Think Tank (4/2020)
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ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, COVID-19 and the Future of ASEAN Centrality
04 Aug 2020

The Centre for Multilateralism Studies, RSIS, organised a webinar series on “ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP), COVID-19, and the Future of ASEAN Centrality” from 4 to 6 August 2020. Discussions focused on the nexus between ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific narrative, ASEAN-led mechanisms, and a post-COVID world which stands to further escalate Sino-US tensions.

Part I of the three-day webinar addressed the theme “Multilateralism after COVID-19” where speakers highlighted that the pandemic is as much a local crisis as it is global, and that multilateral mechanisms are among the first casualties. As much of ASEAN centrality has been attributed to its convening power, speakers deliberated on how ASEAN could make its impact felt in a virtual setting and whether digital diplomacy could fill the gap. The panellists noted that ASEAN has fully embraced digital diplomacy, having successfully held two summits and several high-level meetings with Dialogue Partners.

Part II of the webinar was on the theme “ASEAN and the AOIP — The Role of Multilateralism and Defence Diplomacy”. It addressed the evolving Indo-Pacific concept and its variants put forward by Australia, Japan, India, and the United States. Panellists noted how the AOIP has the best chance of becoming a platform for cooperation because major powers will not be able to garner each other’s support for their own respective regional visions. Since the AOIP does not endorse the creation of a new mechanism, it is likely to be a good convening platform but a weak negotiating forum for the entrenching of a new rules-based order for the region.

Part III of the webinar was based on the theme of “ASEAN Centrality in the Indo-Pacific: Forecasting Trajectories”. Panellists concluded that as ASEAN faces increasing pressure to choose sides, ASEAN and its members could engage in “issue-based multilateralism” or “strategic tilting”.

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