Seminar, Book Launch and Networking Lunch on ASEAN Security Connectivity: Regional Solutions to Regional Security Challenges


Date: 14 May 2019

Venue: Room no. 222, Faculty of Law, Thammasat University (Tha Prachan Campus)

Jointly organized by The German-Southeast Asian Center of Excellence for Public Policy and Good Governance (CPG), the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia in Singapore and the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam



9:00h                               Registration                                                 

9:15h                               Welcome Remarks    

Mr. Henning Glaser, Director, CPG Bangkok

Mr. Christian Echle, Director, KAS Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia, Singapore

9:30h                               Security Cooperation in Southeast Asia. An ASEAN way

H.E. Kasit Piromya, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand; Citizen Activation Academy, Executive Director

09:50h                             Security Cooperation in ASEAN: Regional Solutions to Regional Problems.

Dr. Frederick Kliem, Visiting Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

10:00                               Coffee Break 

ASEAN Security Cooperation in Practice: Three Case Studies

 10:10h 10:25h               Migration and its Security Implications in ASEAN

 Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree, Lecturer and Chair of PhD Program, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University, Thailand

10:25h 10:40h              Water Resource Security in Mainland Southeast Asia

Dr. Vannarith Chheang, Lecturer, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore                                      

10:40h 10:55h              Maritime Security in Southeast Asia: A Case for Paradigm Shift on the ASEAN Agenda

Dr. Do Thanh Hai, Senior Fellow, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam

10:55h 12:00h               Q&A and Open Discussion

 12:00h                             Closing Remarks

Dr. Frederick Kliem

H.E. Kasit Piromya

Mr. Henning Glaser 

12:15h                             Lunch Reception (Buffet for all attendees)



As part of his welcoming speech, Mr Henning Glaser voiced concerns that in the background of issues concerning ASEAN security connectivity, structural rivalries strongly influence the way and the possibilities of how solutions can be found and implemented in the region. Following this, he raised examples such as water conflicts and the Rohingya migration crisis, wherein ASEAN countries would face difficulties in finding common ground and accommodating different interests. On a closing note, he stated that while it may be too optimistic to find purely regional solutions to these problems in the face of changing larger dynamics in Asia, it was a good starting point.

Mr Christian Echle echoed, in his welcoming speech, that regional initiatives rely on optimists who dare to believe, enjoy constructive cooperation, and work with others to overcome conflict. He hoped that connectivity would be able to help foster ideas in improving security in the region.

In his presentation, His Excellency Kasit Piromya noted that recommendations pertaining to how ASEAN states should move forward in a cohesive and integrated manner mostly stemmed from a political angle. He then provided insights into the context surrounding the writing of the book – at a time where ASEAN member states have not been working together in unison, as opposed to in the first 40 years of ASEAN, and where ASEAN seems to be facing many forthcoming challenges, both from inside the ASEAN unity (national affairs) and from external forces (for instance, big powers becoming increasingly concerned with the internal affairs of ASEAN member states, and the community). His Excellency briefly mentioned that the ASEAN principles of unanimity and centrality are linked to the subject matter of the seminar – security and connectivity. To this end, he stressed the need for foreign ministers and leaders of ASEAN to not be bogged down by the principle of non-interference because beyond that, there is the principle of humanitarian intervention. On this note, he remarked that the book had to do with the human aspect of issues, and not merely the principle of non-interference.

His Excellency further emphasised the importance of trust and confidence-building measures amongst ASEAN member states, especially in the realm of security and fighting cross-border crime. He raised the example of transparency in procuring arms, a measure that he claims should be defensive and not aggressive. Citing another example of peace restoration, he proposed having ASEAN peacekeeping forces under the United Nations (UN) plan in Myanmar to facilitate repatriation of Rohingya and allay constant fears of interference of the Western world through UN bodies. He ended on an optimistic note, citing hopes that the recommendations would help stakeholders such as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in ASEAN states work together in common affairs of the ASEAN community.

Dr Frederick Kliem began his keynote speech by introducing one truism of Asia, that it is a region full of developmental opportunities, such as greater regional connectivity, but also challenges, precisely as issues become regionalised. He categorised the challenges into three types: first, those arising from internal conflicts among ASEAN states, based on historical legacies that predate ASEAN; second, trans-boundary challenges that arise in one ASEAN state and harm other ASEAN states; and third, power-related challenges, for instance, the South China Sea conflict – this is a concern in light of the widening duality, which involves not merely China and US, but also rising powers like India and Japan.

With strong conviction, Dr Kliem highlights that the answer to these challenges lies in multilateralism. However, he critiques that the many regional institutions have significant overlaps in issues and actors, making it difficult to pin down exactly which institutions are involved. He notes that this is precisely the problem of “congested multilateralism”, which not only does not practical effective work, but also reflects power inefficiencies in the region. He further opines that while there are merits of ASEAN multilateralism, such as in keeping dialogue alive and identifying the interests of parties, there are three limitations. First, by design – the ASEAN way, important to reach significant capacity to bridge socioeconomic and cultural gaps. Second, by nurture, which inevitably includes distrust among ASEAN states, therein fundamentally inhibiting important processes of data-sharing, which is crucial to tackle trans-national challenges. Third, geographical limitations and power relations, as he notes that ASEAN is a conglomerate of ten relatively weak nation states that cannot rise above geopolitical competition.

