World Review 2015: Experts call for a unified ASEAN

World Review 2015: Experts call for a unified ASEAN

Amid a year of climate talks, terrorism and migrant crises, Channel NewsAsia’s World Review 2015 panel appeals for ASEAN to think as one in the year ahead.

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SINGAPORE: As the world transitions to 2016 following a year where the threat of terrorism, climate change and migrant crises made headlines, ASEAN more than ever needs to have a more unified voice, said panellists on Channel NewsAsia’s World Review 2015.

The panel of academics, politicians and economists called on ASEAN countries to be more assertive while establishing a neutral attitude during tensions between superpowers such as China and the United States.

“This year, the escalation of the tension between America and China, in particular, has pushed the member states of ASEAN to take sides,” said Dr Farish A Noor, Associate Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

“I think historically, ASEAN, since 1967, has never wanted to take sides,” Dr Farish added, saying that ASEAN has been weak at finding a “common voice”.

Dr Farish was joined by fellow panellists Dr Michael Pulch, the European Union Ambassador to Singapore; Mr Ong Keng Yong, Ambassador-at-Large who is also the Executive Deputy Chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies; Ms Isabelle Barras, Head of the Regional Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kuala Lumpur; and Mr Song Seng Wun, Regional Economist with CIMB Private Banking.

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(From left) Dr Farish Noor, Mr Song Seng Wun, Ms Isabelle Barras, Mr Ong Keng Yong, moderator Gaurav Keerthi and Dr Michael Pulch discuss the world ahead at the National Gallery. (Photo: Kane Cunico)

Along with moderator Gaurav Keerthi, the panel touched on issues that affected the world in 2015: The growing threat of terrorism, regional leadership in Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar, big-power politics in US-China relations, and economic and climate change.

With ASEAN’s neutrality being tested this year, Mr Ong warned that ASEAN must evolve in unison and react as one amid moves by powerhouses like China, US and Russia within the Southeast Asian theatre.

During the live recording in front of an audience of students, academics and industry professionals at the National Gallery, Mr Ong said: “Going forward, I think we should be hopefully looking at more decisive moves that can manage the relationship among all the countries.

“Whether we are Singapore, China or America or Russia or the European Union, all of us want our interests safeguarded. So it is not unreasonable for people to make their moves. But what is important is that when someone makes the move and you don’t agree with it, you have to let it be known that you don’t agree with it.”


In preparing for the road ahead, ASEAN’s unity will be tested with ongoing issues such as climate change, panellists said.

Mr Ong stressed that politicians in ASEAN countries should look beyond short-term solutions to climate change. But for developed and developing countries in Asia to manage climate issues better, political leaders should be braver to establish long-term policies while convincing voters.

“I think we should follow what is happening in Europe, for example, where every citizen is now conscious of the consequences of careless management of the environment,” said Mr Ong.

“I believe the first thing we have to do is to give more information to our people because political leadership being what it is, they always think short-term.”


The panel also addressed the looming threat of terrorism globally, with information sharing being an element that has not been used properly.

Said Dr Pulch: “We’ve noticed that we have a lot of information but it hasn’t been shared properly or analysed, and we have to close that circuit internally and externally and also region to region.”

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Dr Michael Pulch taking questions from the audience. (Photo: Kane Cunico)

The panel also agreed that countries should consider a softer approach by understanding motivations of terror organisations, and by understanding the cause and effect of disenfranchised societies.

“I think what’s lacking at the moment is connecting the dots. Looking at the social and economic grievances that give rise to people who may wish to opt out of the mainstream,” said Dr Farish.

“For a start, I would like to see a more nuanced approach in understanding that this is a product of human agency because in the first decade after the 9/11 attacks, there has been a tendency to pathologise terrorists with terms like ‘brutal’, ‘maniacs’, ‘psychopaths’.

“When you dehumanise these actors, you remove from them not only the element of human agency but also human responsibility.

“That is the only way that we can begin to understand how these (motivations) are basically attempts at an anti-state activity or a form of resistance. Nonetheless, there are actual political, economic underpinnings to what is being done. These are not random acts of violence.”

Watch the full Word Review 2015 this Thursday, Dec 31, 8pm (Singapore/Hong Kong time), on Channel NewsAsia. For more discussion, go to

Source: CNA/kc