"Regional integration does not come naturally"

A KAS.DE interview with Dr. Beatrice Gorawantschy about the reactions in Southeast Asia to the Brexit referendum

The result of the British EU referendum shook not only Europe; it also had notable impacts on the Asian financial markets. “Southeast Asia will draw its lessons from the European developments,” Dr. Beatrice Gorawantschy says in an interview with The region is characterised by conflicts and could benefit from more cooperation and a new security network.


Dr. Gorawantschy, how do the countries of Southeast Asia deal with the outcome of the British EU referendum?

The result of the referendum had direct implications for the Asian financial markets, which have by now stabilised. Many Southeast Asian countries have free trade agreements with the European Union and are now discussing whether and how to proceed with these. One question is whether separate free trade agreements have to be negotiated with the United Kingdom.

Another issue is the status of regional integration and cooperation. In the past, Europe and the EU in particular had a pioneering role, especially in terms of regional integration. But ever since the European financial and economic crisis this has been called into question. The European refugee crisis reemphasized this. As a result, different perspectives have emerged: some say "Europe is a continent in decline", while others believe that the Brexit referendum is an opportunity for Europe to reassess its development and focus on its founding ideas. The lessons Asia learns from the British referendum are: regional integration and cooperation are not perceived as coming naturally, the enhancement of regional cooperation does not always develop linearly, and economic as well as political implications are always interdependent.

In the view of the Southeast Asian countries, the refugee crisis in Europe is also a key factor that has contributed to the Brexit referendum. But the region itself experiences even larger refugee movements...

Exactly, but migration is not a new issue to them. It has a long history in the region. This becomes evident in the multi-ethnic composition of the countries. However, the extent of refugee movements has increased significantly in Asia in recent years. The reasons for this lie in long-lasting conflicts and crises, the escalation of violence, for instance, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But even natural disasters like in the Philippines or ethnic conflicts in Myanmar cause such flows.

Due to a lack of proper legal frameworks, huge problems exist when dealing with the influx of refugees. In addition, coordination and transparency are limited in the region. Although there are instruments like the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, these do not really exercise their mandate.

The conflicts that you mentioned also result in an unstable security situation…

…Yes, the security situation in Asia is volatile. The conflict in the South and East China Sea is in the first place over natural resources, but in fact it is much more, namely the power rivalry between the "old" superpower USA and the "new" China. Generally speaking, the security architecture in Southeast Asia is falling apart - and this poses a very high potential for further conflicts.

The threat of international terrorism is high and is increasing through Islamist tendencies – also in Islamic Asian countries. I see another challenge in the many intrastate conflicts, especially in countries with separatist movements. But one must not forget the non-traditional security threats: energy, climate, cyber security, piracy, arms smuggling.

The ASEAN countries have to cooperate more. Thus, many call for a rule-based security network. This could be achieved through existing regional cooperation mechanisms such as ASEAN or SAARC, or also new dialogue formats.

A German version of this interview is available here