Asean needs to develop comprehensive way to resolve disputes, says former Asean chief

Senior Singapore diplomat and former Asean chief Ong Keng Yong.
Senior Singapore diplomat and former Asean chief Ong Keng Yong.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Asean needs to develop a more comprehensive way to resolve disputes, said senior Singapore diplomat and former Asean chief Ong Keng Yong.

These include reviewing and making recommendations to improve a 2004 protocol, which covered enhanced dispute settlement mechanisms to resolve economic disputes, said the former secretary-general of Asean from 2003 to 2008.

Another way is to ensure a 2010 protocol to the Asean Charter on dispute-settlement mechanisms would apply in future instruments, so as to encourage its use in resolving non-economic disputes, he added.

Speaking at a regional forum on Monday morning (May 8), Mr Ong made the suggestions as part of his call to turn the South-east Asian grouping, which is known for the "Asean way" of making regional decisions based on consensus, into a more rules-based body.

"To move forward to become a more rules-based Asean, it is important to see the Asean way as having a symbiotic relationship with a rules-based Asean. Achieving consensus and adhering to international law are both critical aspects of maintaining regional cooperation," said Mr Ong, who is an ambassador-at-large.

He was speaking to more than 70 academics and experts from the region, including Mr Walter Douglas, the United States Department of State deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs, public diplomacy and regional and security policy in East Asia and the Pacific. The two-day conference focuses on legal issues of importance to the Asean region.

During his speech, Mr Ong added that Asean also needs to implement and enforce its legal obligations, if it wants to be an effective regional body.

Instead of signing on to as many legal instruments as possible, it is more important for Asean to implement its legal obligations, he said. To aid this goal, Asean should streamline its large body of agreements by reviewing existing treaties and dispute settlement mechanisms, prioritise and use them accordingly, he suggested.

While Asean is not perfect, building a regional community is an ongoing learning process, he added.

"Implementing regional obligations is as crucial as signing on to them," he said. "In this pursuit, we need law, rules and systems to strengthen Asean as an open, inclusive and peaceful region to ensure a secure and prosperous future."