Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 17:10 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 17:10 | SYDNEY

ASEAN: Triumph and challenge


Malcolm Cook

14 June 2011 16:01

2010 was a very good year for the concept of ASEAN centrality, and 2011 promises to be so as well.

The ADMM-8 (ASEAN Defence Ministers plus those of the US, PRC, ROK, Japan, Russia, India, Australia and New Zealand) met for the first time under ASEAN auspices last year, and the US and Russia agreed to join the East Asia Summit. ASEAN and its host this year, Indonesia, should be proud when they conduct the first leaders' meeting of the East Asia Summit this year.

Yet 2012 already looks more challenging. It is a presidential election year in the US, an election that will be fought on domestic economic issues. In the heat of the election race or soon after, President Obama will face the electorally unpalatable choice of attending his fourth APEC in Vladivostok, his second East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, both or neither.

Given that the US hosts APEC this year and the US President has only ever missed one APEC leaders' meeting, the attraction of not passing on Vladivostok may be quite strong. The fact that Russia is hosting APEC for the first time simply adds to its diplomatic attraction; one would not want to slight Moscow unnecessarily. Passing on Cambodia and the relatively unknown East Asia Summit might be more attractive than the President having to go to both regional confabs, neither of which have any purchase in voter land.

Another complication: China's Defence Minister attended the annual Shangri-la Dialogue for the first time this year. If this becomes an annual practice, then the fact that the ADMM-8 process is now scheduled to meet only once every three years could dampen its (and ASEAN's) claims to centrality on regional security.
With triumph comes challenges. ASEAN centrality is in a good moment now. How long will this last?

Photo by Flickr user aurelio.asiain.