Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, former Secretary General of ASEAN, spoke at Mangrove Forum on International Relations hosted by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in cooperation with the Office of ASEAN Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) at the Bulwagang Apolinario Mabini, DFA Building, Pasay City, on 24 August 2015.
In his lecture “ASEAN Beyond 2015: What to Expect?” Dr. Pitsuwan recounted the founding of ASEAN and the overarching and innate principles that governed its formation. He emphasized that ASEAN was conceived with the idea of a regional cooperation in which Southeast Asian states can maintain their own identity and bind themselves in friendship and solidarity. However, the region has suffered from a lack of a stable, sure and effective leadership. He added that the success of ASEAN has become more uncertain as world markets become highly competitive. As such, the region must open up and become more competitive, prepared, and cohesive.
To achieve this vision, Dr. Pitsuwan outlined some steps on what ASEAN must do to move forward. First, Southeast Asia needs serious commitment to norms and the rule of law. Likewise, it must make sure that promises are translated into actions. ASEAN also needs to be realistic given the big gap between national ratification and implementation at the working level. He added that while EU is an inspiration, it is not a model for integration, emphasizing the difficulty of decision-making in ASEAN. Second, Dr. Pitsuwan stressed the need for ASEAN to have a well-trained workforce and prioritize and invest in science and technology. Third, ASEAN member states need to increase intra-ASEAN trade to become more credible in its promotion of a seamless integration. If ASEAN does not fill these gaps, it will face a real struggle post-2015. Nonetheless, Dr. Pitsuwan noted that while there are challenges ahead, ASEAN must take advantage of its convening power–something that no one else has.
Dr. Pitsuwan also underscored the value of the socio-cultural pillar, adding that a post-2015 vision must make sure that the future generations will feel the importance of ASEAN and that ASEAN will be embedded in the consciousness of the people. The confidence and support of the international community is also crucial to ASEAN’s success. Therefore, ASEAN must be inclusive and actively engage with the rest of the world.
After Dr. Pitsuwan’s presentation, Dr. Carolina G. Hernandez and Amb. Ma. Hellen Barber-Dela Vega served as discussants and gave their respective views on the post-2015 scenario for ASEAN.
In his closing remarks, Assistant Secretary Luis T. Cruz of the Office of ASEAN Affairs commended FSI for organizing the forum and recognized the Institute’s role in policy-making, in particular coming up with a concept paper on the idea of a “people-driven ASEAN” that the Philippines can bring to the ASEAN table when it assumes chairmanship in 2017, which is also ASEAN’s 50th anniversary.
The forum was attended by members of the academe, diplomatic corps, and representatives from public and private sector.