ASEAN@55: Navigating a Changing Global Order


ASEANFocus Issue 2/2022 is now available for download.

Editor’s Note:
This is an adapted version of the Editorial Notes from ASEANFocus Issue 2/2022 published in September 2022. Download the full issue here.

ASEAN at 55.

Few could have envisaged back when ASEAN was founded that it would survive. After all, it was only a reincarnation of the failed 1954 Southeast Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO). Even MALPHINDO – the non-political, three country confederation between Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia in 1963 – was dead on arrival.

But not only did it survive, ASEAN thrived. Notably, it served the region and its 670 million inhabitants well by bringing peace and stability, economic prosperity, and social advancement after the tumultuous years of decolonisation. Yet, despite these achievements, ASEAN continues to tread carefully as it tackles today’s pressing global challenges and geopolitical realities.

Indeed, the global order is in flux. Russia’s blatant disregard of Ukraine’s sovereignty and open invasion has shocked the world, exacerbated human suffering and disrupted the global supply chain resulting in skyrocketing inflation. Climate change has battered the world, with worsening droughts, scorching forest fires, and debilitating floods exacerbating public health, and energy and food security concerns.

US-China rivalry continues to intensify and play out in the region. The US-led security-oriented economic initiative of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) which was launched in May comes at the heels of other security initiatives such as the Quadrilateral Dialogue and the Australia-United Kingdom-United States trilateral security pact (AUKUS). The IPEF is largely seen as countering China’s economic clout. Both major powers’ competition for strategic influence is seen in the diplomatic blitz across the South Pacific Islands, as well as escalating cross-strait tensions, especially so after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan.

All eyes are on ASEAN as it takes the spotlight against the context of rapid geopolitical changes with key Southeast Asian countries playing critical roles on the global stage. This year in November, Indonesia will play host as the productive Chair of the G20 and Thailand as the APEC host.

With the dust settling from ASEAN’s recent 55th anniversary celebrations, our Analysis contributors take a hard look at the next steps for ASEAN in the decades to come, including what a Marcos 2.0 Administration means for ASEAN, an insider look at the development of the ASEAN Community’s Post-2025 Vision, the perennial question of Timor-Leste’s importance to ASEAN and how ASEAN’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships risk turning into a farce.

The theme of this issue focuses on ASEAN at 55: Navigating a Changing Global Order. Our Spotlight contributors delve into the future of ASEAN to ask pertinent questions on the survival of ASEAN in the next five decades. We take the opportunity to examine all the risk factors for ASEAN in the next 50 years, including how ASEAN could risk becoming irrelevant if it failed to act pragmatically especially in regard to ASEAN’s worst internal challenge – the Myanmar crisis. We invite a reflection on the ASEAN Special Envoys’ efforts thus far at bringing about dialogue in Myanmar. On the economic front, the recent food export bans and semiconductor chip shortage have compelled countries in the region to diversify supply channels and strengthen supply chain resiliency for critical components and essential goods. Our contributors explore the question of promoting global digital supply chains in ASEAN as a way to secure its economic future.

Perhaps cognisant of the myriad of challenges faced, ASEAN’s chosen theme for its 55th anniversary was “Stronger Together”, a timely and empowering reminder to harness regional unity and collective strength as the region emerges from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic after more than two years and faces new challenges of the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape. We take a look at the regional implications of the new China-led Global Security Initiative and the bloc’s engagement within the Indo-Pacific. Our contributors also offer their views on ASEAN’s rising generation of new leaders and the impact of disinformation through social media on regional stability.

Beyond the Spotlight, we are honoured to have Dato’ Lim Jock Hoi, ASEAN Secretary-General, share his Insider Views on the bloc’s strategies in navigating regional political, economic, and social challenges whilst maintaining ASEAN unity and credibility. Finally, our Sights and Sounds contributors invite us to re-examine the socio-cultural history and wonders of indigenous fermented food and the return of the indomitable bamboo as a precious resource in our region.

ASEAN has achieved much since its inception in 1967. But it is not the time to celebrate. ASEAN’s place in world affairs has never been under greater strain than at this inflexion point. Many more decades of regional peace, equitable development, economic prosperity, and social protection for all its citizens is only possible if ASEAN recalibrates its position carefully at this critical juncture.