Monday, November 19, 2007

An unlikely time to say goodbye to the 'ASEAN way'

With the planned signing of an ASEAN charter this week, some observers believe that now is the time to drop the regional body's adherence to the "ASEAN way" -- the policy of noninterference in the internal politics of member states. The new charter calls for a regional human rights body, a stronger secretariat and most importantly the power to suspend member states who break the rules. All of this would seem to be stepping away from the old consensus-based ASEAN that has, since its inception, been too sickeningly polite to give the Burmese junta the dressing down that it so desperately deserves.

In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal today Khairy Jamaluddi writes "As useful as the 'Asean way' was in managing regional ties during past eras of autocratic leadership...it is time for Asean to slaughter its most sacred cow....The Charter aims to recast Asean as a rules-based organization with enough teeth to enforce its rules on member states."

The problem with all this ASEAN optimism is that the neighborhood still lacks a country that will really be able to stand-up for these values. The unfortunate logic of ASEAN non-interference has always been the wisdom of not throwing stones when your house is made of glass. And in the areas of democracy and human rights the region's homes seem to be built of only that one thing.

What state amongst ASEAN will really push for democratic reconciliation without feeling that its own political process will then be open to scrutiny? Thailand with its own clique of ruling generals? Singapore, which although having strong-rule-of-law, has had the same party in power since day 1 and still carries out the charming practice of imprisoning political protesters? Will Malaysia be the voice of human rights at ASEAN meetings, with its race-based economic and political system which unabashedly aims to maintain the preeminence of the majority ethnic group?

The new ASEAN charter will undoubtedly be a boon for regional human rights groups that will now have a codification for complaints created by leaders from their own states. But beyond perennial finger-wagging aimed at those who cause the grouping real embarrassment, as in the case of Burma, it is hard to imagine a ASEAN states ever carrying out a process aimed at punishing member states with suspension or even formalized censure when every nation amongst them knows that the same could happen to them.

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1 comment:

Robin said...

Joel, This is not really a comment, just an unrelated but possibly related question. Is it possible you're the son of P & T and grandson on P's side of S & H? Also brother S? I just talked to P & H a few days ago.

Possibly your cousin,
Robin