Sunday, May 4, 2008



(A Keynote address delivered at the 20th Anniversary of the IR/PS, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, Saturday, May 3, 2008)

Distinguished Prof. and Dean Peter R. Cowhey of School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS),

Distinguished Prof. Gordon H. Hanson, Director of Center on Pacific Economies,

Distinguished Professors, Esteemed Alumni and students,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good Afternoon!

It is indeed a great honor for me to be here today at the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the IR/PS, University of California San Diego, at La Jolla. It would have never crossed in my mind that one day I would be coming here as a part of family member of this prominent higher educational institution and standing before such a distinguished audience, never mind delivering a keynote speech at its anniversary celebration. For that very reason allow me to begin my talk by expressing my heartfelt thanks to the University of California San Diego, the Dean of IR/PS, and the Chair of Center on Pacific Economies for giving me this great opportunity to become a Fellow of the Pacific Leadership Fellows Program this year.

As a person who lives most of his life in Indonesia, which is an archipelagic country, and who used to spend a great deal of time, 9 years to be exact, studying in Hawaii, I must say that you have been bestowed with one of the most beautiful environments for both academic activities and recreations for the body and soul. So it is not an exaggeration to say that I wish I could have been here a long time ago. But like they say, it is never too late to start doing good things and I truly believe how appropriate the words for me at this moment.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The topic of my talk this afternoon is toward an Asia and Pacific century and challenges for the future US-ASEAN Relations. Much has been said and written about the “Pacific century,” or sometimes called the “Asian century.” Even though every term has its own historical narratives together with their specific meanings, boundaries, and objectives, it is fair to say that each of them tries to depict and/or underline the sense of strategic importance of Asia and Pacific regions in the future of international affairs. In the year 2000, one of the most distinguished leaders of ASEAN, former President Fidel V. Ramos of the Philippines, said that “the world’s center of gravity is shifting back to the Asia-Pacific,” and, therefore, according to him “it is ... time for our statesmen to start conceptualizing the component of a ‘Pac Pacifica’.” It has been undeniable that the post Cold War era has witnessed a changing global geopolitical constellation, especially when Asia and the Pacific have emerged as the new center of global economy with the rise of China, Korea, India and ASEAN as new players, after Japan, challenging Western European countries’ long held hegemonic position. Added to that, in the field of global security, countries in East Asia and the Pacific have increasingly been of paramount importance as major actors that could promote, engender, and ensure global stability and peace amidst such threats originating from the Middle East, South Asia, and North African regions.

It is against the backdrop that I would like to talk about the challenges faced by leaders in the regions in bringing about the idea of an Asia and Pacific century into a reality, within which a strong, sustainable US and ASEAN relations becomes one of its core components. The issue of strengthening such a relation is a particularly important to address in times of turbulence felt by people who live in both ASEAN and the US following the waves of democratic changes at the end of the 20th century, the real and present danger of global economic crises, and the threat of global security and peace in the post 9/11 terrorist attack. In ASEAN, after reaching 40 years of its rapid development, leaders have been under pressure to take further step to strengthen its role in regional and global affairs. For that matter, there has been an undergoing process of changing the organizational structure of ASEAN so that it will no longer remain a loose, consensus-based regional grouping, but a rules-based institution in the near future. The aim is to pursue the goal of becoming one community, one identity, and a single market under an umbrella of the ASEAN Charter.[2] This new direction would certainly pave the way for transformations at both the institutional and cultural levels among the member countries and their populace. Needless to say it would gear toward different kinds of challenges from that of the previous era when ASEAN was still in its formative years and in different historical as well as geopolitical contexts.

In my view, the same is true in the case of the US. The need for adjusting the country’s political images and presence in the regions has become a serious concern. It seems that if the US wants to improve its strategic influence in the regions, where new big powers such as China and India would assert their influence in the decades to come, the deepening and widening relationship between the US and ASEAN countries are particularly instructive. This is especially true when the US has currently been criticized as diverting too much its strategic presence to the Mideast and combating international terrorism. It has resulted in neglect of balancing the raising new emerging powers with great influence in Asia and the Pacific regional affairs. The outcome of such foreign policy has been, at best, remained unclear. However, as Ambassadors Morton Abramowitz and Stephen Bosworth have eloquently argued, the relationship between US and East Asia should not be determined by the fight against international terrorism, but the US should pay more attention to economic relations, cultural exchanges, and assistance in the educational and health, as well as empowering the nascent democracies in the region.[3] Again, this would also pose different leadership challenges within the US which involve new visions, strategies and approaches in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

