In November 2007, the heads of the ten member governments of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a charter that will, once ratified, give the association a legal personality. The charter, significantly, requires more of its members than a reassertion of the traditional ASEAN norm of non-interference and the practice of consensus. The charter lists a number of novel goals among the organization's purposes: ‘to strengthen democracy, enhance good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.’ In view of the wide economic and political disparities between the member states of ASEAN, this article examines whether strengthening democracy would in fact facilitate ASEAN's goal of becoming an integrated political, economic and security community. Rather than enhancing an integrated community, democratization would arguably create a faultline between the more politically mature and economically developed states and a northern tier of less developed, authoritarian single-party dominant regimes in South-East Asia. Moreover, given China's emerging political and economic importance to the region, such a strategy would, as if by an invisible hand, draw the more authoritarian ASEAN states into China's less than democratic embrace. This article concludes that rather than strengthening democracy, ASEAN's charter needs urgently to reinforce practices of rule governance and mechanisms of market integration to enhance both ASEAN's economic profile as well as the region's autonomy.
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Document Type: Research Article
Visiting Professor in the Department of South-East Asian Studies at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and teaches in the School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Australia.
July 1, 2008