Is Romania ready for ASEAN COMMUNITY?

By Former Ambassador Gheorghe Săvuică

 

By accessing any source of information on the importance of different regions in the world architecture, one will find out that Asia is a dominant factor and most attractive area in the current “century of Asia” in security, political, economic, social and cultural cooperation.

In SouthEast Asia, by the end of this year the dreamsof the great leaders from the time of emerging of independent and sovereign states in the region will come true. Their political desire for the future of their peoples can be described in many words or simply by evoking the well-known “Ten Principles of Bandung” adopted at the Asian-African Conference which was held in Bandung (Indonesia) on April 18-24 1955 by 29 Heads of States belonging to the first post-colonial generation of leaders.

Observing the independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference into each other internal affairs, mutual respect, cooperation were among the concepts of the new type of state relationship. The history is supposed to recognize at least two main features of this concept – it was the greatest achievement of that time, in one of the most diverse parts of the world as it is South East Asia with now over 600 million in population and, the fact that all these principles have been scrupulously observed and continue to be observed in their original shape and not in a diluted or, as some may say, in an “updated form”.

Based on these principles,the non-alignment movement evolved on regional and international scale, while in South East Asia the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was created in Bangkok in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand, with the signing of ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) to which later on Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar joined the project. It is quite possible that, in the nearest future, some other regional countries may become member of the Association.

 ASEAN has established a grandiose chain of partnerships with the EU, USA, CHINA, CANADA, JAPAN, RUSSIA, REPUBLIC OF KOREA, AUSTRALIA, INDIA, PAKISTAN and many other countries. The ASEAN dialogue in various forms and multiple fields with its partners is permanent, substantial and productive. To this chainshouldbe added the East Asia Summit(EAS), which consists of 18 members, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which brings together 27 member states and Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), which was formed by 53 European and Asian countries.

As a result, ASEAN became the driving force for major developments taking place in the region. The ten ASEAN member states will maintain this strong force thanks to their fine diplomacy focused on consultations andconsensus (“musyawarah”).

Beginning in 1997, heads of each member state adopted the ASEAN Vision 2020 during ASEAN's 30th anniversary held in Kuala Lumpur, which provided a significant and courageous process, for some unbelievable, to make a step forward from cooperation to integration, aiming to form an ASEAN COMMUNITY by 2020.

However, during the 12th ASEAN Summit held in January 2007 in Cebu, Philippines, the Leaders decided to accelerate the regional integration to 2015. One of the primary reasons for the decision to fast track regional integration was to reinforce ASEAN’s centrality and to ensure that ASEAN remains the driving force in drawing the continuously evolving regional architecture.

This Community, as embodied in the document Bali Concord II, is comprised of three pillars: Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Social-Cultural Community. These three pillars are not mutually exclusive of each other; rather they are closely linked and are mutually reinforcing to ensure a durable, peaceful, stable and prosperous Southeast Asian region, at least according to the governments of each member-state. Each of these pillars is guided by a Blueprint which serves as one of the roadmaps in the realization of an ASEAN Community.

 

The moment arrived to see the ASEAN COMMUNITY in action!

The ASEAN member countries do not let the analysts, specialists and foreign governments to have a break in getting in touch with new ideas meant to further consolidate their cooperation, which is becoming more complex and more attractive.

So, on 4th of October 2015, in Kuala Lumpur, the ASEAN High Level Task Force (HLTF), established in February this year, completed its task of drafting a post-2015 vision which comprises five documents for the ASEAN Community. This vision will chart the path over the next decade for enhancing and strengthening the ASEAN Community and enable the realization of a politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible, as well as a truly people-oriented, people-centered and rules-based ASEAN, in line with the declaration of the ASEAN Leaders made at their Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar last November.

 

These draft documents will be submitted to the ASEAN Ministers for endorsement and subsequently tabled at the 27th ASEAN Summit to be held in Kuala Lumpur from 20 to 22 November 2015 for adoption.

