Yuriko Koike says Brexit should serve Asia's "democracies" a lesson. First of all, how liberal are "democracies" in Asia? Secondly, Asia doesn't have an equivalent of a European Union, and its ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is anything but. The ASEAN is a 10-member organisation set up in 1967 in Bangkok by Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, it has since been joined by Brunei, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.
The bloc represents more than 600 million people living in the region, and aims to promote collaboration and co-operation among member states, as well as to advance their economic interests. Yet ASEAN has been slow in expanding, and extensive cooperation leaves much to be desired. Only in December 2015 had the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) been set up, whose "four pillars" - single market and production base, competitive economic region, equitable economic development and integration in globalised economy - aim to consolidate the economy of the region. ASEAN had negotiated a free trade agreement among member states and with other countries such as China, as well as eased travel in the region for their citizens. The freedom of movement, like the one EU members enjoy, is in its inception.
It comes as no surprise that many in Asia see Brexit and Europe's problems as distant concern "about which they know and care little. But the truth is that the populist surge now rocking the West has its own echoes in Asia." The author warns against the danger of "greater disunity" in Asia, as it lacks "the West’s connective institutional framework /the EU/ and regional shock absorbers." Most ASEAN countries share little - history, ethnicity and political culture - in common. If they share same borders, they have been traditional rivals, and "historical memories" are still "raw" and continue to sow divisions." Relationships are often marked by an atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion and envy. As politicians often whip up nationalism in foreign policies to distract their citizens from grievances , there is little hope for the bloc to forge real close ties.
It explains why China has an easy game in its territorial disputes with some of the ASEAN countries in the South China Sea, because Beijing can negotiate bilateral deals with them, in the absence of unity within the bloc and its "collective security process." The author says, "all Asians must recognize that their countries and region are equally vulnerable to those /China/ who would undermine the rule of law and today’s existing structures of peace and prosperity, flimsy as they may be." She then urges Asia to "take note of the message Brexit sends." Honestly does she fear the same scenario within ASEAN? The bloc has an annual GDP of $2,3 trillion, compared to EU's $18,5 trillion, and Singapore is by far its richest member. Should it exit ASEAN, there might be an economic shortfall, but unlikely the same ramifications as the EU does, following Brexit.
According to Koike, Europe and Asia is seeing the rise of populism, that appeals to "voters’ basest instincts." As many "now take their liberties, security, and prosperity for granted," they simply "have lost sight of what made the post-war developed world so affluent, free, and safe to begin with" - hardships, endurance and tolerance. Prosperity and stability were "built on the rule of law, the fundamental integrity of our political institutions, and the openness of our societies." In recent months this "historical wisdom is now being mocked and dismissed, openly" - by the ilk of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage etc.
No doubt, "solidarity – a genuine sense of civic community and self-identity – is more necessary than ever to manage the profound social and political changes brought about by global capitalism." While trade may enable people across the globe to cooperate, but it doesn't "produce the sense of shared purpose that societies need in order to flourish." If hubris deters Asian leaders from reaching out to each other, civil societies should. Only cultural exchange and cooperation between various civil society groups can break down barriers, strengthen ties and "regional solidarity."
The author points out that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague "will rule on whether China’s expansive claim on ownership of the South China Sea has any legal basis" in coming weeks. She says it will be a "test" for Asia’s democracies, whether they are willing to "stand behind the Court's ruling, whatever it is. " By doing so, they "they can begin to demonstrate that, with a shared sense of purpose, they are prepared to defend the rule of law – and each other. " Brexit has posed a threat to "such robust solidarity....that helped impel European unity many decades ago. Now it’s Asia’s turn to try to get it right." Wishful thinking.