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The South China Sea Issue: A Litmus Test for ASEAN Centrality?1 Carolina G. Hernandez, PhD Institute for Strategic and Development Studies, Inc.

Introduction At present, the South China Sea issue is among the East Asian regions critical hotspots. Even as the issue de-escalated2 in the relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, its present status as a critical hotspot is not only due to the high level of tension the issue has generated of late not just between China and some individual country claimants in ASEAN such as the Philippines and Vietnam with implications for the worlds maritime powers such as the United States (U.S.), Japan, Russia, India, and even Greece - but also because of its potential impact on ASEAN cohesion, and therefore, its centrality at this strategic juncture in ASEANs community-building project. This brief presentation seeks to contribute to this conversation especially in focusing on the implications of the South China Sea issue for ASEAN cohesion, and therefore, its centrality in the hope that a clear message can be sent to its officials to the effect that ASEANs central role in East Asian regionalism is at risk of eroding should they fail to shore up ASEAN cohesion. A repeat of the erosion of ASEAN cohesion - which was demonstrated in this very city in July 2012 when the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) failed to adopt and issue a Joint Communiqu for the first time in its 45-year history must be avoided. The presentation will be in four parts, beginning with a brief overview of ASEAN and the issue of cohesion to demonstrate how enlargement has made the achievement of cohesion much more difficult amidst the diversity of the countries that established ASEAN in 1967 and to


Prepared for the regional conference on ASEAN and the South China Sea: Achievements, Challenges, and Future Directions, Cambodia Institute of Cooperation and Peace, Phnom Penh, 19-20 September 2013. 2 See Ralf Emmers, The De-escalation of the Spratly Dispute in Sino-Southeast Asian Relations, RSIS Working Paper No. 129, 6 June 2007.

discuss various fault lines among ASEAN member states that pose challenges to the building of cohesion. Secondly, a brief discussion of ASEAN and the South China Sea issue follows which will argue that the South China Sea is an issue where ASEAN member states could cohere even as there may be fault lines related to this issue that could divide them. Part three discusses the issue of ASEAN centrality and how it requires ASEAN cohesion. A fourth section suggests future directions. Brief Overview Many in ASEAN take regional cohesion for granted. The time that it was so is long gone; the process of the erosion of ASEAN cohesion began with its dual enlargement after the end of the Cold War, even as the ASEAN 6 (the original members3 and Brunei which joined in 1984) are already diverse in many ways. This diversity can enrich a group of states, as it had done so for ASEAN, but at the same time diversity has the potentials to serve as fault lines where the groupings cohesion could erode. Beyond the inherent diversity across multiple dimensions among its ten member countries, ASEANs consensus decision-making process poses a major challenge to the generation of cohesion among its members as the process endows each of them with a veto power to block the achievement of consensus, and therefore cohesion. When the six like-minded Southeast Asian states in ASEAN saw the challenges and opportunities presented by a much-altered geostrategic environment in their region following the end of the Cold War,4 the lessons of prudence they learned earlier gave way to the tempting opportunities a post-Cold War environment presented for ASEAN to play a useful regional role. In a surprising reversal of its former stance in regard to the former Japanese Prime Minister Fukudas unsolicited advice in favor of Vietnams admission into ASEAN in the 1970s, and the groupings support for Cambodia amidst Vietnams alleged invasion of that country, ASEAN embraced Vietnam as its 7th member in 1994. Encouraged perhaps by Thailands view to transform Indochina from a battlefield into a market place,5 ASEAN decided to admit the remaining countries in Southeast Asia Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar on its 30th year of


The original members of ASEAN are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. They are sometimes referred to as ASEAN 5. 4 Technically speaking, two remnants of the Cold War remain in East Asia in the form of two divided nations: China and Taiwan, and the two Koreas. 5 This view is popularly attributed to the present Governor of Bangkok, M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra who was then a foreign policy adviser of Thailands former Prime Minister Chatichai Chunhawan.

