A not-so-boring forum

Orly Mercado

Posted on July 15, 2009

Normally, attending a foreign policy forum can be as boring as diplomacy itself, much like watching paint dry. The recent ASEAN Secretariat Policy forum, organized by its brilliant and articulate SecGen, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, proved to be as lively as it was stimulating.

It was the comments of Dr. Rizal Sukma of the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies that stirred up some interesting reactions. He has called for a “post ASEAN foreign policy” for Indonesia. He has written a piece in the Jakarta Post advocating a hard line on human rights. ASEAN has been struggling to negotiate the terms of reference for its nascent Human Rights Body. After hard bargaining, nine nations have come to some agreement accommodating concerns of human rights advocates. The high level panel working on the terms of reference (TOR) feels it essentially includes Indonesia’s concerns. It is admittedly a product of compromise. Such negotiations rarely produce a clear “winner”. The HRB is obviously being built one block at a time. Indonesia’s position may result in no TOR at all, and no Human Rights Body formed.

Dr. Dewi Fortuna Anwar of the Habibie Center in Jaakarta cited the changes ASEAN has undergone during various crises. She said that for Indonesia to capitalize on its gains, it must bring up its neighbors with it. She cited historical examples in Japan and Germany and warned against the “hubris” that makes a nation ignore such lessons. Truly, when one feels he is doing better than others, he becomes predisposed to lecturing others The holier than thou attitude..

Most agree that ASEAN is a work in progress. The regional organization has come a long way. It has actually changed a lot of recent. It has ensured stability for more than four decades. In fact, as Dr. Pitsuwan explains, many nations are rooting for ASEAN’s success because they feel it would be one region less to worry about.

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