To set a background context, Dr Kliem spoke about the three main issues ASEAN was born from: the recognition of the transnationality of security challenges, the low degree of institutional connectivity (institutional-wise, in terms of stakeholder connectivity and issue-specific connectivity), and strong belief in ASEAN as the provider of multilateralism for matters pertaining to Southeast Asia. Accordingly, he suggests that the third issue should be made the primary principle of security cooperation in SEA. Beyond this, he proposes other guiding principles, such as belief in a rules-based order, a desire to increase cooperation between law enforcement, government and civil society, and to create lasting connections in nodes of connectivity, knowledge and information-sharing, as part of the network. He then introduces the concept of horizontal and vertical connectivity, stating that it is difficult to find security challenges that are in itself completely isolated from other security challenges. In making his concluding remarks, Dr Kliem highlights that amongst other challenges such as SEA regionalism and domestic politics, distrust among ASEAN member states is the greatest hindrance to information sharing and the creation of multi-stakeholder networks. He argues that there is a significant overlap and that this should encourage greater cooperation between regional institutions.

In her keynote speech, Dr Sriprapha Petcharamesree first stressed that migration should be defined as a security challenge not merely about national security, but also cross-border security. Introducing her paper as focusing on the migration-security nexus in the context of ASEAN connectivity, she argues that while the physical connectivity contributes to greater people movement, the “national notion” of some institutional connectivity prevents ASEAN from creating a common ASEAN migration platform to deal with migration challenges. Her these is centred on how such ad hoc and inadequate measures towards irregular migration especially, will have negative impacts on ASEAN security connectivity due to the missing link between “national security and human security” of current practices in ASEAN.

Introducing the idea of people mobility, Dr Petcharamesree hinted at its problematic nature, being a concept that is limited to mobility of tourists, skilled labour and professions as well as students. She proceeded to cite various statistics demonstrating the migration dynamics within ASEAN populations, such as how SEA alone hosts a total of 2.8 million people of concern, including over 483,000 refugees, 68,000 asylum-seekers, 462,000 internally displaced people, and over 1.4 million stateless persons. Dr Petcharamesree then mentioned how this has been incorporated in the ASEAN blueprints 2025: (i) the political and security community blueprint  includes “non-traditional security issues” seen from the lens of trafficking in persons and smugglers; (ii) in the economic community blueprint, humans are seen as a human capital asset; and (iii) in the socio-cultural community blueprint, where humans are seen from a vulnerability perspective, for instance, groups such as women and children.

Dr Petcharamesree then raised two issues with ASEAN’s approach towards migration. Firstly, it does not have a policy and clear agenda on migration, except ASEAN mutual recognition agreements and a few other declarations. Moreover, discussions on refugees and asylum seekers as well as statelessness have been nearly inexistent. Secondly, ASEAN policies have tended to label migrant workers, refugees, asylum seekers and victims of trafficking as a security threat, which has significant implications in terms of laws, norms, policies and procedures. She argues that in the migration context, this label has been used to justify harsh and restrictive policies such as border control, as well as greater surveillance and deportation. These issues have raised concerns on the dangers of policy silence from a national security perspective as the invisibility of these millions of migrants leaves them in an insecure position.

After introducing the stakeholders in ASEAN, such as the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers as well as the international community, such as the US State Department (Trafficking in Persons report). She recommends that ASEAN formulate a collective, coordinated regional response to issues associated with sudden and ongoing episodes of displacement regardless of the causes and status of migrants. To conclude, she states that human security of migrants has to be included in the regional security connectivity to promote effective responses and ensure that all ASEAN peoples are secured.

Dr Vannarith Chheang, in his keynote speech, raised that discussions about connectivity often refers to merely infrastructure, institutions and people, missing the dimension of security connectivity. He stresses that this is a new dimension that should be brought into discussions. He recognised that water resource security is a sensitive issues, especially in light of the South China Sea dispute, in which it is difficult to find consensus amongst involved states, posing a challenge for regional cooperation. Accordingly, he proposes 4 recommendations, as follows.

First, to connect stakeholders as individual states spend a lot of resources to analyse security issues in silo, and especially as water resource security issues are connected to food security, energy security and wider issues of climate change. He raises the problem of building complementarities amongst institutional/cooperation mechanisms, citing the example of how the China-Japan dispute led to Japan stopping coordinating foreign policy for the Mekong River. However, he states that by the end of 2019, discussions on the Mekong river will advance to the summit level, and the engagement of actors will be significant. However, he acknowledges that while there is a need to be integrated to some extent, this is largely subject to the political will of actors. Second, to connect knowledge as knowledge and information sharing is critical for confidence building, despite some countries being reluctant to share information related to the water level within their sovereign country. Dr Chheang stresses the need to ensure that hydroelectric power dams are managed properly and do not pose a threat to food security. He hopes that with ASEAN-Europe next year, the dialogue of multilateralism will be brought to higher levels, and discussions by ASEAN on security connectivity will include these issues. Third, to connect ASEAN with the Mekong River Commission, which stems from his recognition that ASEAN lacks enforcement mechanisms despite its various action plans. Dr Chheang proposes that the Mekong River Commission could be part of the framework that complements ASEAN’s confidence-building, together with other regional and sub-regional mechanisms. Fourth, a code of conduct, which Vietnam is trying to include in conflict resolution mechanisms. Stressing that there is a need to push this agenda further as security connectivity is linked to conflict resolution, Dr Chheang states that based on the ongoing spirit of negotiations, it could be included in the ASEAN Regional Forum to build a rules-based ASEAN, in order to enforce whatever member states have agreed upon.

