Sustainable Transformation in ASEAN


ASEANFocus Issue 1/2023 is now available for download.

Editor’s Note:
This is an adapted version of the Editorial Notes from ASEANFocus Issue 1/2023 published in March 2023. Download the full issue here.

2023 might have left COVID-19 behind but global economic recovery was yet again disrupted by multiple, compounding crises. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its second year, with socio-economic impacts reverberating across the world. Beyond the humanitarian catastrophe, the war of attrition has created shockwaves in global food and energy markets. Closer to home, violence in Myanmar intensified and the enactment of the stringent political parties law raised doubts over the upcoming general election’s legitimacy. Myanmar’s pathway to peace looks distant, with stalled progress on the Five-Point Consensus and an extension of the junta-imposed state of emergency by another six months. Strategic competition between the US and China continues to tamper with regional stability and prosperity, heightening concerns of a proxy war in the Taiwan Strait and disruptions in supply chains. These events have deepened fragmentations and tested individual, as well as collective commitments to multilateralism. 

Amidst turbulent times, an honourable mention should be given to Indonesia for their successful helm of the G20 Presidency last year. Indonesia’s convening power proved to be a diplomatic triumph, delivering an unexpected Leaders’ Declaration and concrete deliverables, including the Just Energy Transition Partnership and the Pandemic Fund – placing sustainability at the heart of recovery efforts and bringing up the voices of least developed countries into the global agenda. This year, all eyes are still on Indonesia as it assumes the Chairmanship of ASEAN. The theme ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth is an epitome of the regional bloc’s main preoccupations – to avoid becoming a proxy for great-power rivalries and to ensure the rivalries do not obstruct the region’s collective vision of sustainable development for its people.  

Can ASEAN be the epicentre of growth? Indeed, Southeast Asia’s economic outlook has brightened and is predicted to hit 4.7% growth by the Asian Development Bank, making way for a stronger, sustainable recovery in one of the world’s fastest-growing regions. With this in mind, our Analysis contributors investigate the different geopolitical thrusts that ASEAN must navigate, including Indonesia’s ability to re-energise regional economic integration in uncertain times, a changing military landscape spurring military modernisation in Southeast Asia, and the diminishing role of ASEAN in the Myanmar crisis.

In line with the theme of this issue, our Spotlight contributors consider the different pathways to sustainable transformation in ASEAN – be it economic, environmental, or socio-political. Recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to sustainability, our contributors look at pertinent topics ranging from the energy transition and food security, to circular economy, digitalisation, and health preparedness. Regional experts examine the different elements required for a successful energy transition and ways to overcome the obstacles to decarbonisation. Southeast Asia’s potential to be a hotspot for public health emergencies necessitates an exploration of a stronger regional health architecture to collectively combat future pandemics. Our ASEAN In Figures zooms in on sustainable business in ASEAN and the large untapped potentials of the region’s small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region’s quest for sustainability.

Beyond Spotlight, we are honoured to have Ambassador M.I. Derry Aman, Permanent Representative of Indonesia to ASEAN, share his Insider Views on Indonesia’s Chairmanship priorities. Finally, our Sights and Sounds contributors reflect on contemporary socio-cultural phenomena in the region’s dynamically changing society, such as the emergence of football ultras and the rise of astrotourism as a potential alternative tourist attraction.

We would like to take this opportunity to bid a fond farewell to Dr. Sithanonxay Suvannaphakdy, who served as Lead Researcher for Economic Affairs at the ASEAN Studies Centre and a member of the Editorial Committee of ASEANFocus from 2020. The ASC team is grateful for Dr. Suvannaphakdy’s invaluable contributions and we wish him the best in his future endeavours.

In line with digitalisation efforts, individual ASEANFocus articles are now uploaded to the Institute’s main commentary site Fulcrum and on various social media platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) so that readers can read, share, and comment. The entire publication is also available in a PDF format on the ISEAS website and in hard copies that can be picked up at the Institute. We hope that readers continue to support ASEANFocus and find value in the research that we bring to you.