The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The lack of consensus in handling inter-regional issues such as border disputes, Myanmar’s government and competing claims in the South China Sea are clouding ASEAN’s efforts to become a full-fl edged community by 2015, according to experts.
ASEAN’s dreams of becoming a security community will remain unrealized unless the association backs away from its pledge not to use force to solve problems, according to Rizal Sukma, executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“The Thai-Cambodia border dispute shows that members of ASEAN can’t refrain from using force with each other. How can you say we are a community if we attack each other?” he said.
Despite the active involvement of Indonesia and ASEAN in brokering talks between Thailand and Cambodia, the two nations continue to exchange fi re along their border. The latest fl are-up is a fi ght over a stretch of border close to Tan Moan and Tan Krabey, two 12th century Hindu temples that both sides claim.
So far, 18 people on both sides have been killed in 12 days of gunfi ghts, grenade attacks and artillery bombardments that have displaced 65,000 people. Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa previously said that the border dispute was not a good criteria for judging ASEAN’s success.
“The criteria should be ASEAN’s response, [which was] to choose to immediately facilitate and engage. [It was] unprecedented, as it has never happened before. But it is a huge scar that requires the engagement and good will by the two sides.”
“We have a choice of denial and to sweep things under the carpet. But we chose instead to directly engage. Indonesia, as the chair of ASEAN, immediately got in touch with the two parties concerned — not to mediate between them, but to facilitate a solution.” ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said that the border dispute was an “embarrassment” for the association, which was initially forged to prevent open war in the region.
A strong political commitment was needed from the governments of Thailand and Cambodia to solve the issue “quickly and effectively”, regardless of domestic political concerns, he said.
On Myanmar, Rizal said that ASEAN should mobilize civil society groups, the media and the private sector to help empower the people of Myanmar. “There should a clear ASEAN road map on what to do to help Myanmar’s people, including the establishment of ASEAN aid, which is collected from member countries. This fund can be used to help those members that need assistance.”
Marty agreed saying that problems in Myanmar persisted despite the recent elections that installed a new government. “It is simply a work in progress. None of us can deny the fact that there’s been important developments in Myanmar over the past few months.
Of course, the election was not without problems and challenges. However a new government has been set up, and this offers protection for part of the democratization effort in Myanmar,” he said. Marty said he hoped that the release of Ang San Suu Kyi the refl ected readiness of Myanmar to be more inclusive and reconciliatory.
On territorial disputes between China and four ASEAN members, Rizal said Indonesia, as ASEAN’s chair, must develop a consensus on the desired outcome for the association to achieve a tangible results during negotiations. “The current negotiations must be pushed to the level of senior offi cials, who can fi nish negotiations.”