KUALA LUMPUR: As Asean celebrates its 50th anniversary, keeping peace at the centre of the regional grouping’s purpose is among the five mega challenges that it is facing and continues to face in the next 50 years, says the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Shah.
He said peace and its concomitant, security, could never be taken for granted as the purpose of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia was to ‘promote perpetual peace, everlasting amity and cooperation among people in the region’.
“The Asean Community today is defined by its three pillars: Political-Security, Economic and Social-Cultural. It is, however, peace and security that is and must be the overarching prerogative.
“Asean’s past 50 years might have been generally, peaceful. But let us not forget that Asean was born in an era of regional conflict and internal strife, and it had to negotiate a path strewn with considerable tensions and regional flashpoints.
“The South China Sea disputes and the transboundary haze problem are examples of how Asean has to cope with issues that could create tension and division,” he said when launching a seminar and book entitled ‘Asean FutureForward Anticipating The Next 50 Years’ here yesterday.
The other four mega challenges are maintaining Asean’s freedom, neutrality and centrality; remaining open, moderate and inclusive; prioritising the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG); and innovation and relevance.
Asean, established on Aug 8, 1967, comprises 10 Southeast Asian nations – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Sultan Nazrin said the second mega challenge that needed to be focused by the member states was maintaining Asean’s freedom, neutrality and centrality, which was especially so in a time of renewed geopolitical competition in the region.
“Asean must be adept at accommodating the legitimate interest of superpowers and other major powers, and be able to avoid being dragged into situations of major power competition and rivalry.” he said.
Asean, he added, would also do well to continually impress on dominant powers that it was in their interest that Asean neutrality and centrality be respected.
Touching on the third mega challenge of remaining open, moderate and inclusive, the sultan said Asean’s aspirations to be ‘people-oriented’ was more than just a good idea as it was also a political-security imperative that must be doubled and redoubled if the Community was to remain open, moderate and inclusive.
“Faced with all these challenges, Asean governments would do well to remind themselves of their responsibility to remain in the path of openness, integration and globalisation,” said Sultan Nazrin who is also Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia Royal Fellow.
In order to overcome the fourth mega challenge which was to be truly people-oriented and people-centred, he urged Asean to prioritise the achievement of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Apart from focusing on climate change issue, Asean needed to look at other issues of equal impact, including eradication of poverty and hunger, and ensuring the good health and well-being of the people which were among the SDGs, he said.
“In addressing the SDGs, Asean governments need to temper their ‘economic growth-at-any-cost’ attitude and adopt more holistic and inclusive approaches,” he added.
In outlining the last mega challenge faced by Asean on the need to be innovative and relevant, Sultan Nazrin said Asean needed to keep envisioning, re-imagining and innovating in order to remain relevant, address challenges and meet new expectations.
“Asean cannot afford to continue to be bound to the traditional bricks-and-mortar economy and ignore developments in robotics, Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, computing and materials science.
“Asean member states must ensure that their citizens are upskilled, or reskilled based on the needs of the future,” he said.
Also present were ISIS Malaysia chairman and chief executive Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa, ISIS Malaysia deputy chief executive, Datuk Steven Wong and CIMB Group chairman, Datuk Seri Nazir Razak. — Bernama