The view from Asia: Challenges in 2016


So, what difference does the Asean Community make?

The first thing to remember is that Asean does not displace the individual nation-state. Each member state has chosen not to subsume any part of its sovereignty to a larger Asean institution or entity.

Certainly, in respect of internal affairs, the principle of non-interference is sacrosanct. Therefore, it would be misplaced to expect Asean to make a direct difference in the solution of the many challenges its member states will face in 2016.

However, all these problems could become more numerous and complicated if there was no Asean.

It is also often contended that if there was no Asean, the level of non-regional foreign interference would be so great as to divide South-east Asian states, even set them against one another.

This point is salient when we consider the situation in the South China Sea, where four Asean claimants have territorial claims together with China (and Taiwan). How this is resolved is something that affects the whole region and not just those Asean members.

That is why the South China Sea disputes have become the touchstone of the contention that Asean keeps out interlopers who disturb, as well as keeps the region together. In 2016, the absolute minimum must be the conclusion of the binding code of conduct in the South China Sea.

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