Asean needs to stay proactive

In reference to Mr Lee Teck Chuan's letter (Asean should be self-reliant, members help each other; Dec 14), I would agree that self-reliance would be an ideal scenario.

Unfortunately, Asean is far from being self-reliant, if such a concept is even feasible in today's globalised world of interconnectivity.

In his letter, Mr Lee justly pointed out that "letting more powers join the fray will complicate relations even more". In view of the present tidal pulls by the United States and China, however, Asean on its own would hardly be able to counter, let alone neutralise, them.

If Asean elects to stand on the side and not engage new powers, what could potentially happen is the isolation of Asean by all the major powers.

We should pay heed to the alarm set off by the adoption of "Indo-Pacific'' over "Asia-Pacific'' - it's not a mere matter of names. We should also be aware of the fact that America's Asia's Reassurance Initiative Act is formulated not so much with Asean at its core, but with the purpose of countering China as its focus.

Ultimately, whether we embrace them or not, Japan, Russia, India and Australia all have a keen interest in the region and are heading this way, if they are not already here.

While having more parties may be complicated and not necessarily merrier in this case, Asean must keep both hands on the steering wheel, adopt a proactive and take-charge role in managing the strategic alignments, so as to avert any one power or conjoint group of powers from bringing into play the undesirable birth of regional hegemony.

If Asean doesn't work to safeguard inclusive regionalism, it could very well be left out in the cold.

I will echo that unity in Asean is absolutely crucial; without which, Asean will lose its place at the centre of the regional architecture.

Lily Ong (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2018, with the headline 'Asean needs to stay proactive'. Print Edition | Subscribe