Majority consensus can be the way forward

I would not be so quick to cast doubts on the relevance of Asean over an issue like the South China Sea disputes ("Asean-China talks in disarray amid sea row"; Thursday).

While its disunity over such an important matter can be disconcerting in terms of how big-power projection can force the hand of some small and needy countries, the organisation is much more than just about maritime concerns.

Some member states' decision to release their own respective statements can be the basis for a new framework for Asean to deal with internal disagreements over regional affairs ("Jakarta, Manila back aborted Asean statement"; yesterday).

Like-minded Asean member states should be allowed to exercise the option of issuing a joint communique on their shared interests as member states, instead of being forced to abide by the practice of doing so as a group.

It does not make sense for the minority to veto the majority from exercising their independence and sovereign right to air serious concerns because of Asean's core principle of consensus decision-making.

Majority consensus can be the way forward for the group to continue thriving as one.

Next year will mark the Golden Jubilee of Asean's existence as a democratic regional organisation, almost twice the lifespan of its growing relations with China.

Asean should be mature and robust enough for its member states, including the newer ones, to agree to disagree from time to time.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Majority consensus can be the way forward'. Print Edition | Subscribe