As ASEAN leaders gather, a chance to widen their sphere of influence

The Nation/ ANN

Thailand — For the past 50 years the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been a reliable partnership for peace and stability in this geopolitically important part of the world. There is no reason why the bloc cannot continue in a role it has performed so well, but ample cause now to do more.

That crucial role should be enough in itself to ward off questions often raised about ASEAN’s relevancy amid a rapidly shifting global political landscape, and yet the questions keep coming. Geographical metaphors might be useful, given the growing fluidity among international relations.

Furthermore, the arrival on the scene of Donald Trump as United States president is handily characterized as a tectonic shift. Trump’s election has generated significant uncertainty and unpredictability all around the world. As matters stand three months after his ascension to office, it is not wrong to say that Trump, unexpectedly leading the world’s most powerful nation, could well trigger a new global war at any time. That grave potential makes it incumbent on ASEAN, as a regional organization able to withstand considerable pressure from the major powers, including the U.S., to make its relevance clear. Southeast Asian leaders are gathering in Manila for their 30th meeting since the bloc’s inauguration, and they will have to address a raft of pressing issues without trepidation if the ASEAN success story is to continue for another 50 years. ASEAN has often served as a stabilizing factor in competitions among the major powers. But no one has ever seen the likes of Donald Trump, who seems ready to apply brute force to foreign policy just as he bullied business rivals in his previous incarnation.

Luckily, the new international environment is likely to prompt ASEAN leaders to contrive more ways of protecting the bloc’s interests. It is time to show that ASEAN is still relevant and that its existence shows that regional actors are pivotal in maintaining global peace and stability.