ASEAN Decision-Making and Policy Change in Southeast Asia


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Session 10
Fri 11:00–12:30 Room 1.102



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Long criticized as a talk shop, ASEAN has made significant progress both in the regularization of its decision-making procedures as well as its reach into various policy areas. Regional-level decision making, particularly since the establishment of the ASEAN charter, is increasingly having an effect on ASEAN’s member states and their national policies. Progress has been made in all of ASEAN’s three pillars, although to varying degrees. The ASEAN Economic Community has been the policy area with the most political traction, as can be seen in several areas such as competition policy and the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA). Progress within the political-security and socio-cultural pillars of the organization has been more modest, but observation suggests an increasing regionalization of decisionmaking in these areas as well. Incoherence remains on some contentious issues, most visible in the Philippine turnaround on the South China Sea in 2017 and continued regional inactivity in the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.

The increased policy importance of the regional level can at least partly be tied to changing norms and mechanisms in regional decision-making. Beyond the much-noted ASEAN Way and its emphasis on consensus and non-intervention, ASEAN utilizes a variety of informal and semi-formal decision-making mechanisms to address emerging regional issues. One such example is the chairmanship of the organization, which has a profound effect on ASEAN’s agenda. Another one is the ASEAN sectoral bodies, which partly provide the agenda for the ministerial meetings and summits from the bottom up. Civil society increasingly plays a role at different stages, providing inputs and monitoring outcomes of regional negotiations and activities. External partners also affect ASEAN’s policies to varying degrees, due to the organization’s strong commitment to external economic and political relations.