Think Tank (2/2023)
(L-R) Dr Joel Ng, Dr Lee Su-Hyun, Ambassador Roberto Soares, Dr Jayant Menon
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Resilience and Change: ASEAN in a Fracturing World
22 Feb 2023

The workshop “Resilience and Change: ASEAN in a Fracturing World”, held on 22 February 2023, discussed trends and proposed ways for ASEAN to strategically navigate current tensions and uncertainties.  It was organised by the Centre for Multilateralism Studies.

The first panel, consisting of Dr Dipinder S. Randhawa, senior fellow at RSIS; Catharine Kho, economist at the ASEAN Plus Three Macroeconomic Research Office; and Professor Kazuto Suzuki from the University of Tokyo, set the scene by providing an overview of the various challenges affecting ASEAN. From the intensification of US-China rivalry to the rise of geoeconomics and ASEAN’s underdeveloped digital economy, the speakers cautioned that these challenges, if not prudently managed, will undermine ASEAN’s broader economic security. However, the presence of challenges does not mean that opportunities cease to exist. Dr Randhawa and Prof Suzuki pointed out that as ASEAN is positioned between the US and China, it is in a strategic position to attract trade and investments from both sides.

The second panel’s focus revolved around the current state and prospects of multilateral trade institutions in the region. Dr Pradumna Rana, senior fellow at RSIS, argued that the post-1945 centralised trade architecture has decentralised since the 2008 global financial crisis. He believed that a decentralised trade architecture can strengthen ASEAN’s supply chains and trade liberalisation. Dr Denis Hew, senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, addressed implementation obstacles and progress made within Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Dr Hew concluded that the future of international trade hinges upon regional and bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), which can continue to press ahead despite global headwinds. Maes Alconcel from EU-Arise Plus underscored hurdles for domestic businesses. She argued that consultative channels between government and businesses must be strengthened to facilitate intra-ASEAN and cross-border trade.

In the third panel, Dr Jayant Menon, senior fellow at the Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS); Dr Lee Su-Hyun, assistant professor at RSIS; and Ambassador Roberto Soares of Timor-Leste; shared their perspectives on the trajectory of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and Timor-Leste’s membership to ASEAN. Dr Menon and Dr Lee identified internal and external-oriented risk factors, and progress and challenges for the pillars of the ASEAN 2025 AEC blueprint. They also proposed constructive measures to further enhance ASEAN’s economic integration. Amb Soares emphasized Dili’s readiness to join ASEAN and its capacity to contribute meaningfully towards a highly integrated ASEAN economic community.

On the whole, this workshop has shed valuable insights on ASEAN’s vulnerabilities and opportunities, and stressed the need for ASEAN to constantly re-invent itself to preserve its relevance.

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