Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

KAS Cambodia Launches Book on Key Assessments and Reforms For ASEAN

Flags of Cambodia, Asean and other countries are seen near Independence Monument in central Phnom Penh on November 4, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Flags of Cambodia, Asean and other countries are seen near Independence Monument in central Phnom Penh on November 4, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Titled ASEAN’s Critical Assessments and Practical Reform, the book aims to examine ASEAN’s prospects as a regional community, explain its existing state of play, evaluate advancements and weaknesses, and provide recommendations.

KAS Cambodia and the Philippines in close cooperation with the Asian Vision Institute (AVI) acknowledged that existing loopholes and potential threats provided critical assessment and feasible recommendations based on ASEAN’s three pillars.

The three pillars consist of the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).

Chheng Kimlong, executive vice president of AVI said ASEAN members should unite in the spirit of the ASEAN Charter. Respecting the ASEAN Charter means giving mutual respect and value in building a single ASEAN Community based on the principles agreed upon when ASEAN was established in 1967.

Kimlong said the next step is to strengthen solidarity and cooperation based on the ASEAN community, which means considering the interests of ASEAN as a common community, which is made up of 10 countries, with the anticipation of Timor-Leste joining as a full member.

“Cambodia is also a new state in ASEAN, although we are not too new. We have been a full member of ASEAN since 1999 and have played an important role in promoting the implementation of agreements within the framework of cooperation,” he said.

Kimlong added that Cambodia has contributed to connectivity in ASEAN countries. “ASEAN member states, both old and new, promote greater interconnected economic, cultural, and political cooperation.”

Jason Chumtong, country director of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung  (KAS) Cambodia said “the world has once again become complex”.

Despite the success of some mechanisms, it has faced challenges and criticism, particularly its consensus mechanisms, effectiveness and conflict management, and also the recent issues of food and energy insecurities.

“We are at a critical point in time with the deadline for ASEAN Vision 2025 drawing near. How can we, in our youth, see ourselves? Which doable concepts can promote regional integration? What actions may be done to encourage orientation among people and bring a sense of community to reality? At the end, these are key issues that need to be resolved,” Chumtong said.

KAS Cambodia, an office of the German political think tank, held an event for its new publication on assessments and reform for ASEAN in Phnom Penh, on November 20, 2023. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)

Denis Suarsana, country director of KAS Indonesia and Timor-Leste, said the first chapter of the book, which covers the fundamental principles of ASEAN, states that the principles were created in a “very different era with a very different reality”.

“If we look at the reality in the region today, I would say that the principles are no longer applicable as they were in the past. The problem is that it’s inconceivable to reform these principles of ASEAN.”

ASEAN still has to cooperate and work on bringing the region and the organization forward, which is what the book expounds – to work on community building and improving the three pillars of ASEAN, Suarsana said.

 “At the same time, these efforts are very much limited by the inadequate message on design principles because they are not being updated to today’s challenges. So I would say that that is the underlying problem which is undermining the whole function,” he added.

He also observed that the “outside world” is coming into ASEAN, thus the challenges are more and more from there, and not from within ASEAN. These are “conflicts forced upon ASEAN”, from outside such as the South China Sea issue, the US-China trade tension and the Mekong region.

One point, which is stressed in the book, he said, is regarding the challenges in dealing with employment community building. It is to build mutual trust and to foster solidarity among ASEAN. These are the key factors that have to be improved in ASEAN which are still lacking, he pointed out.

Regarding Cambodia, Chumtong mentioned that the way Cambodia is approaching the ASEAN principles is already positive and it should continue the positive approach.

Meanwhile, Kimlong urged ASEAN to continue cooperating on regional security, and strengthening environmental governance and climate change.

He also encouraged youths and women to participate in building the ASEAN community together, while strengthening the capacity of women entrepreneurs in the region, particularly in the field of education and vocational training.