Foreign Policy

 How Indonesian chairmanship can revitalize ASEAN centrality

The core of ASEAN centrality—its function as the anchor of regional multilateralism, its convening influence, and its capacity to elevate the voices of ASEAN member states (AMS) in pan-Asian regionalism—is under tremendous strain.

This is a result of the great power struggle, which is growing more and more zero-sum. The US and its allies' different Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) ideas represent visions of conflict with China, aimed at Beijing's rising assertiveness. ASEAN countries are pulled in opposing ways by an Indo-Pacific that is rapidly more polarized and binary, making it more challenging to reach a consensus. ASEAN's credibility is also harmed by internal issues, such as its inability to resolve the Myanmar issue or to coordinate regional COVID-19 administration.

As a result, there is a perception among ASEAN's dialogue partners and even some of its members that the region's multilateral framework is ill-equipped to handle its many difficult problems. This is partially a result of misunderstanding the goals, aims, and capabilities of ASEAN. However, the idea that centrality is unnecessary is gaining ground.

Minilateralism, including the Quad and AUKUS as well as bilateral and trilateral strategic alliances, is proliferating among regional middle powers as a result of this frustration.

The advantages of mini-laterals are clear to the participating states because they are focused, ad hoc agreements among a select group of similarly minded partners who have chosen themselves. They are non-committal, efficient, and affordable. On the other side, multilateralism is tiresome, slow, and frequently only produces minimal outcomes, if any. even so, Reclaiming their voice in regional politics is in the best interests of all AMS, and ASEAN's particular strength is its function as a "safe house" where inclusive diplomacy may take place. As a result, ASEAN must strive to keep the region's narrative away from divisive competition and toward inclusive cooperation. This includes the great powers the US, China, and Russia.

Beyond its Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, ASEAN has advanced (AOIP). The AOIP narrative of inclusion and practical cooperation, however, can be expanded upon by the Indonesian chairperson as a welcome counternarrative to FOIP's confrontational exclusivity. Successful chairmanships were held by Vietnam before it and by Cambodia. But the COVID-19 pandemic naturally distracted and constrained these. The biggest and most significant AMS, Indonesia, takes the lead. To leverage the early momentum of the Indonesian chairmanship as well as the Group of 20 meetings and the historical reputation of Bali as a place where significant ASEAN milestones have been set, this would ideally be hosted in Bali in early 2023.

Practically speaking, the conference would first result in a common and uniquely ASEAN interpretation of regional order, and then extend an open invitation to significant conversation partners to develop specific policy suggestions. Working groups with specific objectives should create implementation plans for projects with specific objectives, such as post-pandemic economic recovery, sustainable connectivity, and the peaceful and sustainable management of resources and the regional commons.

Despite repeated assertions to the contrary, Asian regionalism's supposedly "low-hanging fruits"These activities go beyond particular country sensitivities, and successful outcome-oriented initiatives would support the reassertion of ASEAN in regional cooperation and show how multilateral processes can produce observable outcomes that directly boost citizens' prosperity and well-being. The role of current ASEAN structures, particularly how the ASEAN Regional Forum may be revitalized as the most inclusive strategic multilateral forum and a crucial tenet of ASEAN centrality, should be on the table as well.

The main goal of ASEAN should be inclusion, transcending the competition's binary nature in the Indo-Pacific. This may contribute to calming the Indo-Pacific conversation, which has hitherto been skewed in favor of China's containment. For this to be successful, ASEAN's multilateralism must include all pertinent parties and be impartial in all matters of great power conflict. Indonesia has more than once offered the forward-thinking leadership that ASEAN needs today. Despite his reputation as being uninterested in global affairs, Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has recently developed into a prominent regional leader and active diplomat. He now has the chance to make his foreign policy legacy permanent. Although there is still time for ASEAN to become more central, an Indonesian presidency only occurs once every ten years.

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