Imagining the ASEAN Community

Friday 11 October 2013, 12:00pm - 6:30pm

Helen Nesadurai

Associate Professor Helen Nesadurai delivering the keynote speech

New Law Building, University of Sydney

The Sydney Southeast Asia Centre hosted a forum about the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with a specific focus on the ASEAN Community.

The ASEAN Community, which is to be realised by 2015, is based on three pillars: the ASEAN Political-Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Through these pillars, ASEAN aims to strengthen Southeast Asia’s competitiveness in a globalised world and to develop a coordinated, cooperative effort in addressing problems faced by the region.

This interdisciplinary forum was structured around the three pillars of the proposed ASEAN Community. Experts from the University of Sydney as well as from other universities in Australia and the region analysed, discussed and debated ASEAN’s progress in the political, economic and socio-cultural spheres.

Download the event program here.

Keynote Speech

Associate Professor Helen Nesadurai, Monash University Kuala Lumpur

Associate Professor Nesadurai argued that while the ASEAN principles of maintaining state sovereignty through non-interference enabled cooperation between member states, it had come at the expense of securing people's well-being and needs.

Download a full copy of the speech here


Sociocultural Pillar

Myanmar’s role in ASEAN

Dr Nicholas Farrelly, Australian National University

Photo of Nicholas Farrelly

In 2014 Myanmar will chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the first time. This prominent regional role will stretch domestic administrative capacities, but also offers a significant opportunity to trumpet the country’s ongoing transformation from entrenched dictatorship to nascent democratic success. Myanmar already plays a multifaceted role in ASEAN, and has clearly benefited from the legitimation, fraternity and understanding of its neighbours. For now, Myanmar is not regarded as the least democratic nation in Southeast Asia and its emerging political culture is being watched closely by its more authoritarian ASEAN counterparts. Some people have pre-emptively embraced the idea that Myanmar could show, with its transformation, that ASEAN can be an engine for good governance, inclusive development and political participation. ASEAN’s status is increasingly buttressed by Myanmar’s role and yet the challenge in the years ahead will be to find new ways to increase cooperation without over-burdening its fragile political and economic transition.

Download a copy of the slides here

Tertiary education in ASEAN

Professor Anthony Welch, University of Sydney

Anthony Welch


In many parts of developing Asia, including parts of Southeast Asia, private degree-granting higher education institutes (HEIs) are relatively new, at least on any substantial scale. This is not merely in nominally Socialist states such as Viet Nam, but also in Malaysia. But developments over the past 20 years or so have shifted the balance between public and private sectors significantly. Private growth in several jurisdictions has outstripped public, or is scheduled to do so. At the same time, cost pressures on public HEIs have increased, leading them to behave more like private HEIs in some respects. The paper charts these changes, and analyses the effects on quality, governance, and equality, in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Viet Nam.

Download a copy of the slides here

Infectious disease control in ASEAN

Professor Tania Sorrell, University of Sydney

Food security and livestock in the Mekong

Mr Sonevilay Nampanya, University of Sydney

Sonevilay Nampanya

Future food security and poverty reduction remain complex challenges, particularly with the susceptibility of the food supply system to threats from global financial shocks, impacts of climate change and risks of transboundary and emerging animal disease including Foot and Mouth Disease. In the greater Mekong Sub-region, large ruminant production is one of the most important livelihood activities for farmers, using their stock for cash reserves, ceremonial needs as well as provision of manure for fertiliser. Providing interventions to support smallholder farmers improved productivity and disease risk management requires enhanced understanding of how to manage the many health and husbandry constraints that compromise smallholder livestock productivity. Promotion of multiple large ruminant health and production intervention programs is recommended. This multiple approach may provide a more sustainable pathway for poverty reduction through improved livestock productivity and incomes.

Managing the Mekong

Professor Philip Hirsch, University of Sydney

Philip Hirsch


There are various sub-regional governance arrangements within and transcending ASEAN's borders. The Mekong refers to both economic (Greater Mekong Subregion) and bio-physical (Mekong River Basin) transboundary configurations of territory in mainland Southeast Asia. Developments on the Mekong River are, in principle, "managed" by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), but rapid development of dams on the Mekong mainstream has been the outcome of a particular set of historical and political factors that have little to do with active or rational management. Rather, we can see a path dependency in which the role of China – a non-member state of the MRC – is crucial.

Download a copy of the slides here


Political Pillar

Democratisation in Indonesia and Myanmar

Dr Dave McRae, Lowy Institute for International Policy

Dave McRae


Myanmar has been the standout case of political change in Southeast Asia over the past three years. The reforms to date have not established full democratic rule, however, and pressure for further political change continues. This paper examines the case of Indonesia, Southeast Asia's leading democracy, to see what lessons can be drawn from its own transition to democracy, which began fifteen years ago. The paper compares key elements of reform in each country, and explores what Indonesia can tell us about the possible overall limits of reform in Myanmar.

