There are a lot of challenges and possibilities of ASEAN’s role within the Global South. In fact, the organization may be considered an exemplar of regional development and innovative governance. Ever since its formation in 1967, anchored on economic, social, cultural, and technical collaboration among the first five members (Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia), it has come quite a long way spanning four decades.
As elaborated by Cockerham based from other scholars’ observations, states are very protective of their sovereignty and national interests. The interaction among states is shaped by their relative bargaining power, where larger states will have more influence over the outcome of smaller states. Hoffman developed the intergovernmentalist approach as a response to neofunctionalism. Another author proposed that supra-national actors, such as interest groups would begin to realize that some of their interests could not be accomplished at the national level.
Sakakibara and Sharon-Yamakawa’s article detailed some of the major challenges that ASEAN has been facing. For every challenge stated by the authors of the article, the author of this essay sees a corresponding possibility to reflect on, hence I already combined them. First among the five points– existing global institutions are strongly biased toward market fundamentalism or the neoclassical paradigm, and their past records in international capital and finance are very poor. The establishment of a genuine regional institution could provide a countervailing force and would contribute to reforming international institutions – this is actually a challenge that can be transformed into an opportunity for the ASEAN to lead the Global South in calling for reforms. How? The ASEAN should reflect on how it can reform and innovate its policies provided the member-states all agree to such changes. By doing this, it may contribute to transforming international institutions. If this happens, the ASEAN might cause a positive transforming difference not only within the Southeast Asian region but also in the international arena. Second, international institutions are dominated by Western economists who often lack sufficient knowledge of regional values, culture, and history hence they tend to impose their Western views on economic development. This challenge has for quite some time been transforming into an opportunity (ADB and its satellite offices, for instance, are staffed by multi-Asian economists). Perhaps, if ASEAN economists are found effective, they may be assigned to other global south countries in Africa or Latin America whose cases may be similar to those of the ASEAN region. Third, necessary structural reforms should be undertaken at the soonest time. Regional integration is vital in order to materialize this action. Fourth challenge is the lack of efficient regional governance especially on economic, politico-military, and security matters. In a region as diverse as Southeast Asia, or the Global South at large, the requisite of having leader-states that really push for the interest of the majority would be very critical. Lastly, the question of whether ASEAN will succeed as a supra-national body within the Global South juxtaposed with the EU and to a lesser extent, American organizations, is in itself a challenge already. Therefore, given this huge challenge, the opportunity should be sought by ASEAN states themselves. The increasing regard for the ASEAN by the Global South, and even by Western scholars is already present. It only depends on the ASEAN members on how they will maximize or use that leverage in order to push forward its agenda, and the cause of the larger Global South.
A few development issues, when juxtaposed with ASEAN-Global South discourse and when critically analyzed along lines of socio-economic, military-security, and regional stability framework, are apparently similar to what most ASEAN and Global South states experience. Let me cite at least three (3) issues of recent relevance. First of these is non-proliferation and counter terrorism efforts (not to mention communist insurgent groups). For decades, the problem of insurgency in Southern Philippines and in the countryside has been a burden for the country. Due to the region’s porous geographical frame, ASEAN governments find it hard to monitor the illegal entry of terrorists and their firearms across borders. The GRP however constantly partners with the ASEAN Regional Forum to address the problem. But as Oglivie-White argues, while ARF and such organizations play an important role in promoting cross-cultural communication on security matters, experience to date suggests that, where security measures are concerned, concrete action and cooperation are more likely at the bilateral and subregional level. Second development issue is an offshoot of the terrorist problem –domestic violence which has to date caused countless casualties and socio-economic instability in Southern Philippines further widening the gap between the Christian Filipinos and the Moros. This is also true in the case of other ASEAN and Global South countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, to name a few, in which secessionist groups continue to hinder economic growth in specific areas. Worse, it pulls down the economy of the country. Third, and most apparent is the economic resilience. Although this has not been much of a problem for Singapore, other ASEAN states especially the Philippines, Laos, and Cambodia have had a really hard time catching up with the likes of neighbors Thailand and Indonesia, and even Vietnam which were, just a few decades ago, of same conditions (or even worse), with the Philippines. In order to prevent such economic stagnation or slow growth, an effective regional body such as the ASEAN should be reformed to become more responsive to genuine economic collaboration and regional resilience.