In June 2019, the ASEAN Secretariat released a document aptly named the “Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.” This is monumental as an official recognition of the Indo-Pacific by the ASEAN bloc. We encourage you to read the full document.
Nonetheless, we’d like to summarize key aspects of the Outlook below. In the document, ASEAN recognizes that the Pacific and Indian Oceans are essential to global economic growth, and has been for decades. Like any good plan, the Outlook starts by highlighting opportunities and challenges. Opportunities include continued economic growth of the Indo-Pacific region, which will in turn help to alleviate poverty and elevate the living standards of tens of millions of people, if not more, throughout the region. Challenges include the current trend of mistrust among world powers, and international relations based on a zero-sum game.
The Outlook candidly states that ASEAN is “forging and shaping the vision for closer cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and to continue to maintain its central role in the evolving regional architecture in Southeast Asia.” We as young leaders agree with the sentiment in the Outlook that “ASEAN Centrality is the underlying principle for promoting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.” Two of the key elements listed in the Outlook include: (1) “An Indo-Pacific region of dialogue and cooperation instead of rivalry.” (2) “An Indo-Pacific region of development and prosperity for all.” The key objectives of the Outlook include “helping to promote an enabling environment for peace, stability, and prosperity in the region,” and “promoting closer economic cooperation, and thus strengthening confidence and trust.”
Arguably the best part of the Outlook is the section on Principles, which includes, but is not limited to:
- Good governance
- Respect for sovereignty
- Complementarity with existing cooperation frameworks
- Mutual respect
- Mutual trust
- Mutual benefit
We aim to facilitate the Indo-Pacific Youth Dialogue with the same principles in mind, especially inclusivity—of nations, genders, age, religion, socio-economic status, and other identities. We deeply believe in the power of exchanges among young leaders, such as the Indo-Pacific Youth Dialogue, because the experience builds mutual respect and trust.
The Outlook outlines areas of cooperation; the three main areas described are Maritime Cooperation, Connectivity, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
On Connectivity, ASEAN aims “to achieve a seamlessly and comprehensively connected and integrated region that will promote competitiveness, inclusiveness, and a greater sense of community. The increasing integration and interconnection among Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean countries require efforts to build connectivity infrastructures, including physical, institutional, and people-to-people linkages.” More concretely, this means developing a “regional public-private partnership (PPP) development agenda to mobilize resources.” Another way they will explore the connectivity theme is by “exploring synergies with sub-regional frameworks, such as, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), and Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS).”
Last, but not least, on the area of Connectivity, ASEAN’s strategy for Indo-Pacific engagement includes “people-to-people connectivity, through cooperation, collaboration, and exchanges” plus “addressing challenges of rapid urbanization through the ASEAN Smart Cities Network.”
As young leaders, we are especially excited that one of the three areas of cooperation outlined in the Outlook is the Sustainable Development Goals. It is now 2020, which means we have entered the Decade of Action and only have ten years left to achieve these goals for all of humanity. We are determined to implement Agenda 2030, in full, and on time. There is no alternative. There is no Planet B. The Outlook recognizes that the SDGs are in line with those of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. One of the suggested ways to achieve these goals is to align the regional development agenda with the SDGs. ASEAN has taken a key first step to “walk the talk” by launching the ASEAN Center for Sustainable Development Studies at Mahidol University in Bangkok. This Center was launched in November 2019 in Bangkok at the 35th ASEAN Summit. The Outlook does summarize other possible areas of cooperation, including Digital Economy, SMEs, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, Deepening Economic Integration, and Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
We look forward to discussing many of the topics integrated in the Outlook during the Indo-Pacific Youth Dialogue. We hope we can play a meaningful role in advancing ASEAN’s “Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.”