ASEAN centrality in a changing world


We publish here an excerpt from Kavi Chongkittavorn's analysis, which appeared in the Bangkok Post

What is ASEAN centrality? It may have different meanings for different people, but in general it can be seen as a regional framework that supports ASEAN's role as a dominant regional platform to overcome common challenges and engage with external powers. Citizens of the ASEAN community know its intrinsic value, as it has kept the region stable and resilient over the more than five decades of its existence. In a rapidly changing world, the question is often asked whether the concept of ASEAN centrality needs to be redefined. In the 1990s, ASEAN was perceived as an “engine” of regional cooperation. The question was whether it was only an engine and whether the passengers (member states) set the direction. Regardless of the answer, ASEAN continued to believe that it was in the driver's seat, helping to guide regional processes. As ASEAN entered the 21st century, the bloc became a “central hub,” similar to an airport that could provide navigation and protection services. 

Today, ASEAN's centrality is recognized for its role in driving the region's high economic growth. But what form will ASEAN centrality take in the next 20 years? In the not-too-distant future, the ASEAN region is expected to become the third most populous region in the world and the fourth largest economy, with a rapidly growing middle class. In addition, with its diversity and good connectivity, the region will become an innovative society. 

ASEAN could and should be bolder in the future, becoming a pioneer in green transformation, digital connectivity, and innovative economy. ASEAN can also be an example to transform contention and confrontation in the South China Sea into cooperation and connectivity. In addition, ASEAN can be an example of how to successfully address multiple crises, such as climate change and water and food security in the Mekong region, thereby providing solutions to other regions. 

ASEAN's centrality has already gained ground as major powers, particularly the United States, China, and the European Union, continue to court ASEAN. With its convening and persuasive power, ASEAN Centrality 2.0 can go global and create a milestone, especially in efforts to build a better and peaceful world.

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