Malaysia is the second ASEAN member that ratified the 1st ASEAN Charter, but do you know that there is still much to be done? No, I'm not talking about the mumbo-jumbo elite high-level talks of our dear leaders, I am talking about what YOU and me must and need to do. But where are we lacking anyway? Which is our job as ordinary people? Read on and you will know.
What is an ASEAN Citizen?
Generally speaking, an ASEAN citizen is family-oriented, tradition-minded, respectful of authority, consensus-seeking, and tolerant.
As was explained by H.E. Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General of ASEAN on 12th November 2003. He said that we are a "Caring and Sharing" people who helps each other;  shares responsibilities; and  share benefits. "These common qualities in attitudes and predispositions are clearly reflected in the Bali Concord II (Declaration of ASEAN Concord II) adopted by ASEAN Leaders at their Summit in Bali, in October 2003." The document stressed our shared responsibility, shared prosperity, and shared identity.
It is these values that makes up an Asean Citizen. We value the culture, history, and beliefs of each other and give utmost respect to everyone. This has become known as the "Asean Way", and this today drives us forward into a future of One Region - the Asean Community (or should I say, in a not-so-far future "Asean Union").
BUT, there is a long road of work ahead of us all if we want to even go there. Forget about the "elite" or the policy makers, the problem lies down to the grassroots - the People, the Aseans. Our dear leaders can do everything they want, spend countless of hours and days in meetings, but unless all of it goes down to the "People Level", everything is or will become useless, wasted money and efforts.
For example, in a recently held dialogue session on Asean Charter: Its Prospects and Implications held in Brunei Darussalam, the youths do not have enough knowledge about the ASEAN and the ASEAN Charter. Yes they are aware of "ASEAN" as an organization, the summits, and media-hyped meetings like the signing of the ASEAN Charter, but it ends there. One student asked by The Brunei Times about their awareness of Asean and its efforts said:
I am aware of the happenings of Asean from watching the news and also from reading it online but I need to know these information because I am taking the Asean course this semester.
Other students, like Adina Hazri, also taking a course on Asean mentioned the lack of knowledge on Asean as an organization because it doesn't affect the younger generation directly, or should I say, the "people", the grassroots. She added, "The Asean politics mostly affects the elite such as policy makers and thus the younger generation like myself, do not automatically assume that we can contribute towards its development." And this the case not just in Brunei but in some Asean countries as well.
When asked about if they see themselves as a citizen of Asean, Husna, a student, answered that the fact that she took the course is in itself the evidence that she sees herself as an Asean Citizen. This is a good start nonetheless.
Why? The ASEAN Foundation released the results of their project: ASEAN Awareness Survey a month ago targeted towards the students or the younger generation. Quoting the current ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan:
Among the three pillars of ASEAN, the Socio-Cultural Community has been given the lowest attention although it is the most important pillar. As such, it is important to know where we are and how we can build a stronger bond for people to feel the ownership of ASEAN.
The "three pillars of ASEAN"?
- ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC)
- ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)
- ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC)
I will concentrate on ASCC, and the vision states that "ASEAN's goal of a community of cohesive, equitable, and harmonious societies, bound together in solidarity for deeper understanding and coopration." ASCC key features are:
- Equitable access to opportunities will be universal - rising above the barriers of religion, race, language, gender, and social and cultural background
- Human potentials are nurtured to the fullest, so that all individuals can participate meaningfully in a competitive world in a manner that gives paramount importance to their welfare and dignity
- Norms of social and distributive justice are upheld by addressing issues of poverty and equity, and special care is given to vulnerable groups - children, youth, women, the elderly, and persons with disabilities - who could be the subject of abuse, neglect, and discrimination
- The environment and natural resources are protected and managed to sustain development and as a legacy for future generations
- Civil society is engaged in providing inputs for policy choices
- People are healthy in mind and body and living in harmony in safe environments
- ASEAN Citizens interact in a community conscious of its ties of history, aware of its cultural heritage and bound by a common regional identity
And that is the ASCC that many people, not just the students, are not aware of which is, as Dr. Pitsuwan said, "the most important". Here are some points of the report that Dr. Pitsuwan found as surprising, things to be concerned about, and disappointments.