According to world specialists, an increasingly integrated ASEAN is on course to be the world's fourth largest economy by 2050. Some even estimate that ASEAN could be the fourth-largest market after the EU, US and China by 2030 – only 15 years from now. ASEAN already have the third biggest workforce, after India and China.

The US Council on Foreign Relations says that "ASEAN is the most significant multilateral institution in Asia" and that ASEAN has the capacity "to firmly establish itself as the essential regional organization in Asia." Such good appreciations are heard in Brussels, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, New Delhi and Canberra as well as in Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

Where does Romania stand as far as the developments in ASEAN as the most important regional organization are concerned?

Regional cooperation represents a major and constant pillar of the Romanian diplomacy, being actively involved in regional cooperation formats and initiatives, which ensure certain cohesion, coherent dialogue and a common development experience.

Romania was the only country in our region to recognize ASEAN as a true economic regional association as it was inscribed in its Charter, while many other countries considered ASEAN as a substitute of the military organization known as SEATO. At one point in time before 1989, Bucharest made an unofficial attempt to sound the reaction of ASEAN to a possible Romania’s membership in ASEAN.

In the new century, with a consolidated position in European regional cooperation as a full member of the European Union, Romania acceded,in the framework of the EU policy towards SouthEastAsia,to the bi-regional dialogue between Europe and Asia, conducted both in the EU – ASEAN cooperation format and under the aegis of ASEM.

For Romania, taking part in this bi-regional process is a new instrument for consolidating the bilateral political dialogue with the states in that region, from the angle of the new opportunities arising from its full membership of the European Union.

Romania has been participating in ASEM since 1 January 2007. Romania’s formal accession took place at the ASEM 7 summit (Beijing, 2008). Romania’s active involvement in this format has gained a good record.Bucharest promoted importantinitiatives- cooperation between Danube and Mekong regionsin the management of water resources and environment conservation; in 2014 Romania hostedthe 3rd seminar of the Asia – Europe Meeting on Sustainable Development, entitled “Water Management – Fostering Prosperity and Stability Through (Inter) Regional Cooperation”, as well asthe project on cross border cooperation;the first meeting on this specific subject was held in Romania in 2009.

In the EU – ASEAN dialogue, Romania takes part in all its structures, supports the EU policy, initiatives and projects meant to develop and strengthen cooperation with the Association, bypursuing a constant position in this direction.

The direct links with ASEAN was so far materialized in meetings between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania and Secretary– General of ASEAN (New Delhi, 2013, on the side-lines of ASEM Foreign Ministers Meeting) and State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania and Secretary– Generalof ASEAN (Bandar Seri Begawan, 2012, in the margin of EU – ASEAN Ministerial Meeting). In 2007, the Secretary – General of ASEAN paid a working visit to Bucharest.

Romania accredited to ASEAN her Ambassador to Indonesia. Starting with 2015, in Bucharest is operating ASEAN Committee, comprised of the Head of the Missions of the Embassies of the ASEAN member countries. ASEAN has formed such Committees in many other countries as a signal to have a collective bilateral  approach on matters and subjects of common interests.

Certainly, Romania’s bilateral dialogue with each ASEAN member country in the form of political consultations, reciprocal visits, meetings at the level of Minister on the side-lines of UN sessions, ASEM, EU – ASEANand other meetings represents an added value to the relationship with ASEAN as an organization.

According to the press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, at the 20thEU- ASEAN Ministerial on July 23rd, 2014, in Brussels, „the Foreign Ministers discussed topical subjects on the EU – ASEAN agenda, with a focus on developments in the two regions and the future lines of evolution in the bi-regional partnership, in the context where 2015 will see the creation of the ASEAN economic community”.

On 22 June, 2015 the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania, attended the meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs from European Union Member States (CAE), which was held in Luxembourg.

