Cablegate: Bruneian Views of Asean's Future

DE RUEHBD #0088/01 0710514
R 110514Z MAR 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 07 Singapore 2085


1. (SBU) Brunei's First and Second Ministers for Foreign
Affairs and Trade have outlined a broad vision for ASEAN
emphasizing the creation of a regional identity via actions
that directly address the day-to-day problems of the
population in member states. They appear to see ASEAN
integration as a process best driven through the "soft
power" of the "Socio-Cultural Community" created by the new
ASEAN Charter, rather than the "hard power" of the
"Political-Security" or "Economic" communities that the
Charter also establishes. Their views may be motivated in
part by recognition that ASEAN has not proven very adept at
solving thorny political or economic problems through the
application of "hard power," leaving "soft power" as the
only currently viable option for building a regional
identity among ASEAN's populace. END SUMMARY.

Discussion in Singapore

2. (U) The Brunei Economic Development board sponsored the
initial "Brunei Forum" in Singapore from February 19-20.
The Forum was designed primarily to market Brunei to
potential Singaporean investors and trading partners, and
so focused primarily on economic issues. In addition,
however, it provided a venue for the First and Second
Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Prince Mohamed
Bolkiah and Pehin Lim Jock Seng, to discuss their thinking
on ASEAN's future priorities now that the organization is
entering a new phase of its existence with the signing of
the ASEAN Charter.

The Search for Common Ground

3. (U) In his delivery of the inaugural "Southeast Asian
Lecture" which opened the Forum, Prince Mohamed stressed
the need for ASEAN to undertake "real action" that was
relevant to the ordinary lives of people in its member
states. He explained that he was not looking for the
issuance of more "Roadmaps," "Development Plans," or
"Blueprints" that ASEAN produced so prolifically. Instead,
and without citing any specifics, he called for action that
"helps ordinary people directly with their day-to-day
problems" and could help build a "real" sense of an ASEAN

4. (U) Prince Mohamed warned that it was not enough to
hope for this sense of community to develop naturally out
of members' implementation of the ASEAN Charter. Instead,
ASEAN's ten members states, representing "at least half a
dozen different systems of government" and people of many
faiths, needed to identify a "common ground" of issues that
addressed the practical concerns of the region's
population. That, he believed, was the only way to produce
"the kind of community that all 500 million of our people
understand and believe in," and so provide a vision for
ASEAN's future.

Giving ASEAN "The Human Touch"

5. (U) Pehin Lim picked up on this theme and went slightly
beyond Prince Mohamed's generalities while participating in
a subsequent panel on "Brunei in ASEAN." Recalling the
ASEAN-led "cocktail party" diplomacy of the late 1980's
aimed at finding a political settlement in Cambodia, Lim
said that for him this had been te glue that gave ASEAN a
"sense of purpose" and helped it to gel into an effective
organization. Member states were now asking themselves
what would perform a similar function today. Signing the
ASEAN Charter, he believed, was a necessary step but only
the start of the process of answering this question. In
the short term, it would also be desirable for the ASEAN
Secretary General to become a leader who articulated and

implemented a region-wide vision, and move beyond the
current situation in which he was "only a secretary, not a
general." To that end, Pehin Lim raised the idea of a one
dollar per passenger ASEAN-wide airport departure tax to
provide an independent funding source for Secretariat

6. (U) Lim argued that in the longer term ASEAN should

BANDAR SER 00000088 002 OF 002

heed Prince Mohamed's call to build a sense of regional
community from the bottom up by pursuing programs that
touched people's lives on a daily basis. As an example, he
proposed developing a region-wide common curriculum for
ASEAN studies to give the younger generation a sense of
shared Southeast Asian history. Other ideas might be the
creation of an ASEAN University, or region-wide media
outlets; responding to a suggestion from the audience, he
added environmental protection campaigns to his list. The
common theme, he stressed, was that ASEAN needed "the human
touch." Asked by the Ambassador (who was in Singapore to
meet U.S. companies at the Singapore Air Show, but also
attended sessions of the Brunei Forum) to suggest a bumper-
sticker slogan for ASEAN that would define its vision and
rally its young people to such new regional institutions,
Lim offered "Toward a Peaceful, Prosperous, and Caring
Southeast Asian Community."

--------------------------------------------- --------
COMMENT: Is Soft Power ASEAN's Only Real Alternative?
--------------------------------------------- --------

7. (SBU) Although Pehin Lim's slogan encompasses the first
two "Community Councils" set up under Article 9 of the new
ASEAN Charter (reftel) -- "Political-Security" and
"Economic" -- both he and Prince Mohamed appeared most
interested in activities that would fall under the third
institutional leg, the "Socio-Cultural Community Council."
At first glance it seems puzzling that this would be the
stance adopted by the representatives of ASEAN's only
absolute monarchy, whose jobs do not depend on meeting
popular expectations or winning elections. Upon
reflection, it may simply be that they chose to emphasize
the "soft power" of the "Socio-Cultural Community" because
they recognize ASEAN has not proven very adept at applying
the "hard power" necessary to solve thorny political or
economic issues such as the political conflict in Burma or
the rapid creation of a true internal market. This "soft
power" approach will have its own challenges (it is
difficult, for example, to picture Indonesia, Singapore,
Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei agreeing on a common
history text covering the 1960's Konfrontasi), but it may
be the path of least resistance for those who would strive
to build a true regional identity among ASEAN's populace.


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