful.

China and Asean agreed in May to set up a code of conduct with regard to the disputed sea and ease tensions in the region. Its draft will be further discussed in August.

"Almost half of Asean member countries have overlapping claims toward China in the South China Sea. Therefore, working together with China is a must," Retno said.

Security Issues

The second challenge is in addressing terrorism and transnational organized crime.

Retno mentioned several points of concern, including security in the Sulu Sea — the body of water separating North Sulawesi's northernmost island, Miangas, from the southern Philippines, which has seen an increase in kidnappings by Philippine separatist groups, drug and human trafficking, and illegal fishing.

"The recent attack and occupation of Marawi City in the Philippines is a wake-up call for all of us," Retno said, noting that Indonesia initiated trilateral cooperation with Malaysia and the Philippines, in Manila on June 22, to enhance counterterrorism efforts.

"I see the urgency for Asean to pool our resources and institutionalize common efforts in combating terrorism," Retno said, stressing the need to enable intelligence sharing and prevent terrorist financing.

Inequality

The third challenge is to ensure the prosperity of Asean populations.

Retno said that small, medium and micro enterprises are the key to achieve the goal.

"SMEs are the bedrock of our economy, whose ability to withstand economic crises has been proven. In 50 years, SMEs will remain the backbone of Asean's economy," she said.

Retno said SMEs account for between 88.8 percent and 99.9 percent of all establishments in Asean and provide between 51.7 percent and 97.2 percent of its total employment.

Asean nations should continue deregulation and carry out economic reforms to attract foreign direct investment, use information and communication technologies and improve connectivity between its members.

"Another challenge faced by Asean is maintaining unity," Retno said, adding that if the group is unable to maintain its unity and diversity, Southeast Asia can become another ground for proxy wars between the world's major powers.

Asean was born in 1967, when foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand signed a document establishing regional cooperation, largely aimed at stimulating economic development. Brunei Darussalam joined the association in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.

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