founding. The July 1997 coup in Cambodia delayed its admission into ASEAN until 1999, but Lao PDR and Myanmar were admitted in 1997. Strategic considerations played a critical role in this decision to enlarge its membership (which was accompanied by an enlargement of ASEANs external relations beyond its Dialogue Partners from the developed countries to embrace those which, though still developing, were strategically-relevant to a broadly-defined regional security in Southeast Asia. Expectations for the dividends in rapid economic growth ASEAN membership entailed among the new members commonly called the CLMV countries6 failed to materialize as key economies in ASEAN roiled amidst the Asian financial crisis (AFC) of 1997. The crisis undermined ASEANs ability to sustain its main attraction as the worlds fastest economicallygrowing region. It also naturally frustrated the hopes of its new members the CLMV to benefit from ASEANs rapid growth. ASEAN enlargement beyond the ASEAN 6 further widened if not deepened ASEAN diversity or fault lines, making cohesion even more difficult to sustain. This was only one among many challenges posed to ASEAN by its enlargement.7 Simply by increasing the number of its members, ASEAN compounded its already diverse character stemming from the diversity of its older members. These members were dissimilar in their geographic features roughly, they are divided between maritime (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore) and mainland (Thailand) Southeast Asia. Mainland Southeast Asians in ASEAN expanded to include the CLMV countries. Yet, enlargement also meant that ASEAN 10 now occupied both sides of the critical waterways used for international navigation, the Malacca and Singapore Straits (together called the Malacca Straits) and the South China Sea. Enlargement also created amidst ASEAN its only landlocked state of Lao PDR. Although Thailand is part of mainland Southeast Asia, it is a littoral state in the Andaman Sea, among other bodies of water that define its coasts.

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CLMV stands for Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam. On these challenges posed by enlargement, see Jusuf Wanandi, The ASEAN -10 and its International and Regional Implications, in Mohamed Jawhar Hassan, editor, Pacific Peace: Issues and Responses (Kuala Lumpur: Institute of Strategic and International Studies, 1998), pp. 197-203; Termsak Chalermpalanupap, ASEAN 10: Meeting the Challenges. In Mely Caballero Anthony and Mohamed Jawhar Hassan, editors , Beyond the Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities, Volume I (Kuala Lumpur: Institute for Strategic and International Studies, 2000), pp. 269-284; and Nguyen Phuong Binh and Luan Thuy Duong, Expectations and Experiences of the New Members, in Simon Tay, Jesus Estanislao, and Hadi Soesastro, editors, Reinventing ASEAN (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2003), pp. 185-205.

The older members colonial and more recent histories also differ. These have implications for their systems of political governance, foreign relations and policies, and external defense arrangements. Four major colonial powers ruled the older members: the Netherlands in Indonesia, Great Britain in Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore, Spain and the U.S. in the Philippines, while Thailand remained free as it maneuvered amidst the changing power dynamics in its own region and beyond. With enlargement, a new colonial power was added into the mix. France colonized Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam, although Great Britain was also Myanmars, colonizer. Japan occupied Southeast Asia during the Pacific War, except Thailand. Their past colonial and recent experiences contributed immensely to their present systems of political governance, their foreign relations and policies, as well as their external defense arrangements and preferences. At one time described as a club of dictators, it now has a range of political governing systems from a sultanate (Brunei), liberal democracies experiencing different challenges (Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand), adjectivized or constrained democracies (Malaysia and Singapore), communist party-run polities (Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam), and a military junta transitioning along its self-made Road Map to Democracy (Myanmar). It is little wonder, for example that their views about the rights and duties of the state and the individual would vary as widely as their political governing systems, in the same manner as their openness to popular participation in governance or ratification of major international human rights agreements would vary widely.8 Even their foreign relations and external defense preferences vary widely; from the markedly Western/U.S. orientation of countries like the Philippines, Singapore, and of late, Vietnam to those that could be closely-linked to a non-Western orientation of countries like Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar. Between them are Indonesia and Malaysia. Although Thailand is a formal member of the U.S.-led San Francisco system of military alliances9, its

This is fundamental to the fact that ASEAN 10 commonly ratified only two international human rights instruments prospering the rights of women and children (CEDAW and CRC), adopted a largely promotional thrust in the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), and watered down its ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights (ADHR). 9 This system of alliances is more commonly-known as the hub and spokes system, where the U.S. is the hub and the spokes are its military allies in the Asia-Pacific region.

