The 30th Asean summit ended with significant steps towards the realisation of a rules-based, people-oriented and people-centred Asean.
Philippines President and this year’s Asean chair Rodrigo Roa Duterte stated, “Asean has a compelling narrative of positive change that we can hold up to the world. Through our distinct Asean way, our region – with all its promise – stands at the centre of the future of the Asia-Pacific region.”
He added that “the peoples of Asean share universal aspirations – that their rights and welfare as a people are protected and promoted.”
The chairman’s statement highlights the achievements and future action plans of Asean.
The emphasis is on creating a synergy between the Asean Community Vision 2025 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, given they are “mutually-reinforcing”.
Asean leaders at the summit also signed a declaration that will lead to a common standard to promote better service from civil servants in the region.
The Asean Declaration on the Role of Civil Service as a Catalyst for Achieving the Asean Community Vision 2025 recognises the importance of civil service as the backbone of good governance within Asean member states.
Philippine Civil Service Commission chair Alicia dela Rosa-Bala said, “the declaration supports the first thematic priority of a people-oriented and people-centred Asean.”
The Philippine chairmanship of Asean 2017 places a premium on the role of the civil service as a driver of national and regional development towards the achievement of Asean aspirations for a politically cohesive, economically integrated, and socially responsible community.
Professionalism, efficiency, effectiveness, a participatory approach, responsiveness, transparency and accountability of civil services would all contribute to the attainment of the Asean Community Vision 2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals by Asean member states.
The declaration tasks civil service institutions with developing mechanisms that ensure adoption of good governance principles towards building government institutions that are resilient, future-ready, and capable of addressing new challenges and complexities.
In the chairman’s statement Asean leaders reaffirmed their commitment to peaceful settlement of disputes and “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes”, including the respect of international laws.
With regards to the South China Sea issue, the guidelines for hotline communication between Asean and China in response to maritime emergencies are already in operation, while the application of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea will soon become operational.
The framework of the Code of Conduct will be completed by the middle of this year as prerequisite to concluding the code.
Nevertheless, some observers argue that the Philippines in their capacity as Asean chair decided to delete “diplomatic and legal processes” under the South China Sea section due to pressure from China.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are another regional security hotbed, which are threatening Asean peace and stability after a series of missile and nuclear tests conducted by Kim Jong-un’s North Korea.
Asean leaders have expressed concern over the situation by urging North Korea to immediately comply with its obligations arising from all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions and stressed the importance of exercising self-restraint in the interest of maintaining peace, security and stability in the region and the world.
Civil society groups and youth associations are crucial actors in realising a people-centred Asean. As such, they are set be given more space to engage with Asean leaders through dialogues and consultation.
As Asean chair, the Philippines hopes to forge trust and partnerships between the Asean Civil Society Conference/Asean People’s Conference (ACSC/APC) and Asean leaders. But recommendations made by the ACSC/APC have been largely ignored.
While Asean has adopted many regional community blueprints, an implementation deficit and the lack of effective enforcement measures remain an outstanding issue and challenge.
Transformative leadership, institutional capacity, and partnerships among the public, private and social sectors are required to make Asean visions a reality.
Civil society organisations need to be further empowered in order to realise a people-centred Asean.
Chheang Vannarith is a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
This article was originally published in Khmer Times on May 01, 2017
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