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ASEAN Must Not Overlook Regional Responsibility, Says Analyst

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KUALA LUMPUR – ASEAN member countries must not overlook their responsibility with regards to regional security diplomacy while pursuing their own national interests.

A Singapore-based maritime security analyst, Benjamin Ho, said this to Bernama recently.

“While national priorities should not be ignored for regional well-being, neither should they become an overriding obsession, particularly if long-term returns are sacrificed for short-term rewards,” he said.

He said with China and the US increasingly renewing their interest in the ASEAN region, which encompasses 600 million people, there might be a need for the grouping to choose between the two economic superpowers.

It would be a choice that would affect intra-ASEAN dynamics and its cohesiveness, he said.

“For ASEAN to remain central, it would have to make a convincing argument that Beijing’s interests are best served if China does not attempt to push through unilaterally its territorial ambitions and that it should continue to recognise the legitimate concerns of ASEAN states.

“Likewise, Washington would have to be convinced, given its fiscal challenges, that it should continue to hold ground in the Pacific and not to allow challenges in other parts of the world (the Middle East, Russia) to distract it from the region,” he said.

In other words, Ho said, China and the US would gain much from the region if they could commit themselves to exercising strategic restraint in their bilateral relations and refrain from dividing and disuniting ASEAN.

“On ASEAN’s part, member states would have to be perceived by the major powers as united and speaking collectively,” he added.

Ho, who is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, also pointed out that the next five to ten years would be crucial in ASEAN’s efforts to establish a community of trust among its members.

Given the increase in defence spending among ASEAN member states, Ho said it was incumbent on defence practitioners to be good stewards of their resources to ensure that the money is to put to good use.

This should be so, particularly in areas such as the Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) and SAR (Search and Rescue), where military capacities and capabilities could be tapped, he said.

It is estimated that defence spending among the 10-grouping nations, increased 147 per cent to US$35.5 billion in 2013 from US$14.4 billion in 2004.

Ho said ASEAN’s capacity to take on bigger responsibilities in HADR and SAR for instance, would reflect a growing and mature ASEAN character in which international priorities became increasingly paramount.

“For ASEAN centrality to be a lived reality and not just an empty political slogan, the ASEAN security community would have to walk their talk in securing the region’s future,” he added.

Asked what will be the utmost priority issue for ASEAN to tackle now, Ho mentioned non-traditional security issues such as the haze and also terrorism, given the rising Islamic State threat. – BERNAMA

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