As we talk about ASEAN collective efforts against Covid-19, endeavour to achieve inclusive and equitable development and the like, we consciously and subconsciously desire to achieve the aspiration of building an ASEAN Community that is politically unified and strong, economically prosperous and socially cohesive and resilient, in which all members care for each other’s wellbeing.
But there is a huge deficit of such awareness among all walks of life in our region. This is an obstacle to ASEAN Community building effort; and if we want to succeed, peoples in our region should all feel that they are the soul and cells of ASEAN Community and are proud of it.
It is a significant positive step that the Narrative of ASEAN Identity is considered relevant and adopted by ASEAN Leaders at the 37thASEAN Summit last month. This document will serve as a guide to promote the “we feeling” and a sense of belonging to the ASEAN Community and pride among ASEAN peoples, as ASEAN gradually gain more respect from the international community for being a united community with one vision and one identity.
Enhanced ASEAN identity can be made on the one hand through efforts to promote ASEAN visibility such as with the enhanced use of ASEAN flag, logo and anthem, and on the other hand through awareness raising and recognition of the constructed values of the “ASEAN Way” – the principles of non-interference, consensus, mutual respect, consultation/dialogue, adherence to international law, democracy, freedom, promotion and protection of human rights, unity in diversity and ASEAN Centrality – and also the inherent values of ASEAN such as tolerance and humility.
As the current practice, Cambodia always displays the ASEAN flag together with our national flag at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and our overseas Missions, as well as at ASEAN events happening in Cambodia. We also use ASEAN anthem and aspire to increase its use where possible.
Positive contribution to the wellbeing of the international community by ASEAN members is another way that helps raise the profile of ASEAN as a whole. Contribution to the UN peacekeeping operations by Cambodia and other ASEAN members, for example, can be seen as ASEAN contribution.
Therefore, the adoption of the concept paper on the display of ASEAN flag next to the national flag at the compound of military units of ASEAN members participating in UN peacekeeping missions is another positive step forward.
While promoting ASEAN Identity, we also need to ensure that all our peoples see the real benefits of ASEAN for them, thereby engendering their participation in our community building, especially through ASEAN integration. This is an important agenda which reflects and reinforces ASEAN spirit in supporting each other to grow and prosper together.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has caused severe damage to the economy and livelihoods of ASEAN peoples, it is even more important that, during this new normal, the concept of ASEAN community is well mainstreamed, in ASEAN post-pandemic recovery efforts.
We should have more engagement with the youth as future leaders, and bring together civil societies and government officials to discuss the significant topics relevant to their livelihoods, jobs, health and education.
The values of ASEAN identity and principles as elaborated above need to be further consolidated, recognised and appreciated not only by ASEAN peoples, but also by the world.
In addition, we should continue to cultivate the source of ASEAN pride for being a successful regional organisation that has attracted more and more countries and other regional groupings to work with us and share benefits in term of peace, security and development.
To keep this momentum, ASEAN needs to work harder to safeguard regional interests by enhancing close development cooperation with its partners and maintaining peace, stability, and prosperity within the region.
In conclusion, enhancing ASEAN identity is the work of all its peoples because all of us stand to benefit equally from being a part of the community, with no one left behind.
Eat Sophea is secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and ASEAN Senior Officials’ Meeting (ASEAN SOM) leader of Cambodia.
This article was adapted from her speech delivered at the High-Level Roundtable on “A Comprehensive and Responsive ASEAN Community: 2020 Reflection for Bolder Joint Actions” on 17 December 2020 via video conference.