10 March 2011

ASEAN diplomacy, Singapore style!

Will East Timor be allowed to join ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian nations)?

Its application is sponsored by Indonesia, its former occupier. A few days ago, it appeared to be a done deal.

"We have visited all ASEAN countries and everyone has agreed politically that Timor can join," said Ramos-Horta.

That was then. Now, it seems the ASEAN members who have given East Timor's president assurances are backing away. The loudest dissenters, according to Barry Wan from The Straits Times, are a motley group consisting of Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma.

Their reasoning?

Singapore has been quite adamant that the prospective new member needs to prepare properly before it can join the bloc.

Cambodia, Laos, and Burma believe ASEAN cannot afford to accept a weak and poor nation as a member.

Vietnam believes accepting a weak nation will put ASEAN more firmly into the Chinese orbit.

In ASEAN, diplomacy is another name for international comedy.

Singapore's diplomats lobbied hard for the entry of the Indochinese nations into ASEAN in its last expansion, knowing full well that Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and Vietnam were not properly prepared to join the grouping.

Cambodia, Laos, and Burma certainly didn't object to their own membership applications despite being already preyed upon by the Chinese model of mercantile capitalism prior to them joining ASEAN.

As part of the new Indochinese membership of ASEAN, Vietnam's diplomats and politicians should already know that their neighbours (let's say Burma at the very least) report dutifully to Peking the proceedings of each ASEAN meeting they attend.

East Timor, as a Southeast Asian nation with oil reserves, will attract Chinese diplomacy, development, and political influence whether or not it joins ASEAN.

ASEAN diplomacy deconstructed

Being China's second banana in ASEAN, Singapore will not want to see ASEAN fall further under or more obviously into the Chinese orbit because it means having to compete with 10 other countries who also want to be China's second banana in the region.

Similarly, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma are aware that East Timor is an oil-producing upstart. As a new country that needs to build its infrastructure from scratch, East Timor is terra firma and fresh meat for investment and development funds. The three Indochinese nations do not want China to divert its ASEAN warchest (spent partially on building railroads to connect Peking to Indochina) to this new nation.

As Vietnam's diplomats and leaders are aware, being earmarked as a Chinese satellite doesn't mean co-option as a Chinese ally. Vietnam's China policy consists of resisting Chinese political influence in its ruling party and state organs, while accepting Chinese money. Their opposition to East Timor's membership is motivated by the fear that East Timor will better Vietnam on its own China policy.

Will East Timor be allowed to join ASEAN? Even its biggest detractors in ASEAN think it would do just fine in ASEAN!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Quite right, ASEAN in si=ome ways is a big joke. You have one state where huge human rights violation is an on going scene, two ASEAN 'partners' shooting the hell out of each other over a world heritage temple, a 'diplomats' of a little red dot mouthing disparaging remarks about other ASEAN states, etc.

More like ASEAN WAYANG isn't it?