foreign relations and defense preferences vary with time.10 Formally, the Philippines and Thailand are U.S. military allies, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore are in the Five Power Defense Arrangement (FPDA) with the U.S. and Great Britain, while U.S. military forces in the region have access and refueling rights based on commercial agreements with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore (in which case, Changi Naval Base is used by the U.S. for its vessels and troops), and Vietnam which has allowed the U.S. back into Cam Ranh Bay and is widely known to have an increasingly close military relationship with the U.S. Others in ASEAN have no formal military or defense ties to other global powers. Given ASEAN diversity as seen above, it is then easier to understand why ASEAN cohesion on issues closely related to strategic military, defense, or even economics (trade and investments), and development (foreign aid) can be compromised. The South China Sea issue is one such example. The issue of cohesion is also intimately tied to the consensus decision-making which has been institutionalized in the ASEAN Charter. Curiously, ASEAN has used this decision-making model since its establishment in 1967 as part of its informal set of norms and principles of state and interstate behavior that is roughly called the ASEAN Way. By institutionalizing it in its charter, ASEAN lost the flexibility it used to enjoy, tied its members to a formal decisionmaking procedure that can no longer be dropped without formal charter amendment. Thus, each member state continues to exercise a form of veto power simply by blocking a consensus. The application of this legal principle is unique to ASEAN in that other intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations (U.N.) for example do not provide such a veto power to the entire membership as ASEAN effectively does. Hence, it will take only one ASEAN member to deny consensus for any decision to be reached, making cohesion impossible to achieve. ASEAN Leaders must have realized the importance of maintaining regional cohesion in sustaining ASEAN centrality when they agreed to make the building of an ASEAN identity one of the six characteristics or elements of the Blueprint for the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), the pillar that can deliver an ASEAN Community if and only if, the products of enhanced security cooperation in the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) and those of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) that promises progress and prosperity for all will


For example, Thailand was closely allied with the U.S. in its global war against terrorism and like the Philippines, became a major non-NATO ally at the time.

touch the lives of the ordinary citizen, especially the most vulnerable of ASEANs immensely diverse peoples. ASEAN and the South China Sea Issue: Coherence and Fission The South China Sea issue was able to bring coherence within ASEAN, but it has also produced fission within the organization. It took great strategic foresight and much diplomatic patience to have an ASEAN-wide consensus on the security implications of conflict in the South China Sea. The issue is multidimensional,11 with one dimension centered on the disputes over geographical features with implications for various maritime regimes and jurisdictional rights under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for whichever claimant would have sovereignty and ownership over the contested territories. A second dimension is the area as part of the international sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) that connect those of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East to the Indian Ocean, the Malacca Straits, the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait to the Northwest Pacific. Here, both party claimants and the users of the SLOCs, whether commercial or naval have a stake in the freedom and safety of navigation. A third dimension is as sources of marine-based resources from minerals, to energy and fisheries resources whose main stakeholders are governments, large and small private businesses, environmental conservationists, and small coastal fishermen, to name the obvious. Any open conflict in this area is in nobodys interest. Hence, the main concern is the avoidance of armed conflict in the meantime that the final resolution to the sovereignty issue appears to be beyond reach. In 1992, ASEAN as a group adopted the ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea. Even as Vietnam was still not a member of ASEAN at that time, it signed the Declaration. It is noteworthy that despite the 1992 ASEAN Declaration, China occupied Mischief (Panganiban) Reef in 1995 and had upgraded it into a naval base by 1998. It was also the first time that China specifically named Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) as its own, although it had much earlier proclaimed its extensive sovereignty claims through the nine-dashed line. Needless to say, other claimant parties, except Brunei but including the Philippines had occupied features over


See Carolina G. Hernandez, The South China Sea Issue and its Implications for the Security of East Asia, in Peter Shearman, editor, International Order in East and Southeast Asia (London: Routledge, 2013). A copy is in transit from Routledge at the time of writing.