The 20th anniversary of IR/PS has marked the coming of age for an institution whose remarkable achievement has been increasingly felt beyond the Bay area of California and even the US in general. I would strongly argue that it is still much within capacity of the School to play a bigger role in promoting an Asian and Pacific century and, within the process, supporting the strengthening the US-ASEAN relations. For one thing, a center of academic excellence like IR/PS and its Center on Pacific Economies not only could energize scholarly and intellectually informed discourses, analysis, and researches on the field, but also contribute a great deal to practical, on-the ground trainings for individuals and groups keen to global networking in politics, business, and public affairs. The Pacific Leadership Fellows Program is the kind of institutional vehicle that would best serve the efforts to facilitate capacity and institutional developments which are compatible with the regions’ specific characteristics and needs. It could become a focal point where leaders, scholars, and activists of civil society organizations from all over ASEAN countries could come and exchange their experience and views vis-à-vis their counterparts from the US.

As someone who comes from Indonesia, a country that has for the past ten years been in the process of political reform, I would say that little has been gained from the US-ASEAN relations after the end of the Cold War that would help accelerate the realization of an Asian and Pacific century. Seen from the Indonesian perspective, there remains a lot that needs to be done in order to bridge the yawning gap of misunderstanding and uncover new approaches and imperative breakthroughs. The existing business-as-usual approach simply will not do anymore. For instance, it should become clear that the emerging civil society among ASEAN member countries, especially in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, demands the style of governance which is no longer state or government centered but societal or people-centered one. That means that the conventional elitist, government-based approaches, that had been presumably effective in the past, should be transformed in the new changing environment. The need for new, more inclusive approaches that prioritize the involvement of civil society organizations is particularly urgent.

From a geopolitical vantage point, it seems that the current architecture of US strategic policy in Asia and the Pacific regions has not changed much from that of the Cold War era. While the presence of the US has been overwhelmingly seen as positive, benign, and vital to the region in the context of balance of power and security, it has not been strengthened by gradual strategic empowerment of society-oriented partnership.[4] Especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy and the US strategy of worldwide war against terrorism, societal approaches seem to be neglected and, instead, stiff government policies have remained in place. In a short term, this trend is quite understandable. After all, it is primarily the business of the government to provide security for its people and it is the government that has the monopoly on means of violence. In a long term, however, the dependence on government-led approaches would handicap the efforts to deepen and widen US relations and partnership in ASEAN, if only because it would prevent the US policy makers from coming to grips with the complexities in the region, be it politically, economically, and socio-culturally.

The hiatus in society-oriented approaches as a catalyst for the US-ASEAN relations has given rise to the sense of mutual misunderstanding and skepticism toward its future, in both sides. The view regarding some ASEAN countries as becoming part of the global terrorist networks, heralded by many US media and pundits, has contributed to the spreading of anti Americanism among the populace in the region, particularly amongst those of the Muslim faith. The fact that Indonesia, the largest Muslim populated country in the world, has also become both the main target and victim of international terrorism hardly registers in the Western mainstream media, expert analysis, and public discourse. Never mind the fact that Indonesia and ASEAN countries in general have had such a diverse population comprised of hundreds of ethnic groups and languages, and the region has become the home to world religions, including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, whose adherents have been living quite harmoniously for hundreds of years.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The time has come, in the beginning of the 21st century, for us to start anew in order to strengthen the relations between the US and ASEAN countries which would be pivotal in the future of Asia and the Pacific regions. In doing so, there are several key challenges faced by leadership in both sides that need to be clearly delineated, addressed and responded accordingly. By leadership I mean not only those at the top of government offices, political party leaders, policy makers and pundits in their ivory towers of higher learning institutions. I would also include those who are active in civil society organizations such as NGOs, social organizations including religious organizations, business groups, the media, the public intellectuals, and institutions like IR/PS here.

