World Economy

Asean: Reconciling Consensus With New Realities

Asean: Reconciling Consensus With New RealitiesAsean: Reconciling Consensus With New Realities

Asean’s rapid expansion in the 1990s further deepened diversity and complexities within the organization. The only path towards all Asean decisions and agreements is through consultation and consensus, a decision-making model subjected to both praise and criticism over the past five decades.

A hallmark of the Asean Way, consensus guarantees that all member states, big or small, are equal in Asean’s decision-making. It is credited for bringing Asean members together and keeping them united, Bernama reported.

In Asean’s early years, consensus ensured self-confidence and mutual trust as the member states learnt how to cooperate with one another. Being nascent nation-states that had just thrown off colonial shackles, Asean countries embraced consensus as a “twin brother” of non-intervention to guard against any potential infringement on their national sovereignty.

As described by former Philippine foreign secretary Delia D. Albert, “building consensus was time-consuming, but in the end it was the only way to go in those early days of building Asean”.

Asean, however, has evolved significantly from a loose association towards a more integrated community. Its rapid expansion to include all mainland Southeast Asian states in the 1990s further deepened diversity and complexities within the organization.

The world itself has also moved on from the rigidly bipolar Cold War to a more complex and fluid state. In the Asia-Pacific, the power shift precipitated by the US’ relative decline and China’s re-emergence is intensifying major power rivalries, pulling Asean members into different vectors.

Meanwhile, politics within some Asean countries has inched towards greater democratization, resulting in a faster turnover of national leadership. While the older generation of Asean leaders had decades to cultivate their personal bonding, friendship and mutual understanding, less time and political capital could be invested into forging camaraderie among today’s regional leaders.


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