time most before the 1992 ASEAN Declaration, but others, after the 1992 ASEAN Declaration. It would take all of ten years of arduous and difficult diplomacy to get China to agree with ASEAN to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). Understood as an interim measure towards a binding Code of Conduct (COC) to be adopted in the future, the DOC was signed in Phnom Penh in 2002. An important new concept aimed to avoid tension and prevent conflict is the idea that none of the party claimants would occupy any unoccupied feature in the contested area at the time of the adoption of the DOC (or the idea of no new occupation). This period until the eruption of tension once again in 2011-2012 marked the de-escalation of the issue in Sino-ASEAN relations noted earlier. It would take another decade, and perhaps only to delay the adoption of a binding COC, that China agreed to adopt the Guidelines on the DOC when Indonesia chaired the ASEAN and Related Summits in November 2011.12 Within ASEAN, support for the COC was not even. In spite of the establishment of mechanisms to prosper the implementation of the DOC and the Guidelines, as well as those for developing a framework on the elements for a COC as a conflict management instrument among ASEAN countries, a binding COC between ASEAN and China appears rather remote at this time. That the South China Sea can create fission inside ASEAN was demonstrated when the 2012 AMM hosted by Cambodia failed to adopt a Joint Communiqu for the first time in its history of four and a half decades. This is significant not only because Cambodia is not a party claimant to the South China Sea disputes, but also because it was during its first turn at the ASEAN Chair in 2002 when the DOC was adopted after 10 years of hard negotiations by ASEAN as a group and China as a single partner. Therefore, Cambodia has a stake in the integrity of the DOC even as it has none in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. It is therefore, ironic that despite these and the fact that Cambodia was the last of the CLMV to be admitted into ASEAN, it caused an embarrassing disruption of ASEANs diplomatic record as well as an erosion of its cohesion. Most in the ASEAN 5 was aghast that ASEAN could not even


A more hopeful reading of Chinese attitude towards the South China Sea disputes between 2010 and 2011 can be found in Stephen Ranger, The Limits of Assertive Behavior: U.S.-China Relations and the South China Sea, EAI (East Asia Institute) U.S.-China Relations Briefing No. 2, February 1, 2012.

have a consensus that the South China Sea disputes pose a threat to regional security, and if that is the case, what was ASEAN good for? A sentiment reportedly expressed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore.13 It was Indonesia that once again saved ASEANs face (and cohesion?) through shuttle diplomacy that yielded - in lieu of the usual Joint Communiqu from its Foreign Ministers at the end of their annual meeting, ASEANs Six Principles on the South China Sea.14 Certainly it was not even a good substitute for a Joint Communiqu, but it at least committed all of them to the early conclusion of a Regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.15 The Philippines can be faulted for proposing a conflict resolution mechanism in the form of the Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation (ZPFFC) without prior consultation with other ASEAN member countries. Although this was not the first time that ASEAN experienced the absence of prior consultation before proposals were tabled internationally, it was thought that the issue was a critical regional issue in ASEANs relations with an important Dialogue Partner, i.e., a risen and assertive China on which many ASEAN countries were economically-dependent. Moreover, Manilas decision to bring the dispute before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) also rankled China and its close friends within ASEAN, not to mention Manilas close alliance with the U.S. that waxed as tension and standoff on the South China Sea rose. Among other party claimants from ASEAN, Vietnam is the most active in trying to hammer out a consensus on the elements of a COC ASEAN can present to China. Malaysia, often quiet in the face of Chinese assertiveness has recently shown signs of unease at Chinese policing activities around Malaysias occupied territories in the Spratlys. And Brunei, although close to China has tried to shore up ASEANs reputation by not repeating the 2012 AMM fiasco during its turn as the ASEAN Chair in 2013. To its credit and during Bruneis watch, the 2013


As reported by then Undersecretary for Policy at the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, now Philippine Ambassador to China, Erlinda Basilio in Philippine dailies. See for example, What happened in Phnom Penh?, The Philippine Star, Updated July 19, 2012. -happenedin-phnom-penh accessed on 6 September 2013. 14 These principles are a reiteration of those found in the DOC, the Guidelines for the Implementation of the DOC, the 1982 UNCLOS, including those in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and the ASEAN Charter, and committed them to the early conclusion of a Regional COC in the South China Sea. See the Statement of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 20 July 2012. 15 This is point 3 of the six principles in ibid.