The first challenge is for the leadership in both the US and ASEAN to strengthen the shared vision about, and commitment to the strategic position of Asia and the Pacific in the new environment which has been shaped by globalization and globalizing processes, particularly along the lines of economic integration and the acceleration of science and technology. Unfortunately, until presently, notwithstanding the euphoria about the coming of an Asia and Pacific century, such a shared vision has been more rhetoric than reality. The fact remains that the US power and influence in general, and its soft power in particular, have been in decline in the regions and that, in my view, is not a healthy development. Echoing the critical insight of Ambassadors Abramowitz and Bosworth, I would argue that without a real commitment from the US in establishing the region as the global peace and prosperity zone, the prospect of an Asian and Pacific century remains cloudy. Even though, in theory, China, Japan, and South Korea together with ASEAN member countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia could become the backbone of East Asian community, the presence of US remains necessary in order to become a balancing force for the potential internal rivalries among them which could pose security threats to the region.

The second challenge is for the ASEAN leadership to accelerate implementation of transforming the organization into a real regional grouping, not too dissimilar to that of European Union. In this perspective, ASEAN should evolve as a regional organization that is capable of facing the future challenges without relying on conventional ways. If the financial crisis in late 1990s taught us any lesson at all, it is its regional political impacts that almost crippled even the most economically powerful countries like Indonesia and Thailand at that time. It was abundantly clear that ASEAN did not anticipate such a crisis and was ill-equipped to respond in appropriate ways. At the end of the day, ASEAN still needs external support to cement the fabric of real concerted ways in helping its members’ internal problems.

Thus the move toward a rules-based organization is indeed both timely and necessary. The leadership of the region should no longer rely on the time honored principle of “non intervention,” which is clearly passé. Also the leadership in ASEAN should implement the notion of people-based organization, in contrast to the old fashioned government-led management style. The involvement and incorporation of civil society organizations in shaping decision-making process would make ASEAN more credible amongst the citizens of its member states. By opening more opportunities to engage people in participative discourse, ASEAN leaders could also accelerate implementation of the much heralded idea of good governance among the members.

The third challenge is to shift the current dominant security paradigm that has given more emphasis on the military and deterrent into the notion of comprehensive security in order to build a region of peace and prosperity in Asia and the Pacific. I have to admit that this is a rather hard sell to the US in the current volatile environment, given the global threat of terrorism. Yet, ASEAN countries could not afford to be dragged into long and unclear global conflicts whose impacts could only bring about perpetual crisis in the region. The commitment of ASEAN members to establish the zone of peace and prosperity could only be manifested by working together under the umbrella of comprehensive security measures. This understanding has gained momentum in recent years, particularly in lights of potential conflicts emerging from the rise of new powers such as China and India.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

In closing, let me reiterate my sincere hope and high expectation to IR/PS and Center on Pacific Economies, as well as its Pacific Leadership Fellows program, that they will play a much bigger role in making an Asian and Pacific century a reality. I am quite sure, with two decades of experience in the higher learning, research and policy making as well as on the ground activities, enhanced by a network of 1,700 strong alumni around the world, the School has and will continue to tremendously contribute toward our mutual goal. The expansion of the School’s activities in the future, such as the GLI program, would open doors for advancement in good governance efforts taking place among the countries in ASEAN. I am, particularly, looking forward to seeing its degree program being implemented next year.

I wish to express my greatest appreciation for having been included as a participant of such a noble endeavor. Finally, I would like to extend my congratulations to all of you here for the 20th Anniversary celebration of this distinguished institution.

Thank you very much.

La Jolla, CA., May 3, 2008


© Fellow at the Pacific Leadership Fellow Program, Center on Pacific Economies, IR/PS, UC San Diego.

[1] See his “The World to Come: ASEAN’s Political and Economic Prospect in the New Century.” Address at The Economic Strategy Institute’s (ESI) Global Forum 2000: “The World to Come - Value and Price of Globalization”, Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, Washington, D.C., 17 May 2000.

[2] See the ASEAN Charter. Signed at the 13th ASEAN Summit on 20 November 2007 in Singapore.

[3] See their Chasing the Sun: Rethinking East Asia Policy.New York: Century Foundation, 2006. Also Jusuf Wanandi. Global, Regional and National: Strategic Issues and Linkages. Jakarta: CSIS, 2006, p.90.

[4] Wanandi, Jusuf. Opcit, p. 351



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