Indonesia urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, on Thursday (18/01) to be more agile in 2018, an official said in Jakarta. (Antara Foto/Muhammad Adimaja)

Indonesian Scholars and Officials Call for Asean to Be More 'Agile' in 2018


JANUARY 20, 2018

Jakarta. Indonesia urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, on Thursday (18/01) to be more agile in 2018, an official said in Jakarta.

Singapore is the current Asean chair and has proclaimed "Resilience and Innovation" as the association's official motto.

The nation-state explained that it's agenda for the association will be made clear in the coming months, said Jose Tavares, director general for Asean cooperation at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the "Talking Asean On -- Asean Outlook 2018" discussion hosted by the Habibie Center in Jakarta.

"Indonesia's recommendation to the chair is that Asean should be more agile […] Asean is quite bureaucratic and if we propose something, it is difficult to move forward," Jose said.

Jose said that Indonesia was the first member country to take an initiative for cooperation during the ongoing crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine State and the Islamist insurgency in Marawi City, the Philippines.

"To respond to those kinds of events, Asean must be more agile, faster and have collective leadership, so it won’t be only Indonesia that will take action, but other Asean members together," he explained.

"If other countries propose good ideas, we must support them. It must be collective leadership, not just Indonesia," Jose added.

Under Singapore's chairmanship, Asean will also focus on an Asean-wide extradition treaty, which according to Jose, has been proposed by Indonesia for quite sometime.

"Indonesia firmly supports this initiative and we’re going to see not only a model extradition treaty but Asean's extradition treaty," Jose said.

Counterterrorism, cybersecurity, smart cities network, agreements on e-commerce and tourism will be top priorities for Asean this year.

Asean is expected to face increased transnational crime, terrorism and violence extremism this year and must focus on potential hot spots in the region, including the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and major power rivalries, Jose predicts.

To face those challenges, "Asean cannot be static."

"I think [Asean] must be more agile not only in responding but also reacting [and] anticipating what’s going to happen in the region and beyond," he said.

Elections and Singapore-China Relations

Ibrahim Almuttaqi, head of the Asean studies program at the Habibie Center, warned the association to consider domestic political situations, such as upcoming elections in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

"Next year Thailand will be the chair of Asean, so if for example there is a disputed election in Thailand […] this will be a problem for Asean next year," he said at the Asean Outlook 2018 discussion.

Because the bloc is committed to democratic values and human rights, it has a responsibility to point out and if necessary sanction or suspend member states that do not live up to those standards, he said.

"On the Rohingya issue, Asean has been quite silent and maybe the bloc will use the argument that this is a very complicated issue, very complex […] but when it is a clear case of electoral fraud or election violations, where you don’t have freedom of press in the countries that I mentioned before, it is difficult for Asean to be quiet and to be silent," Ibrahim said.

He also warned that the Singapore-China relationship could affect the association’s position.

China did not invite Singapore's leader to the inauguration of its "One Belt-One Road Initiative," or OBOR, in May last year, though other Asean leaders, including President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, attended.

"Maybe one of the challenges will be Singapore's relationship with China."

OBOR, a Challenge for Asean

Another challenge that Asean will face this year is China’s OBOR initiative, according to Evi Fitriani, a scholar from the Jakarta-based Miriam Budiarjo Resource Center.

"It can be problematic for the Asean Economic Community. The challenge is whether Asean commits to OBOR and to what extent we commit to it," she said during the discussion.

China is one of the association's closest trade and political partners. Through the OBOR initiative, China plans to invest in infrastructure projects in neighboring countries.