AMM came up with a Joint Communiqu whose paragraphs 90 and 91 are dedicated to the South China Sea issue.16 In 2012 when the ASEAN Secretary-General was Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Thailand showed a remarkable concern over the South China Sea as an issue in ASEAN-China relations, including during the 2012 AMM. For most Thais, however, the South China Sea issue could just be an inconvenient nuisance in the face of Chinas growing economic importance to Bangkok. In the case of Lao PDR that used to be almost a Vietnamese surrogate on many issues, those days are pretty much over as China looms very large in the economic growth and development of the country, particularly its hydro resources that are also critical to Chinas energy needs. As for Myanmar, among ASEANs strategic goals in its admission amidst global reprehension and consequent suspension of ASEANs political dialogue with the European Union (E.U.) a clear demonstration of ASEAN cohesion and solidarity that is deeply rooted in practice - was the dilution of Chinese influence on and overall presence in Myanmar. Until the lifting of sanctions by the West with Myanmars transition no matter how uncertain according to its selfdesigned Road Map to Democracy, China was Myanmars banker. As the incoming ASEAN Chair in 2014, it would be extremely important for it to forge a degree of consensus on the issue of the South China Sea in ASEAN-China relations. Otherwise, the ASEAN aspiration to remain at the core of East Asian regionalism its centrality would be at risk. ASEAN Centrality ASEAN Centrality in an Era of Strategic Fluidity

Indeed, we live in an era of great strategic fluidity. Not only is the perception that the current power shift is to the Asia Pacific and within it, to Asia growing, but also risen powers like China have shown their determination to be diplomatically and even militarily assertive in some cases. No more is this palpable than in the maritime domain where tension has re-emerged and risen in recent years. This is accompanied by the U.S. redeployment of its assets towards Asia17, and the

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See the Joint Communiqu of the 46th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting issued in Brunei on 29-30 June 2013. This is popularly known as the U.S. pivot or rebalancing towards Asia, a source of security concerns in the region and is complicating an already complicated Sino-U.S. relationship. Among the latest in this growing body of literature, see Philip C. Saunders, The Rebalance to Asia: U.S.-China Relations and Regional Security, INSS Strategic Forum, August 2013, 16 pages.

spread of economic and financial crisis to Europe as well. East Asia appears to be the exception in these economically-trying times. However, even as many ASEAN economies remain better off than many more in Europe, the challenges of cutting poverty within ASEAN, of reducing the increasing gap between the minority rich and the majority poor, those posed by natural disasters to its most vulnerable populations, of various forms of illegal traffic including in natural persons, especially women and children, have not been addressed effectively within and across its member countries. This accounts for the emphasis in ASEAN community building of narrowing the development gap shared especially in the AEC and ASCC Blueprints. Precisely because of the need to narrow the development gap, the regions economic dependence on Chinas large economy the second largest in the world as of 2011 is understandable. Chinas economic support through foreign direct investment (FDIs), trade concessions, and official development assistance (ODA) have been critical to the economic development of ASEAN member countries, whether old or new whose economic and political goals can best be served by economic performance. And the more economically-interdependent ASEAN member countries are with China, the greater the diplomatic leverage China can expect to reap in return. Thus, it is understandable why some ASEAN members can be counted upon to support China diplomatically even at the sacrifice of ASEAN cohesion. This tendency is also a consequence of the continuing priority they give to national interests even at the expense of regional interest, a challenge ASEAN faces in its community-building project.18 As the East Asian region seeks to have a set of regional security architecture that delivers, the issue of ASEAN centrality becomes even more volatile. It can be argued quite convincingly that ASEAN principles, norms, processes, and mechanisms collectively known as the ASEAN Way had been critical, necessary, and even sufficient in the evolution and emergence of the existing gamut of security mechanisms (political, economic, and even defense) that the region now has. But precisely because the geostrategic environment has dramatically changed and


A view of ASEAN centrality forwarded by Mely Caballero Anthony in her remarks at the recently-concluded ASEAN-Canada Forum and Symposium at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities (as part of the ASEAN-Canada Research Programme of the Rajaratnam School of Strategic and International Studies RSIS of the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore) on 21 August 2013 which argues that the term should mean making ASEAN central in the minds and activities of its officials and peoples could be a way to address this persistent tendency.

