When asked at an international conference in May about his views on the new crop of leaders in Southeast Asia -- such as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo -- former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad replied, “It is getting more difficult to build long-term relationships with leaders of ASEAN countries.”
At the Tokyo event, Mahathir, who headed his country for 22 years, recalled his frequent meetings with Indonesian President Suharto and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. In his view, the recent trend toward shorter tenures among heads of state limits their capacity to lead and makes it difficult for them to build strong relationships with each other.
ASEAN will mark its 50th anniversary next year. It has grown from an initial grouping of five member countries to a 10-nation bloc with a population of 630 million and a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion. And it continues to evolve: At the end of last year, the organization announced the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).
But how united is ASEAN really? It is a loose coalition of diverse nations, still operated by consensus with a policy of “non-interference” in internal affairs. That was evident in July, when its members could not say a single word against China regarding the territorial dispute in the South China Sea because Cambodia refused to do so. Mahathir’s comments about stronger relationships do not hold all the answers, but overcoming differences is clearly ASEAN’s next challenge .
In this issue of the Nikkei Asian Review, we “rethink” ASEAN. We analyze the bloc from different points of view, including the future of economic integration and expanding military spending -- all brought to you through the efforts of our reporters on the ground. I hope you enjoy reading this issue of the Nikkei Asian Review.
Nikkei Asian Review