Saturday, 19 August 2017

Mr Surin and ASEAN 50th

With the founding of ASEAN celebrated from the Bangkok Declaration last week of 8th August 1967 surely a more critical overview of ASEAN is needed - and reflections on the next 50 years?

Former Secretary-General and Bangkok governor candidate Khun Surin Pitsuwan detailed many of the celebratory points in his Manila speech.

Certainly the evolution of ASEAN from a Cold War anti-Communist alliance at the height of the American War in Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos in 1967, between only Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore - in effect replacing SEATO and ASA - to a South East Asia-wide grouping of 10 nations is a success in itself.

But is Mr Surin’s overview too positive - does the ASEAN giant have feet of clay? Celebratory bureaucratic beanfeasts, backslapping and bunfights and vague exhortations of unity are all well and good, and preferable to the blood-drenched paddy fields of the past. But is process leading content?

And is that unity down to ASEAN as an organisation?

ASEAN's first 17 years involved no wider sense of Asian unity - indeed Thai and Filipino military contingents served in Vietnam. While Vietnamese incursions into Laos and Cambodia were repeated for decades – the current Laos and Cambodia military dispute a disturbing reminder of when Asia was a less peaceful place.

And ASEAN had no united voice for decades on either the SLORC military regime in Myanmar, nor China's invasion of Vietnam in 1979, nor, of concern for the future, the Chinese seizure of the Paracels in 1974.

Indeed the present day South China Sea dispute of Paracels and Spratlys are the elephant in the room for ASEAN.

A Chinese empire may well replace the Western empires that fittingly and finally ended with the withdrawal of the first Western empire of Portugal from Macao in 1999.

While the earlier Chinese takeaway of Hong Kong in 1997 from UK still leaves an unpleasant taste, both with UK’s failure to establish democracy rather than a cod-council junta, and now the Chinese arrests of the Umbrella Movement dissidents for democracy.

And on trade ASEAN has a mixed record to say the least - the AEC only just scraped into being at the end of 2015 rather than the beginning, and is still more of a bureaucratic paper tiger than a resurgence of the tiger economies of pre-ASEAN days that most Asians must surely be banking on for future growth.

While ASEAN's weak social record is perhaps symbolised by the baying of the mob and the last chopper from Pattaya as ASEAN ministers fled their summit in 2009. The death penalty moratorium by Malaysia this week on mandatory death sentences for drugs is a positive move for ASEAN human rights. Yet not regionally coordinated by ASEAN.

While HIV and Malaria and TB still not overcome in ASEAN again not for lack of funds available not major pharma companies such as Pfizer or institutions such as Ford Foundation and even Cabbages and Condoms movements.

And the latter is surely a major gap in ASEAN policy in cultivating a Civil Society culture beyond the State or Military: groups such as Greenpeace or Red Cross and Ban Krut and Klity Creek.

If the intention is for ASEAN to be an Asian EU in reducing conflict, and coordinating and improving economic and social policy then much remains to be done. So far the roadmap looks to be full of blind alleys and U-turns rather than a superhighway of turbocharged tech and souped-up agricultural trade.

The EU had rather different beginnings to ASEAN in originating with the specific intention to end the tribal conflicts of Europe that post-1945 had reduced the place to rubble again. The important - then - sharing of resources such as coal and steel between Benelux, France and Germany was driven by Schuman's ESCS removing the need for conflict over those resources where possible.

Strasbourg and Flanders and the Saar Rhineland changed hands for years for their coalfields and steelworks as much as for imperial vanity as economics. The P22 US Navy 1950’s gunboat berthed in Ramsgate harbour is a reminder of USA Marshall Aid and peacekeeping after WW2.

Brexit may well have sounded the death-knell for the Little England approach, compared to greater unity, yet paradoxically has highlighted the need for substantial reform of the EU as an organisation beyond just a warm fuzzy feeling of European unity.

The EU office in Bangkok though is woefully underused by ASEAN for a trade impetus courtesy of the European taxpayer, everything from agricultural produce to automotive parts. And isn’t an ASEAN Space Agency overdue? Australia's Woomera rocket ranges would be a fitting site for UK and Commonwealth cooperation with even the Space Ladder project.

Although UNSDG30 and Philippines is something of an ASEAN success certainly compared to UK’s damning report by House of Commons on UK's limited efforts so far.

And, Brexit silliness aside, the EU has successfully created a Europe-wide series of reforms whether draining the wine lake or reducing the wasteful food mountains of agricultural and fisheries policies. And as of this Summer, now synergising mobile phone roaming charges.