As it is underlined by the same source, „the main topic was the strategic discussion on the EU-Asia relations aimed to define a long-term strategic perspective in terms of the Union's relation to key actors in the region, both states and regional cooperation organizationsParticular attention was paid to the EU's relations with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and to building the EU-China strategic partnership”.

The press release is pointing out that „the Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed Romania's support for the establishment of a real and consistent strategic partnership between the EU and ASEAN, based on shared common interests. The Minister highlighted the need for the EU to constantly adapt its strategic outlook in its relationship with China, to create a dynamic strategic partnership - an objective which the EU has already undertaken to fulfill - a consistent, relevant partnership which would enable the effective promotion of the interests of both the EU and its Member States and the outline of a regional and global environment characterized by stability and predictability”.

This strong commitment of Romania for a robust relationship between the EU and ASEAN was shared by the Minister of Foreign Affairs in his bilateral meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia held in New York on September 24th, 2015.

In my opinion, in the context of EU plans and aspirations towards future relation with ASEAN, the approaching moment ofdeclaring in November 2015 the accomplishment of the process forcreating the ASEAN COMMUNITY and the adoption of ASEAN post-2015 vision, the necessity for aNational Strategy on ASEAN as organization, in parallel with Romania’s commitments in EU-ASEAN dialogue, appears to be pertinent and viable.

In conducting ASEAN's external relations, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting may confer on an external party the formal status of Dialogue Partner, Sectorial Dialogue Partner, Development Partner, Special Observer, Guest, or other status.

The National Strategy on ASEAN is a priority particularly from the perspective of today situation of the economic dimension of Romania’s relations with ASEAN member countries, aimed at enhancing their economic and trade component. A stronger voice of Romania could be a stronger EU partner in ASEAN, having in mind the capital of popularity enjoyed by Romania in Asia thanks to a solid and long-standing tradition of its presence in that region.

The official statistics show that the total Romanian volume of trade with ASEAN countries remained for many years between half and one billion USD, witha passive trade balance, in many cases. According to the figures found on the site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, in 2014 the total figure of bilateral trade was around 700 million USD.

Indeed, Romania is now a different country with different priorities and with a different economic potential and export content, but this should not put under the question mark her force to come back to the traditional markets of developing countries and to directly cope as well with regional economic entities, particularly when these entities are on the way to form an integration if we take ASEAN as an example.

The lack of the former diversified industrial offer for export departed Romania from representing a complementary economy for developing countries. Even more, the exports from both sides entered into competition. Romania needs fewer raw materials from SouthEastAsia. Again, it should not be a problem, because these states are themselves in a continue transformation of their national economies, creating new opportunities for theirbilateral relations with foreign countries.

The accomplishment of ASEAN aspirations to become a global player is not too far away. Its members, individually or collectively are already interconnected to the international world and their voices started to be understood all over the world.

On her part, Romania is at the crossroads of major commercial circuits on energy, industry, agriculture and services. Romania has all the assets to become a regional hub for foreign investment, innovation and technological development. ASEAN is searching for such partners.

What Romania needs it is to find out the ways and means for direct business on her traditional markets. The ASEAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY creates huge opportunities, but to have primary access to them one should be integrated in the ASEAN new business structure. The direct business approach is always a great advantage.

National Strategy on ASEAN could also serve the purpose to improve the knowledge of ASEAN in our public opinion perception and in the business circles. The research project called “Asia in the Eyes of Europe”, initiated by Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF) with financial support of the European Commission, and conducted in 2010 and 2011in 8 European countries, including Romania, discovered a very limited awareness of the developments going on in South East Asia.

The Romanian Institute for Europe – Asia Studies (IRSEA) was nominated to join that project, by conducting the study in Romania.

In fact, it is higher time to think also about a National Strategy meant to come back to the traditional markets in all parts of the world with dynamic economy. If we take Iran as example, the bilateral trade in the first part of this year is around 100 million USD. New circumstances have been created in Iran, which could have a positive influence on Romanian – Iranian relations.