continue to do so since ASEANs establishment in 1967, ASEANs central role in the past cannot be expected to remain, unless it is able to improve its ability to deliver on current security needs of the region. In short, the challenge ASEAN faces is whether and how it can remain central to regionalism in this part of the world. ASEAN Cohesion as a Requirement for ASEAN Centrality

As a result of the rapidly changing geostrategic environment and fluidity in global affairs, ASEAN centrality cannot be taken for granted or as a given in East Asian regionalism. Once enjoyed by default19, the changing geostrategic environment, including mega trends such as technological development, urbanization, economic development, demographic transitions, rule of law, human rights, and democracy, etc., that shapes this environment will require more from ASEAN and its gamut of security mechanisms to maintain its centrality. To remain at regionalisms core or center, ASEAN must remain cohesive, a condition that the realization of the ASEAN Community, even beyond 2015 has the potential to achieve. Once it becomes more integrated as a political security community, a single market and production base where development gaps would have been narrowed sufficiently to enable its peoples to buy into or own the regional community and, by so doing establish a we-feeling among them, cohesion can be possible especially in dealing with its non-ASEAN partners as a unit rather than as ten separate actors. There is no need to remind ASEAN elites constantly that despite great strides in development by some of these countries, singly they are worse off than when they are united and in solidarity with each other as a single voice in regional and global affairs. That is why it is important for ASEAN to move beyond rhetoric and embrace genuinely the obligation to implement its commitments, especially in realizing the ASEAN Community. This is the most important vehicle at the moment to transform itself from a grouping of ten countries to a single actor in regional and global affairs. An important component of enhanced and effective implementation of commitments is a re-examination of its decision-making processes to make


Default means that no other actor in East Asia or the broader Asia Pacific could have made the political and security initiatives ASEAN took such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM and ADMM Plus), as well as the East Asia Summit (EAS). In fact, it is doubtful whether the very robust and increasingly institutionalized summits of the plus 3 countries (China, Japan, and South Korea) would have been possible without ASEAN initiative and intermediation.

for more effective action (from consensus to a coalition of like-minded countries using the formula of ASEAN minus X already in use in some economic and financial issues for example), a change in mind set among its leaders and officials to be able to distinguish between what each of their countries must promote as single nation states on the one hand, and what collectively they need to achieve as a single unit by making ASEAN central in their minds, attitudes, and behavior as Mely Caballero-Anthony articulated in a recent forum and symposium in Ho Chi Minh City in August 2013. One way of enhancing ASEANs performance is to give substance and reality to the new regional mechanisms created by the ASEAN Charter such as (1) the ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC composed of ASEAN Foreign Ministers), (2) the Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR as a collectivity is a regional body although it is composed of individual ambassadors of the member countries to ASEAN), and (3) the role of the ASEAN SecretaryGeneral that could be developed along the lines of the U.N. Secretary-General and beyond being simply an administrative appendage of the member states. ASEAN has a window of opportunity to reinvent itself in order to respond more effectively to new and emerging challenges posed by a fluid geostrategic environment. So long as the results of power shifts are not yet clearly settled in the region, ASEANs central role in East Asian regionalism though fragile is still required. This window of opportunity remains open in part as a consequence of the lack of prudence on the part of the regions great powers who tend to be their worst enemies in their drive towards recognition and mastery. Future Directions Consequently, ASEAN has the opportunity to avail or even exploit this window of opportunity and its continuing relevance to East Asian regionalism at a time of fundamental power shifts, including from the West to the East, or from North America to Asia. Once the power shifts are consolidated, that window of opportunity could close very quickly. Time is therefore, not on ASEANs side if it were to take its centrality for granted and not to reinvent itself in order to deserve remaining at the center of East Asian regionalism. Should its members realize and accept that the whole is greater than any of its ten parts and find the political will to reinvent itself and

become more effective in delivering on its commitments, the first serious steps towards securing its centrality in East Asian regionalism would have been taken In short, it is not up to the regions great powers, rising or declining they may be. The ball is still in ASEANs court, so-to-speak. Should its centrality be lost, it only has itself to blame. The burden in this case, rests firmly on the shoulders of ASEAN leaders and officials who make and implement the decisions for the peoples of ASEAN.