Insights and Analysis

Asia Foundation Releases New Report on ASEAN Centrality

September 26, 2018

By John Rieger

Despite growing geopolitical pressure in recent years, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) remains a linchpin of the rules-based order in the strategic Southeast Asia region. This week, The Asia Foundation released a new report, ASEAN as the Architect for Regional Development Cooperation, examining ASEAN’s role in addressing regional development challenges and its potential to assume greater leadership in development cooperation.

For the past 50 years, ASEAN has helped maintain peace and security in Southeast Asia. Since its founding, the region’s per capita income has risen 33-fold—from $122 in 1967 to slightly over $4,000 today. A platform for collective action central to the region’s growth and progress, ASEAN and its member states have come together to tackle shared problems including natural disasters, transboundary haze, and human trafficking. It has also been a critical mechanism for ASEAN member states to engage with major powers outside of the region.

The new report examines the potential role of ASEAN in shaping future development assistance in Southeast Asia, where geopolitical competition is placing new pressures on the principle of ASEAN centrality. Recent trends, including large-scale regional development initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative and early-stage initiatives by Japan, India, and the United States illustrate how development is becoming a mechanism for this competition.

The research study is based on interviews conducted from August 2017 to June 2018 with officials of the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN member states, ASEAN-related institutions, and staff in international organizations, think tanks, and research agencies. The study team also performed quantitative analysis of development-assistance funding data, obtained from the OECD Development Assistance Committee and other sources, to analyze macro trends in funding commitments.

This week’s public release and panel discussion, coinciding with the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, was hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation, with President Rajiv Shah and Vice President Christine Heenan of the Rockefeller Foundation and President David D. Arnold of The Asia Foundation in attendance. Other participants included Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand H.E. Mr. Virasakdi Futrakul; Secretary-General of ASEAN H.E. Dato Lim Jock Hoi; Director-General of Thailand’s Department of ASEAN Affairs Suriya Chindawongse, and numerous ASEAN experts, government officials, and NGO representatives.

A second panel discussion (video available) on the new research was held in Washington, DC, on September 26, led by The Asia Foundation’s Apichai Sunchindah, senior advisor and researcher in Thailand, and the Foundation’s Thailand country representative Thomas Parks, who presented the research findings along with four case studies on disaster relief, workforce integration, human trafficking, and subregional approaches. A follow-on event in Bangkok, Thailand, is scheduled for late 2018.

John Rieger is the managing editor of InAsia. He can be reached at [email protected] ASEAN as the Architect for Regional Development Cooperation is an independent study, funded and carried out by The Asia Foundation, and has no formal association with the ASEAN Secretariat or other ASEAN bodies.

Related programs: Regional and International Relations
Related topics: ASEAN


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