9th Asian Security Conference

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  • Session I: Perspectives on Southeast Asian Security

    Rapporteur Report
    Shanthie Mariet D’Souza and Jagannath Panda
    February 9, 2007

    Ambassador Shyam Sharan highlighted the shift of gravity of power to Asia, with ASEAN at an important cross roads of three parallel processes of integration, co-operation and dissipation, with implications for India.

    Ambassador Mahbubani, in his paper titled “Perspectives on Southeast Asian Security,” emphasized on the need to change the mental map in the role of South East Asia within the regional and global framework. While drawing upon the global context to get the regional picture right, there is a need to understand ASEAN both in the global and regional contexts. The current era in International Relations is marked by the end of Western domination and the rise of the Asian Century’, as witnessed in the rise of China, India and Japan. While South East Asia has moved from the periphery to the centre stage of world politics, the western world is increasingly being characterized by ‘dazzling western incompetence’ notably with events in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, global trade talks, etc. While contesting the western writings that have highlighted EU as a ‘successful model’ and ASEAN as ‘incompetent,’ he emphasized on the ASEAN’s diplomatic strength, which, despite predictions of “Balkanistan of Asia,” has withstood tremors unlike Europe. Despite the stresses experienced by the South East Asian countries in the 1990s, ASEAN — a relatively new regional organization with new regional institutions — has successfully anchored new powers into patterns of interaction.

    Dr. Rizal Sukma, in his paper “Southeast Asian Security: A view from Indonesia,” highlighted the traditional and non-traditional threats to ASEAN countries. He emphasized on the instability caused by the rising trend of non-traditional threats like small-arms, drug-trafficking, terrorism, separatism and other extremist violence in the region.

    Delving on the relationship among major powers in the region, characterised by co-operation and competitiveness, he pointed to the uncertainty in Sino-Japanese relations, the use of India as a counter balance to the rise of China through the process of hedging.

    He elaborated upon how ASEAN has effectively responded to regional and internal security threats through various techniques like ASEAN-East Asia community building, strengthening institutional capacity, and through a strategy of balance of power. In the process, it has emerged as a manager of regional order.

    Ambassador Sudhir Devare, in his paper, provided a broad survey of the major powers and the India-Southeast Asia relationship. He also emphasized on Southeast Asia assuming the role of a fulcrum with military strength and economic prosperity. He contended that preventive diplomacy has much scope. He added that issues like maritime security, human security and particularly non-traditional security threats have been the major concerns and that these should be dealt with much wider perspectives.

    Mr. Zhai Kun, Director at the Division of Southeast Asian Studies, CICIR, China, pointed out the increasing role of China in the ASEAN. He stressed that China is not a threat but an opportunity in coming times for ASEAN countries. The rise of China should not be taken as a threat, and the world particularly the western powers should learn how to engage and accommodate China in times to come in order to have a peaceful Asia-Pacific region and also a strong and powerful ASEAN. Zhai Kun also said that the current trend is based on multilateralism and ASEAN is also an opportunity for other powers of the region to integrate in a regional economic as well as political order.

    In an interactive session, questions were raised on the relevance and original aim of ASEAN, while critiquing the techniques of carpet sweeping. Concerns were also raised on North Korea’s nuclear tests and soft power management in ASEAN. The concept of Asian Security was challenged and an alternative concept of “Asian Peace” was proposed.

    Ambassador Mahbubhani adeptly summed up ASEAN’s primary role of being political and diplomatic in nature where non-interference in each other’s internal matters is a norm and one that has paid rich dividends. In response to a critique on the functioning of ASEAN, Ambassador Mahbubani said that Southeast Asia has gone the ASEAN way rather than going the communist way. The uniqueness of ASEAN in preventing war has not been recognized by the West and it is because of the combination of hard and soft power that the guns have fallen silent in Southeast Asia. While the writings in the West have been negative on the workings of the ASEAN, the question of language is important —who controls language controls dialogue. There is a need to recognise the cultural strength of Asia.