“We go beyond the old idea of teaching a man how to fish. We now have to give the guy the fishing rod and maybe take him out to the sea with a motor boat and tell him: this is the place where there are a lot of fishes”, an analogy given by former ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong in explaining the approach by which ASEAN’s role could be understood by the member-states. For him, it is through narrowing the development gap in the region that ASEAN’s centrality could be realized.
This was the crux of Ambassador Ong’s talk in the Mangrove Forum on International Relations “Asserting ASEAN’s Role in Maintaining the Regional Order”, hosted by the Foreign Service Institute, the Yuchengco Center-De La Salle University and De La Salle-College of St. Benilde on 28 November 2016 at the Carlos P. Romulo Library, DFA Building, Pasay City.
In his lecture, Ambassador Ong underscored ASEAN’s importance in maintaining regional peace and stability by fostering an environment of cooperation. He reported on the progress that ASEAN has made in terms of regional economic growth and development, particularly on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows, total trade, infrastructure and connectivity, and tourism.
Ambassador Ong highlighted that ASEAN is seeing the dawn of new geopolitical developments that may bring about challenges for the region. These include technology and social media that influence policy-making, the backlash of globalization in the form of political upheaval and extremism, and the emergence of global threats such as climate change and nuclear war. Further, he pointed out that ASEAN is living in a multi-polar century, where there is no single hegemon but an array of major powers and a growing number of non-state agents. These new challenges, according to Ong, provide ASEAN an opportunity to be viewed as a more unified and integrated region, with a collective vision to stay together.
Ambassador Ong finally challenged everyone to think of ways to address the need to increase awareness and appreciation of belonging to the ASEAN Community. To highlight the ASEAN identity, he suggested focusing on and promoting ASEAN programs and products that are being neglected.
Officials and staff of the DFA, representatives from government agencies, and members of the diplomatic corps and the academe attended the forum.