I’ve urged a Sarajevo Shift of EU institutions East for greater peace and prosperity for the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Flanders for example is more than capable of driving Belgian prosperity without every EU institution such as the new NATO headquarters being clustered around the oyster bars and caviar cafes of Brussels-Midi.

Indeed the potential relocation of the European Medicines Agency from London to cities such as Paris or Frankfurt or Dublin highlights both the economic incoherence of Brexit and the potential and clamour Sarajevo Shift to the Balkans.

But certainly the ceremonial nonsense of shuttling the EU between Brussels and Strasbourg every few months is ripe for cancellation.

Surely ASEAN for the next 50 years should be looking at such a range of improvements?

Surely it’s monstrous that in the world's rice basket - Thailand alone being the second largest rice producer after India - there is no ASEAN Rice Plan for the region’s staple crop and 500M mouths? The ASEAN rice mountain must be unsustainable with 40% - yes a horrifying 40% - malnutrition in Cambodia and Laos and outrage of Philippines now being a net rice importer.

AS an aside, al the more concerning with this Summer's harvest glut in Latin America no doubt left to spoil and rot despite not one but four African famines.

Khun Surin’s tweaks to the financial system with an ASEAN Bank and Fund by and for ASEAN is simply adding to the plethora of funds that already exist with ADB, AIIB, UNFAO etc etc. An ASEAN fund could easily be raised through the existing ACMF stock exchanges. Shouldn't a Malnutrition Fund be first on the agenda?

ASEAN’s fine words don’t seem to be translating into action for Asia's still-hungry peoples. Process over content is the danger.

And isn’t even the task of a United South East Asia still undone without Timor-Leste formally recognised and road-mapped in its aim of accession by 2020?

Or even an ASEAN response and support for Papa New Guinea and Solomon Islands to cruise faster beyond their current political and social unrest and yet more grinding poverty and hunger? North Korean missiles raining down on Guam must be the least of their worries.

ASEAN is even silent on the appalling spectacle of street kids barefoot and unschooled in its main cities such as Phnom Penh or Manila. If Vietnam has lifted itself from the African-style poverty driven by war then the trade embargos of the 1980’s then still much of ASEAN has not.

While even basics such as mobile phone roaming across ASEAN must be an easy prosperity injection for tech giants such as True given the EU's example to follow?

Astonishingly there is no ASEAN Tourism Plan given the importance of that trade to almost every ASEAN nation - ASEAN silence on the absolute monarchy of bling-bling-oil-rich Brunei is matched only by tourist disinterest. But with Thailand’s 10% of GDP and 30M tourist visitors and forecasts of 5M from Cambodia ASEAN’s lobster-red tourism gold is slipping through its fingers with only an ad-hoc ASEAN Tourism Year every now and then.

It wouldn’t be more fun in the Philippines without tourism, or the extra 10% of GDP in expat remittances, and Manila’s dynamic infrastructure guru Karen Jimeno of the Dept of Public Works and Highways can’t build the sewers and monsoon drains and drinking water plants for tourists and residents all by herself.

ASEAN’s coordination and delivery of hispeed rail has been too long delayed: Cambodia's links to HCMC and BKK only now underway and this week’s announcement of the Malaysia east-west railway linking Thailand's eastern seaboard and border through to western straits of Malaysia.

Similarly the lack of a rail route between Vientiane and Vinh is a strategic weakness in connecting Laos' capital with the Vietnamese deep sea ports - and surely too it’s a key strategic aim for Vietnam for expanded trade with its main port Haiphong and capital link to Hanoi, so near to Hainan’s Chinese submarine base?

ASEAN Peacekeeping could be a useful initiative both in ASEAN aid and Resilience and wider UN peacekeeping- as with the end of UK troops in Germany a too-large military sat in barracks is merely a drain on both the economy and society. The EU Battlegroups are in effect a cost-effective alternative to a standing EU Army with national militaries coordinating on a 6 month rota - although even there they have never been actively deployed.

An ASEAN response on the North Korea nuclear and ICBM threat only now is weak in the extreme with Guam targeted - and with Russia Bear bomber threats as in UK and Netherlands. Seoul and Tokyo as well as Beijing and Taipei are all in range of targeted or accidental missile strikes and radiation. But further afield perhaps Bangkok or Singapore or ASEAN HQ in Jakarta may be next in line for Kim Jong-Un’s ICBM threats horrifically apt given the commemoration this month of the nuclear airbursts over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

New Zealand’s dynamic former PM John Key spoke in London at Asia House on New Zealand's past as Britain’s Farm and of course the threat of being merely China’s Farm in the future.

