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Pathways of Integration in the Asia-Pacific

Abstract

ASEAN throughout its existence faced a number of challenges including dramatic changes in the security framework of a particularly turbulent region as well as the financial crisis of the late 1990s and the multiple controversies among its Member States and the influence of changing neighbouring powers. In order to survive it had, on the one hand, to be flexible enough to cope with the challenges of internal diversity, territorial integrity and the political fragility of regimes in South-East Asia. On the other hand, it had to be sufficiently innovative to be able to face bilateral territorial tensions and huge regional security challenges. The ASEAN success is especially evident given the poor record of other Asian regional organizations. The current article provides a striking comparison of its achievements with the lack of substantive results of SAARC grouping in South East Asia. It furthermore claims that lessons derived from the ASEAN practices could be relevant for relatively successful integration blocks, such as the European Union and Eurasian integration process. In its internal processes the ASEAN way proved to be an effective method for organizing regional cooperation. It avoided on the one hand the standing European conflict between intergovernmental and community methods and was able to show the huge potential of various intergovernmental networking in supporting further progresse in deepening and widening regional cooperation. On the other hand, the ASEAN way is a bottom-up method excluding hierarchical decision making and a single country supremacy. In terms of organizing relations with external partners the Association positioned itself as not only Asia’s most important regional organization, but also the driving agent for a regional order in trade, economic, security, and identity needs. The practice of concentric circles of partnerships proved flexible enough and able of combining political leadership of the hard core (ASEAN centrality) with openness and inclusiveness, at various degrees of near and far partners. The challenges ahead are internal fragmentation and, in particular, the potentially dividing pressure of security challenges in the neighbouring area, often deepened by power politics of great global actors like China and USA.

Keywords:

Regionalism; Asia Pacific; international institutions; regional order; ASEAN way; ASEAN Community; dialogue partnerships; SAARC.


Authors: Mario Telo

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