Islam and the vibrant democracy of Indonesia

Professor Azra Asyumardi, State Islamic University (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Azra Asyumardi

Indonesia is an anomaly in the composition of the world’s democracies. It is home to the world’s largest Muslim population- contesting the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible. The moderate form of Islam in Indonesia, has contributed to the promotion of democracy, though the acceptance of religious pluralism and civil society promotion of secularism. Despite being unable to separate religion and politics in Indonesia, the multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition has allowed for the development of a stable and flourishing democracy through harmonisation, communal solidarity and nationalism in the political realm, assisted by the Constitutional doctrine, Pancasila. In spite of the issues Indonesia’s democracy faces with endemic corruption and radical Islamism, Indonesia is hopeful it can continue transform into a truly mature democracy.

Security in ASEAN

Dr Justin Hastings, University of Sydney

Justin Hastings


ASEAN was set up to buttress member states’ security, but today is ASEAN is largely irrelevant to the security threats faced by Southeast Asian states. I argue that this is because the threats themselves are interlocking, and are largely not issues that can be resolved by ASEAN. First, the mismatch between external sovereignty enjoyed by central governments and actual power and legitimacy in their territory leads to domestic civil unrest and rebellions, as well as emphasis on territorial conflicts. While ASEAN may be useful for de-escalating territorial conflicts, it is constitutionally unable to deal with the other without a sea change in Southeast Asian countries’ understanding of sovereignty.

Download a copy of the slides here

The Singapore political model: Lessons for ASEAN States

Associate Professor Lily Rahim, University of Sydney

ASEAN management of migrant workers

Associate Professor Nicola Piper, University of Sydney


Economic Pillar

The developmental state in ASEAN

Dr Liz Thurbon, University of New South Wales

Liz Thurbon

In this paper I highlight the growing disjuncture between scholarly debates dominated by the idea of developmental state demise and irrelevance in East Asia, and policy debates in which the idea of the necessity of ‘strategic industrial policy’ for developing economies is currently being mainstreamed. In the context of growing interest in - and support for - strategic industrial policies on the part of multilateral development agencies and national governments in ASEAN and beyond, I argue that the developmental state framework of analysis is becoming more, not less, relevant to both scholarly and policy debates about economic development. This is because the framework – properly understood - helps us to appreciate the ideational and institutional conditions under which such policies might be translated into positive economic outcomes.

Global production networks and the rise of ASEAN economies

Professor Henry Wai-Chung Yeung, National University of Singapore

Henry Yeung


In this presentation, I argued that the industrialization of ASEAN economies is intimately linked to their dynamic articulation into global production networks spearheaded by lead firms from advanced capitalist economies (e.g. Japan, the US, and Western Europe). In global industries such as electronics, apparel, automobiles, and agro-food,ASEAN firms can engage in successful upgrading and exports through their participation in expanding supply chains in these industries and producing intermediate manufactured goods for global lead firms. Large ASEAN firms tend to be moreactive in these emerging production networks in the regional economy. Pro-growth industrial policies and regional trade agreements are also critical to the evolution of these networks.

ASEAN led free-trade agreements

Dr Alex Chandra, International Institute for Sustainable Development (Jakarta, Indonesia)

Alex Chandra

Free trade agreements (FTAs) have become common jargon in economic diplomacies of Southeast Asia in the last decade or so. Initially focused around the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) through the grouping’s own FTA initiative in the early 1990s, several variations to this trade pact can now be found in the form of bilateral state-to-state and bilateral region-to-state FTAs. Whilst ASEAN has taken the centre stage in the development of these FTAs for the purpose of ensuring the Association’s centrality amidst the emergence of these FTAs, as well as balancing the vast economic and political interests of the major power in the region, ASEAN member countries are increasingly also keen to set up their own bilateral FTAs to accelerate the pace of their economic integration with their strategic economic partners. Notwithstanding such developments, it remains questionable as to whether the emergence of multiple, and often conflicting, bilateral FTAs in Southeast Asia could actually deliver the promised political and economic benefits as they often portrayed by the region’s policy-makers. Moreover, it is also puzzling as to whether these FTAs could actually complement the immediate goal of ASEAN to turn itself into an economic community by 2015. Aside from attempting to address these issues and examine various alternatives currently being discussed between ASEAN and/or its member states and its major external economic partners, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), this presentation also gives special focus on the potential implications that the developments described above on ASEAN-Australia economic relations.

Franchise development in ASEAN

Professor Andrew Terry, University of Sydney

Andrew Terry

Franchising is essentially a strategy for cloning a branded business through the replication of proven business and management systems. Because of its unique advantages - for the franchisor it is an effective strategy for rapid expansion and for the franchisee it provides the opportunity to operate an independently owned business using proven concepts, systems and formats - it is an increasingly popular form of business organisation providing an alternative means of expanding an existing business or entering an industry. Franchising is a particularly effective tool for SME development in developing countries and is attracting increasing interest in ASEAN member countries in which franchising is not already an entrenched business strategy. While a range of infrastructure challenges exist, there are very real opportunities, including the ASEAN Economic Community, which will facilitate economic development and international integration.

ASEAN investment treaties

Professor Luke Nottage, University of Sydney

Download a copy of the slides here