ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, COVID-19 and the Future of ASEAN Centrality
The growing tussle of great power influence led the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to develop its Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) in 2019. Amidst competing visions for the Indo-Pacific, AOIP added to the Indo-Pacific debate by reiterating the need for an inclusive and cooperative multilateral framework. However, tensions between the United States and China have escalated further in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic. Instead of cooperating, COVID-19 has further entrenched Sino-US tensions to the detriment of multilateral answers to global challenges, including COVID-19. In producing the AOIP, ASEAN attempted to reassert its voice on geopolitical shifts in the wider region. However, with important meetings, such as the US-ASEAN summit in Las Vegas postponed and ASEAN-led summitry being confined to virtual meetings, ASEAN will find it difficult to make conspicuous interventions and give heft to its voice in a discouraging geopolitical climate.
ASEAN now stands in a difficult position as the dynamic between the superpowers runs its own course, ASEAN centrality, so important previously in maintaining cooperation and transitioning the region out of a Cold War bi-polarity, once again stands in question. Centrality is predicated on major powers exercising influence through persuasion rather than coercion, with ASEAN being the only acceptable platform for all external powers to engage the region. But do these assumptions still hold amidst increasing superpower tensions? How does ASEAN’s vision of an inclusive and cooperative – rather than binary and confrontational – Indo-Pacific translate into practice and deliver tangible results in a post-COVID regional dis(order)?
This webinar series aims to address and understand the hitherto unclear nexus between the AOIP, ASEAN-led mechanisms and a post-COVID19 world which stands to further escalate Sino-US tensions. The RSIS Centre for Multilateralism Studies (CMS) cordially invites you to join in to discuss this complex geopolitical environment ASEAN is confronted with and to elaborate answers to the above and more questions.
How does the AOIP change ASEAN’s role in the region? Can ASEAN achieve its AOIP objectives within existing formats? Is the EAS, for example, an effective mechanism to deliver given its diverse membership and procedural rules, such as consensus? How can meaningful synergies be created among the various Indo-Pacific visions, starting with the AOIP? How can the AOIP be introduced to the EAS and ADMM+, and does it give a sufficiently unified voice to ASEAN member states? Might these platforms be used for problem-solving or thwarting initiatives of non-ASEAN rivals? Do smaller states have the space to manage relations involving external rivalries at the EAS and ADMM+? Will great power rivalry change the complexion of those mechanisms?