ASEAN is envisioned by its Leaders as a peaceful, stable and resilient region within a global community of nations that prides itself in maintaining ASEAN centrality amidst uncertainties brought about by ever changing geo-political dynamics. Following the launch of the “ASEAN Community” and the introduction of “ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together” as a Post-2015 Vision in 2015, ASEAN turned its attention to maintaining and promoting a peaceful, stable and resilient region with enhanced capacity and capabilities to respond effectively to challenges and to seize opportunities. And over the years, ASEAN has managed to address various different challenges through a shared commitment to helping one another through coordinated regional approaches.
However, the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has not only compounded the devastating impacts brought about by prior emergencies and disasters such as natural disasters, financial crises, disease outbreaks and energy shortages, but it has compelled ASEAN to amplify the importance of a whole-of-ASEAN approach and cross-sectoral coordination. While the pandemic showed the region’s vulnerability to new types of crises, it also presented ASEAN with the opportunity to further improve its overall response to address other regional emergencies and disasters. Moving forward, ASEAN must have a strategic, holistic, coordinated and cross-pillar response, especially as challenges become more complex and interrelated, with greater potential impacts on peoples’ lives.
While there already are existing cross-sectoral, cross-pillar coordination mechanisms in place, it is apparent that ASEAN Member States must now create synergies and harness their collective potential to enable their immediate activation when needed. A closer look could reveal better initiatives or processes that ASEAN could consider. That said, it is also important not to burden ASEAN by creating new mechanisms, but rather to have a common understanding to improve communication and linkages amongst ASEAN processes.
As Chair of ASEAN this year, and taking into account the need to build resilience and resistance to emerging regional and global challenges, Brunei Darussalam is proposing a Strategic and Holistic Initiative to Link ASEAN responses to Emergencies and Disasters (ASEAN SHIELD), which will elevate and formalise this longstanding, existing commitment into a regional approach. It is hoped that through SHIELD, ASEAN Sectoral Bodies will optimise the use of existing measures that can “shield” or protect the people during times of emergency or disaster, so that essentially disruptions are minimised, and daily life and services can continue.
The significance of swift action in times of crisis is not only pertinent at the advent of a pandemic. In fact, prompt action is necessary to address the violent conflicts and crises we witness around the world today, because they pose dangerous challenges to world peace and security. These include violence against women and children, illicit drug use and trafficking, youth and urban crime, hate crime/speech, intolerance and misinterpretation of culture. Crises such as the displacement of people from their homes as a result of man-made or natural disasters, and environmental degradation, too, pose the potential risk of undermining social cohesiveness as well as hamper regional development.
To this end, the strengthening of cross-sectoral, cross-pillar coordination and multi-stakeholder engagement can help to prevent as well as resolve conflict. As the most successful inter-governmental organisation in the developing world today, ASEAN can leverage on its strength in regional cooperation and help address the stigma of violence, whilst biding respect for justice and the rule of law and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. That was perhaps what five Leaders – the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – were envisioning as they sat down together in the main hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok, Thailand on 8th August, 1967 to sign the ASEAN Declaration.
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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN was founded on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok by the five original Member Countries; Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam joined ASEAN on 7 January 1984