Romania is known to have initiated in the past a substantial economic cooperation in production as well as to gain an extensive and firm chain of markets in Asia. Just to mention the presence of refineries built with Romanian technical assistance in India and Pakistan, the cement factories in Pakistanrailway projectsin Indonesia and Sri Lanka, tractors and cars in Iran, transmission line in Malaysia, truck and tractor assembling lines in several Asian countries, and so on and so force. Dacia cars are still on the roads in Teheran and the carriages are still running on the railways of Sri Lanka. Iranian peasants are speaking highly about the quality of Romanian tractors. The high voltagetransmission line between Kuala Lumpur and Malacca (over 100 km) is still operating. The same happens withthe cement factories in Pakistan or refinery in India.

At the ground of such national economic strategy could stay the reality of the matter: these countries continue to preserve a very encouraging opinion on the quality of Romanian products, while friendship remained unchanged andstrong. A well planned action is absolutely needed. It could be regrettable to miss the brilliant business opportunities such as the ASEAN Community, ASEAN Post-2015 Vision or the current important developments in Iran and not only.

The initiative to found IRSEA in 2008 has been inspired by the positive developments promoted by ASEM and by the dialogue partnership between EU and ASEAN, which have generated the to-day trend of approaching between Europe and Asia, ever more visible than ever.

As a think-tank, IRSEA is trying to bring its contribution to these vital and most important avenues of cooperation between Europe and Asia, strengthening of peace and stability in a world of globalization.

No wander, the official launching ceremony of IRSEA took place on the day when in partnership with Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF) -the only institution of ASEM, stationed inSingapore,it organized in Bucharest in November 2008 a joined seminar called “Stories from Borders and Stories of Borders” having as lecturer a Thai Professor from Mahidol University and Chief Guest the Director for Intellectual Exchange of ASEF. This was the year when the cooperation between ASEF and IRSEA successfully commenced. The former Executive Director of ASEF is Honorary Member of IRSEA.

In 2008, IRSEA entered into relationship with ASEAN Secretariat. Former Secretary General, former Deputy Secretary General and former Director for Foreign Relations are Honorary Members of IRSEA.

In 2011, IRSEA and ASEAN Foundation made a step forward in their cooperation, which started three years before, by signing an Agreement of Cooperation. The former Executive Director of ASEAN Foundation is Honorary Member of IRSEA.

IRSEA entered into partnership with similar think thanks from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

On the occasion of the 45th Anniversary of ASEAN, IRSEA organized a seminar dedicated to road of development and progress of the Association from a pure economic regional organization to an integrated entity covering as well the political, security and social fields, creating the ground for the ASEAN COMMUNITY.

The President of IRSEA held an interview for the Romanian TV broadcaster TVRM, during the “TVRM Educational” show, focusing on the Indonesia’s development from its independence until nowadays. One of the main ideas of the debate was that Indonesia, which progressed in the realms of democracy and economics, is now in the position of joining other emerging forces like China, India and Brazil. Indonesia is G 20 member country and remained the driving force in ASEAN and in building up of the ASEAN COMMUNITY.

IRSEA maintains a permanent dialogue with Ambassadors to Romania from ASEAN member states as well as with Ambassadors from other Asian countries, trying in a humble way to promote a more robust interaction between Romania and ASEAN and Asia in general.

I would like toavail myself of this opportunity to thank my Asian friends here and my partners in Asia and Europe. A special expression of gratitude goes to Bucharest Academy of Economic Science (ASE), where the Asian Ambassadors had and continue to have the possibility to present to the Romanian young students the most important events and results of the development of their countries, some of which are reflected in the bilateral relations with Romania to the mutual benefit of our peoples.

·         The Author is President of IRSEA, a career diplomat with 40 year experience, Former Ambassador to Indonesia and Pakistan and Head of Mission with Cabinet Letter to Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cyprus, Finland/Estonia, currently Honorary Consul fo