Dr Do Thanh Hai begins his keynote speech by stating that ASEAN is a victim of its successes – pacifying power and centrality. He notes that there have been and currently exist various threats to good order at sea, both traditional and non-traditional security challenges, and discussed these issues in relation to differing time period. From 1991 to 2009, there were non-traditional security challenges, including terrorism, piracy and robbery and illegal trafficking. The period after 2009 was, and is, characterised by traditional threats which are state-based, as well as non-traditional challenges like rising tensions over territorial maritime disputes as well as environmental destruction of islands. He raises another set of problems – transnational security problems, which include the rising number of instances of armed piracy and armed robbery, the fact that Southeast Asia is the main supplier of heroine and morphine to Oceania, as well as the depletion of fish stock due to destructive methods of fishing.

First introducing the nature of maritime security as transnational and regional, multi-dimensional as well as involving multiple stakeholders, Dr Do raises several national security remedies, at a national level (e.g. developing maritime capabilities, promoting maritime development), at the bilateral and sub-regional level (e.g. negotiations for delimitation, joint patrols and exercises, joint development), as well as intergovernmental efforts. He notes that these are very complex multi-level structures for maritime cooperation in Asia Pacific. Dr Do then provides certain observations on the gaps of these remedies, including (i) the lack of resources, facilities and insights, (ii) the return of geopolitics and the dampening of international law, with the advent of arbitral rulings as stipulated in UNCLOS, (iii) the crippled effects of sovereignty and national security paradigm due to the recognition of the state as the main security provider, (iv) the lack of a South China Sea costal state forum, (v) the sidelining of other stakeholders such as fishermen, scientists, businesses and socio-political organisations, and (vi) the rise of new technologies that have disrupting effects, for example, deep drilling technologies.

While recognising that international law, the UNCLOS in particular, lays out certain obligations to cooperate, Dr Do states that, with the broader region in mind (East Asia, Indo-Pacific), ASEAN should push for a regional cooperation on fish stock and environment. He notes that in ASEAN, there has been signs that ASEAN is a bridge builder, such as in the conference on environmental protection in the East Asian Seas (CEPEAS), which includes stakeholders such as governments, relevant international organisations, businesses, fishermen, oceanographers and environmentalists.

While recognising that international law, the UNCLOS in particular, lays out certain obligations for states to cooperate, Dr Do states that with the broader region (East Asia and Indo-Pacific) in mind, ASEAN should push for a regional cooperation on fish stock and environment. He notes that ASEAN has the potential to be a bridge builder, as evident in its Conference on Environmental Protection in the East Asian Seas (CEPEAS), which involves stakeholders such as governments, relevant international organisations, businesses, fishermen, oceanographers and environmentalists. Lastly, he commented that there is a need for better use of resources, such as by consolidating existing mechanisms.  

In his closing remarks, Mr Henning Glaser brings up several learning points and insights to summarise the seminar. First, there is a need for a perspective of change. Second, issues should not merely be looked at through the ASEAN lens, but also from the perspective of regional and security issues, for instance, in the case of the Mekong River, the grave magnitude of issues surrounding the Mekong River is evident from the looming possibility of starvation of more than 200 million people who depend on it for food. Third, the code of conduct is not the law, rather, it is set within the context of countries that are powerful, rising and denying other countries’ access and freedom of navigation. These issues are not merely satisfied with the code of conduct because at best, it is merely to exclude certain powers to ensure that Southeast Asian powers are dominant. Fourth, the Rohingya issue is going to be a serious problem in the future – in camps, there are already profound structures related to serious terrorism threats. These issues are exacerbated as stakeholders in ASEAN have different approaches to the Rohingya issue. Fifth, Mr Glaser stresses that these issues are set in the context of domestic and geopolitical dynamics. In particular, relating to domestic politics, the outcome of elections have profound consequences on what ASEAN means in the future and how these governments will relate to each other and to the big powers in the world. To this end, he reiterates that Southeast Asia is very much connected and dependent on not only South Asia but also East Asia. To conclude, Mr Glaser states that fear drives people to look for something that gives them security, and ASEAN is this possibility. Where governments of ASEAN member states are afraid to go too far or find themselves on a track that progresses too quickly for them, those governments might find in ASEAN the chance to slow down and avoid decisions (in situations where decisions have to be made in power rivalries).