In the closed-door discussion that I attended somewhere around last week, one participant pointed out that the ASEAN Identity that we are trying to define should not be something that forces people on how to live their lives. Instead, he ideates, ASEAN Identity should describe how the people live their lives.
I, for most part, disagree.
First point: the fact that we do not have an ASEAN Identity yet, and the fact that we are trying to define it in 2019, say something about its absence since ASEAN itself was formed. ASEAN Identity has never been there in the past, and that is the reason we are trying to make the narrative on its definition. This, in and of itself, means that we are “constructing” the ASEAN Identity.
Second point: reflecting on ASEAN’s sister organization, the European Union (EU), are not they doing the same thing? The so-called Western values or EU Identity does not 100% reflect the identity of the 28 members. Let us take the values of democracy and human rights, as the example. These ideas are originated from the western side of the EU — the older members of the union. The newer members of the union, those countries from Eastern Europe, do not necessarily have the same ideas or beliefs in this case. However, once those Easter European countries join the union, they have to accept the identity of the European Union as the guidance to their way of lives.
This is also applied in my university, Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). In UGM, new students are taught about our university’s values. One of the is the fact that our university has the identity, among other things, as being the university of the people (Universitas Kerakyatan). Maybe not everyone share this idea or belief. However, once they are admitted at UGM, they have to accept the fact that their “community”, the UGM community, has this identity as universitas kerakyatan. And this is something that is being constructed — in the past.
Defining ASEAN Identity is not an easy job. Neither thinking with a broad perspective. It requires repeated action of doing it. I requires habit.
For that reason, I believe that it is okay for the ASEAN Identity to be constructed. Something that, as one of my professors says, symbolizes ASEAN’s involvement as a part of the global community (respect to human rights, democracy, humanity), while also symbolizes our uniqueness.
For me, the uniqueness of ASEAN lies on its culture of peace, non-confrontation, and the only in the world, centrality.
ASEAN’s culture of peace is shown through ZOPFAN, TAC, etc. Two Southeast Asian countries have also been chosen to host the US-DPRK Summits. ASEAN Centrality should be our identity. It should guide how this institution carries itself in a changing world.
ASEAN Centrality will be very useful, noting the challenges that we face ahead: the rise of China-the decline of America, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, South China Sea Dispute, among many other things.