- the most common attitude towards ASEAN was "positive"
- over 75% of students agreed with the statement "I feel I am a citizen of ASEAN". They may not know yet that the drafters of the ASEAN Charter felt that ASEAN was not yet ready to recognize the ASEAN "citizenship", the way the European Union does recognize European citizenship; thus the ASEAN Charter is silent on the ASEAN citizenship
- the positive sentiments were strongest in Laos, Cambodia, and Viet Nam. I guess they are newcomers and get a lots of benefits by joining the group
- the positive sentiment was weakest in Myanmar and Singapore
- only 38.6% of the students in the Philippines could correctly identify the ASEAN flag - this is quite serious, considering the fact that the Philipines was chairing ASEAN in 2006-2007, when this survey was conducted
- and worse, only 38.5% of the Thai students knew the ASEAN flag. I am afraid I have a lot more public information work to do in my own country, Thailand!
What I found interesting and disturbing:
- There is an overwhelming positive response (I can personally say "the majority") that "Membership in ASEAN is beneficial to my country"
- When the benefits of ASEAN were framed at a personal level, "My Country's membership in ASEAN is beneficial to me personally", the response is less than the general benefits to the country but it is strong nonetheless
- Philippine students are among the least cognizant of ASEAN as a regional grouping
- Philippine students can list only a relatively low number of ASEAN countries
- Philippine students when asked to list ASEAN countries with which they are most familiar, "other" non-ASEAN countries in general are listed more frequently than five of the nine members of ASEAN outside the Philippines
For the Philippine students, this only shows how the country developed to being "isolated" from the rest of the region, in which the main cause is that the country is very divided geographically and politically speaking within and without. Then secondly, the country is not bordering "by land" other countries, being a maritime country, we are less aware of the region than those who borders by land other countries.
Third, the Philippine education system. During my time, ASEAN was being taught to us. We have exams related to ASEAN, from identifying the nations in various methods, listing the members, and knowing the flag, even studying the rules in displaying the ASEAN flag side-by-side with the Philippine flag. We were even taught about our Asean brothers and sisters! I do not know what happened but ASEAN is not part of the curriculum anymore (or maybe it never was, I just got very lucky different schools I attended to teaches about the ASEAN).
What can we get from all these?
- We seriously need to have an information campaign
- We need to bring "ASEAN" to the grassroots level
- ASEAN must be part of the education system in all member countries
- We must have ASEAN Courses available, just like in Brunei, in all member countries
- We - the People of Asean, need to interact and socialize with each other more, be it offline, online, or through Online Games
The "elite" as we all call them can only do so much. They are here to set the road for us and for our children, and children's children. The day will come when they have to pass the load to you and me, but at this time, we are not ready to carry it and bring it to fruition. Many still dismisses the Asean as a "false hope", many will claim that "we are just copying the European Union". This is our region my brothers and sisters, and our region is "being left behind". If we don't take an optimistic view and be an active Asean, then our future, both as individual countries and as a region is very dark.
You don't know what to do? How about telling your classmates, officemates, colleauges, about this blog to begin with? No, we are not asking for hits, but we believe that we are helping in the fulfillment of this dream - OUR DREAM. We believe that through this blog, we can further open channels for each and every one of us to share our cultures, our histories, our values, and together build the "Asean Community".
Little efforts is a huge contribution to this huge dream of our region. This blog is only one of the many efforts being taken to foster good relationship with all the member nations. Best of all, being Optimistic AND Active will greatly help. Instead of saying pessimistic statements, instead of giving out passive comments, turn it around and make it useful for every reader who will read your feedbacks.
You and me are citizens of Asean. Though, the 1st Asean Charter still doesn't recognize "citizenship" in Asean "officially", as the survey shows, the next generation already sees themselves as one. I, being 26, sees myself as an Asean Citizen and is proud of it. Though it is not-so-clear yet as to what the "Asean Identity" is, but we are all molding that identity already.
If you still don't know what to do to help, then I suggest this, why don't you help in promoting the Asean Charter in your own community (school, office, home) and tell them the advantages of it? Tell them, for it to be effective and useful for our future, each of our governments must ratify it. As of the time of this writing, only Singapore and Malaysia ratified the Asean Charter.
So, there you go, we can greatly help in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, YOU can do it! Good enough? Easy right? Let's all start helping then..
Here are the links and sources you can visit for further reading:
Most youngsters identify themselves as ASEAN citizens
GenNext knows little about Asean
ASEAN Being Left Behind
ASEAN Awareness Survey Discussion
A Citizens Summary of the 1st ASEAN Constitution
ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC)
Two New Portals About the ASEAN Identity
ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC)
On ASEAN Integration
ASEAH Charter ("leaked" draft)
The 1st ASEAN Constitution adn the ASEAN Economic Blueprint
Asean Charter reflects grouping's chequered history
ASEAN Official Sites
Three months needed to publish ASEAN Charter
And of course: ASEAN - Asia's Perfect 10
One Vision, One Identity, One Community