When ASEAN organizes big meetings, the tendency for the host is to talk up a brouhaha. So it goes with the 34th ASEAN Summit under Thailand’s rotating chairmanship this year. By year’s end, several hundred ASEAN-related meetings will have taken place, highlighted by the final annual summitry in October-November that will include top leaders from China, India, Japan, Russia, and the US, among others.
Seeing ASEAN straight without talking it up or down reveals an entrenched and enduring regional organization that now faces myriad challenges reminiscent of its past. Taking ASEAN forward and rebooting the 52-year-old regional vehicle requires a sober account of its problems and dilemmas. While it has much to answer for, ASEAN is needed in Southeast Asia more than ever, as global headwinds among the major powers are likely to stiffen.
Thailand as host this year signifies a major ASEAN shortcoming in recent years. The organization has too often been taken hostage by the domestic politics of its member states. When it last chaired ASEAN a decade ago, Thailand was unable to hold top gatherings on time with safety and security, as protesters on one side of the country’s divide took over the meeting venue.