On the 21st of November, 2007, ASEAN Ministers will meet in Shanri-La, Singapore to discuss and (hopefully) sign the ASEAN Constitution (aka ASEAN Charter). This Constitution will bind the ten member states more together and will make the ASEAN a legal Regional Body. Currently, ASEAN is simply an organization of 'loving countries' or if you will, a 'subdivision committee' or a 'family-clan'. Everything is done by concensus which consumes a lot of time. As Prof Koh puts it:
We have created this high comfort level that we have with one another. We have also evolved a unique ASEAN Way of solving problems, of talking as a family, of developing a habit of what I call 'mutual accomodation in the search of consensus'.
Additionally, the current ASEAN have no binding agreements between its member states as to how fast and when each members must implement the agreements. For example, during the 12th ASEAN Summit, it was agreed upon that all Overseas Workers within the region should be treated and given equal pays. Filipino workers in Singapore get a higher pay, while Indonesians gets lower. Now that isn't fair right? Many questions when this agreement will be implemented, because the current ASEAN do not have 'laws' that governs the ASEAN. The past 40 years, according to the study of Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, Rod Severino, and Ajit Singh, only about 30% of ASEAN's agreements have been implemented, and that is obviously not an acceptable record.
Once the 1st ASEAN Constitution is signed, every member state is now obliged (as per agreement and the ASEAN Secretary-General) to the laws and projects. If a member-state fails to comply, the ASEAN will have an appropriate study and investigation, and will give the right punishment. Also, this will make the ASEAN a respected and legal regional organization. The UN, EU, and the US, will finally show us respect and treat us as a "group" and not as an individual. The ASEAN will finally have a "Legal Identity", it will become a legal "Entity".
The 1st ASEAN Constitution is a framework or the first step. From hereon, the ASEAN will slowly grow and become more integrated. A new identity will be born, a new belongingness and respect will be felt and earned. New lessons will be learned. Two of the plans are the ASEAN Human Rights Body and the ASEAN Economic Blueprint.
The ASEAN Economic Blueprint talks about the integration of the ten independent economies of ASEAN into ONE. If the Economic Blueprint is implemented, then it is foreseen that by 2015, the still fragmented ASEAN Economy and Market will become ONE. The whole region will be treated as one. A foreign investor investing in ASEAN is not anymore talking to one member state but talking to the WHOLE, to the TEN. This ONE Economy will also help in preventing another 1997 Economic crash, as it will serve as a buffer before it is felt by everyone. Inter-economy will be strong, and this is the very reason why Japan is considered the #1 Economy in the world. Yen appears to be weak against the US Dollar when we look at the exchange rates, but in reality, Yen is one of the strongest money in the world, all due to their internal economy.
As a single economy, our internal economy will give the region its economic strength similar to Japan, the EU, and other regional blocs and huge countries like the US. Keeping trading among the members will keep the money moving thus creating a stronger market than if we all have independent markets. This will also help us compete internationally, especially with our adjacent neighbors like China and India (who are both competing to dominate and control the ASEAN region).
All these eventually leads to the creation of what I call that "ASEAN Identity". One day, when we wake up in the morning, or maybe the time of our children, or the next generation, they will now not only think of themselves as Filipinos, Singaporeans, Vietnamese, Laotians, Myanmarese, ... but also think of themselves as "ASEANs", as "ASEAN Citizens".
Today's generation, and our parents generation, we won't be able to make the 'switch' easily, and we'll be asking what it is to be an "ASEAN (Citizen)", but what we are doing now is paving way for the future of our region, for our children, and I am very glad to be part of 'history in the making'.
It is the Asian's ERA, and the ASEANs are leading this new era. Let's all hope and pray that next week's presentations and signing will be a huge success.
One ASEAN at the Heart of Dynamic Asia and One Caring and Sharing Community!!
Welcome to ASEAN!
Transcript of interview with Ambassador Tommy Koh by Channel News Asia
ASEAN Prepares to Make Itself Legal, But Change in Actions May be Slow in Coming
Myanmar expected to respect ASEAN charter: Indonesia
Also posted at:
ASEAN - Asia's Perfect 10 (a regional blog by the ASEAN People)
ASEAN Citizens (a blog)