Asean should make its voice heard now

Asean has been right to remain circumspect and distance itself from great-power politics and rivalries but a prolonged silence and lack of consensus might end up doing equal, if not more, harm.
Asean has been right to remain circumspect and distance itself from great-power politics and rivalries but a prolonged silence and lack of consensus might end up doing equal, if not more, harm.PHOTO: AFP

I hope Indonesia's vigorous voice pertaining to the Indo-Pacific framework spurs other Asean members to move from their silent or indecisive stance to a take-charge posture (Indonesia wants Asean to be axis of Indo-Pacific strategy; Jan 10).

With the re-establishment of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the US, Australia, India and Japan, their interests in the Indo-Pacific have heightened.

While Asean has been right to remain circumspect and distance itself from great-power politics and rivalries, a prolonged silence and lack of consensus might end up doing equal, if not more, harm.

Indecision is a decision in itself; besides, the persistent lack of consensus can make Asean look fractured and disunited.

While the Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP) model proposed by the Quad is still taking shape, Asean would do well to seize upon the concept's infant stage, and vocalise in unison and clarity the role it wishes to upkeep or assume in this region where their interests are heavily vested.

If Asean members procrastinate and wait till it becomes a full-fledged beast before speaking up, it might be a tad too late as they find themselves losing grip on the leverage they have spent years curating.

I am not suggesting that Asean should officially endorse the FOIP, but I think it might be prudent for Asean to engage with the Quad, keep its voice active and opinions heard, so that it can uphold an influencing role as others go about moulding policies for this region.

This will help to better ensure that Asean interests are tended to - and not compromised - in the dynamic development of our regional architecture.

Lily Ong (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'Asean should make its voice heard now'. Print Edition | Subscribe