A sense of drift in what was once a cohesive grouping, the Association of South East Asian States Nations (Asean), was discernible in Phnom Penh last week as Cambodia hosted the Asean summit marking its 55th anniversary. The summit itself went off smoothly enough. Compared to the last time Cambodia held the ASEAN chair in 2012, there was a welcome absence of rancour.
In 2012, it was a very different picture as Cambodia, despite being the chair, had prevented a consensus on Asean’s position on the South China Sea because it was critical of Beijing’s policies at the time. A decade on, however, there was no such controversy.
But, on the flip side, the outcome of Asean’s apex policy-making meeting in Phnom Penh under the theme ‘A.C.T: Addressing Challenges Together’ was, at best, underwhelming. While it is understandable given the contemporary geopolitical flux that ‘togetherness’ was reiterated as Asean’s first principle, how this is to be achieved if the 10 member states of Asean are to act together in dealing with regional challenges while maintaining their unity “as a family” is not so clear.