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Amongst its most powerful levers for action, foreign aid (i.e. grants, interest-free loans, and concessional loans) enables China to win both the favors and the support of ASEAN’s poorest countries. Consequently Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar are sometimes accused of being China’s “client States” and even of granting the rising power with an external veto right. In fact, none of these countries would come down on a stance which would influence its own relationship with China, as they may consider there is more to lose than to gain from such conduct. And this is not to mention other factors of disunity such as unstable political environments (uncertain democratic transition in Myanmar and 2014 military coup in Thailand), separatist movements (in Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines), and maritime and territorial border disputes (Preah Vihear Temple between Cambodia and Thailand; Spratly Islands between the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China).

Longing for Deepened Integration


ASEAN’s approach of regional integration has always consisted of the absolute respect of sovereignty and noninterference principles.


Despite the rather pessimistic picture described above, ASEAN is neither wholly powerless nor totally inactive. The organization tries to act as a key tool for building a cohesive Southeast Asia and for counterbalancing its blatant heterogeneity. It is sometimes even described as the most successful attempt of regional integration in the so-called developing world. The implementation of the ASEAN Community, planned for 2015, proves some desire of cohesion amongst member states, along with some willing of strengthening the organization’s role in globalization. ASEAN community is based on three pillars: a political and security one (APSC), aimed at ensuring regional peace; a socio-cultural one (ASCC), aimed at developing a common sense of belonging throughout the ASEAN region; and an economic one (AEC), aimed at creating a single market and production base ensuring equitable development and ASEAN integration to the global economy. Alas, this desire of unity is actually very much limited. Despite an ASEAN Community structure reminding of 1992 European Union, the organization is still far from following the path of European construction. ASEAN has always stressed its original approach of regional integration – the “ASEAN way”, which consists of the absolute respect of sovereignty and non-interference principles. Hence the organization does not have any binding power and cannot impose itself on member states. In practical terms, both the Secretariat and the Secretary-General only play representative rather than executive roles. Although mere intergovernmentalism without a hint of sovereignty delegation is not really able to go along with a genuine and efficient integration process, ASEAN member states are adamantly opposed to going back on an “ASEAN way” almost encoded in the organization’s DNA. In fact, they may consider being vulnerable to outside powers’ influence is a lesser evil compared to a delegation of sovereignty, however limited, to their regional organization. ASEAN seems bound to remain a source of proposals rather than become a decision-making body, as the fear of being overshadowed by a supranational organization happens to be huger than that of attending a regional destabilization. This lack of unity prevents ASEAN from taking advantage of Southeast Asia’s geostrategic renewal in order to make a significant breakthrough in regional and even international arenas. On top of that, member states’ inertia conveys an apparent disregard for some of their organization’s founding principles. Thus, maintaining balance of power in its region may not be a part of ASEAN countries’ core interests nowadays. Indeed, the destabilization Southeast Asia risks today is, by all accounts, neither of the same nature nor of the same extent than the destabilization it risked during the Cold War. According to member states’ logic, parts take precedence over the whole: therefore, “regional stability” may be interpreted as their own governments’ stability. A far lower likelihood of ASEAN member’s governments being toppled because of outside influence may help to explain why priority has been given to another sector: that of economy.

Sherpa #1 Janvier 2015 par le Lépac (Paris)  
Sherpa #1 Janvier 2015 par le Lépac (Paris)  

Articles, cartes, quiz : ce premier numéro de la lettre géopolitique et prospective du Lépac est consacré aux enjeux politiques et économiqu...