Indeed Australia and New Zealand should be at the forefront of a revived Commonwealth Asia group working with ASEAN. Over the next 50 years it’s not inconceivable that those nations may join the organisation rather than the alphabet soup sub-groupings of ASEAN plus 3 and plus 6 etc. Is the EU as ASEAN-27 a thing? Would it be of use?

While an extra 5M Chinese or Indonesian immigrants to Wagga-Wagga or Wellington would be a drop in the ocean but make the Antipodes fully Asian from Captain Cook’s European Imperial blip of the last 230 years.

On law and order ASEAN is far from arresting on the drugs surges in the Golden Triangle and from Dawei to Davao and the outrageous comedy of errors over the Red Bull cop killer case highlights a need for both an ASEAN arrest warrant and coordination with Europe and USA. Europol’s new EU Most Wanted campaign must surely be relevant for sunny hideouts across Asia-Pacific whether Phuket and Boracay or Brisbane’s Gold Coast.

Greater coordination on drugs and terrorism: Duterte and Shinawatra regimes responding aggressively to the surge in drug deaths. While Khun Bam of UNODC:


highlights the rapid terrorism surge with returnees from Syria and open sore on Europe’s flank in Libya - Australian universities are very active on counter-terrorism research and long ago highlighting the threat of low-tech vehicle attacks as in London and now Barcelona.

While the porous borders of Syria and Sulu Sea must be ripe for ASEAN and Commonwealth coordination on terrorism? The dynamic highlights of Khun Bam and Australia’s excellent university chairs will be only so much e- paper waste without action.

And as Khun Anchalee pointed out in her article: ASEAN must walk the Climate talk:

Climate is surely a massive failing in ASEAN to provide a coordinated and comprehensive Climate Change response - not just resilience with 50% of deaths from natural disasters of typhoons and earthquakes across Asia-Pacific.

The forest fires and farmland hazes that the EU has been woefully underprepared for in recent months - with fires in Portugal (4,000 troops and firefighters and 64 deaths) and France and Balkans again – shows up the lack of fire brigade coordination and helicopters and transport aircraft that is simply embarrassing for the EU as an economic superpower.

And blazing a trail for ASEAN not to follow – although Bangkok’s fire engine woes and bus and train overhauls could well do with UK and EU coordination. One bright spot for Sudan despite being the world’s fewest roads subject to JCB and Royal Engineer activity is an influx of London buses. The scandal over the $2M Ramsgate fire station hard to justify beyond vanity bloat and as with live animal exports and Pav and Pleasurama routinely mixing both corruption and an East Kent democratic deficit.

ASEAN is far too weak on reversing protection and reseeding of its forests and fisheries that make up the green lung of the planet through Jakarta and Java to Mindanao and Myanmar.

Tourism is even weak on developing a UNESCO World Heritage plan - do the ancient civilisations of Asia still only warrant just 37 sites compared to 31 in UK – including this year’s designation of the Lake District albeit with Kent’s Pegwell Bay under attack?

Alastair Campbell, formerly of 10 Downing St and still a Burnley supporter, writing in the New European cited the potential for newer EU nations such as Albania for political and economic support, even Sports Tourism with a Tour D'Albania cycle race of the sort that has evolved beyond France and Flanders to UK in recent years with the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour de Canterbury here in East Kent.

One could ask where is the ASEAN Sports or Sports tourism Plan?

Certainly the huge potential is there with both SEA games and Asia Games and I attended the Phuket beach games recently which was superb and food for thought on the potential for East Kent with the success of the Margate UK volleyball championships. Beach polo on the Blue Flag beaches may be a bridge too far at the moment but surfing and skateboarding and sports climbing ahead of the Tokyo and Los Angeles Olympics is a distinct possibility.

Yet ASEAN dropping the ball with Hanoi failing to deliver the 2019 Asian Games confusingly rescheduled to both 2018 and Indonesia, and now Manila and the 2019 SEA Games cancellation only just being reversed, doesn’t inspire confidence nor does the lack of a co-ordinated response for an ASEAN Olympics at some time this century, now Paris and Los Angeles are (almost) confirmed for 2024 and 2028. Not Sydney again so soon?

Surely UK and ASEAN broadcasters could be active on the current SEA Games broadcasts as well as culture and language programming for the future? Bangkok bus overhauls with English language letters are fine in delivering English as the ASEAN lingua franca but concerning if they cannot be read by most people.

HALO trust and the 2025 landmine deadline is relevant for Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Philippines is beyond ASEAN’s current efforts. UK’s Princess Diana’s work on landmines and fashion is a baton taken up by dynamic royals such as Cambodian and Californian Princess Soma.

ASEAN's 50th is certainly worth celebrating but won't the candles on the birthday cake for even its 60th be burning lower without more active efforts from the likes of Mr Surin?


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