Today, as the center of global economic gravity shifts towards Asia, regional cooperation and integration becomes critically important for Asia’s march towards prosperity. Thus, the need for a comprehensive multilateral platform comprised of Asian countries is felt more than ever before.
In this regard, an effective and efficient SAARC-ASEAN platform would provide an ideal multilateral mechanism for member states of both ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) to pursue their political, economic and social gains and to attain a powerful position in the international arena. On one hand you find ASEAN which has today become a successful model for regionalism, widely recognized globally. Over the last two decades, ASEAN has enjoyed a sustained period of economic growth and stability. At present, ASEAN economy is the 7th largest in the world and 3rd in Asia. On the other hand there is SAARC which is yet to reach its full potential as a regional body. Compared with ASEAN, the level of integration and cooperation attained by South Asian countries remains poor and well below the expected standards. However, this by no means implies that SAARC has no future as a vibrant and robust regional organization.
Not only does SAARC provide the regional States a forum to discuss regional issues and voice national concerns, it has also tackled some important topics for the region such as a social charter, development agreements and even the sensitive subject of fighting terrorism. Therefore SAARC holds ample potential.
In order to re-energize and re-invigorate SAARC, perhaps an SAARC-ASEAN platform would provide a great opportunity, especially for SAARC to enhance and strengthen relations among its own member states and secondly to expand its relations with other countries and organizations. In fact, the foundation for this has already been set. In 2013, ASEAN and SAARC secretariats discussed developments in the regions, reviewed the ASEAN-SAARC secretariats’ Partnership Work Plan (2008-2009) and the future practical cooperative activities that would be mutually beneficial and in the spirit of South-South Cooperation. It is also important to highlight the fact that today, there is a growing tendency among South Asian countries with regard to strengthening ties with other Asian countries, especially within the ASEAN. “Act East Policy” of India is a prime example for this. Moreover, in a bid to mitigate the impact on Sri Lanka’s economy by the UK’s exit from the European Union, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe appointed a committee for the compilation of a preliminary report as to how to strengthen country’s relations in the Asian region. Thus the background is set for strong ties between SAARC and ASEAN.
So, what do you think? Will SAARC and ASEAN be able to work together for a comprehensive multilateral mechanism, which also mutually enhances one nother? How would such a common platform benefit the two regions?
by Hashan Viraj Wijesinghe (Analyst- Political and Economic Affairs, Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, Colombo- Sri Lanka)*
*The ideas expressed in this blog post are strictly of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of his institution.