These are challenging times for the global economy and for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which met over the weekend in Thailand. Forged during the turbulent 1960s, ASEAN has evolved from a group that sought to restore political stability in the region to an economic bloc, and now into a major player on the global geopolitical stage. The organization has also grown from the original six members to 10, with the inclusion of the three Indochina countries and Burma.

More important, ASEAN now has as dialogue partners all the major economies in the East Asia region plus India. This is a powerful grouping representing half the world’s population and some of the world’s fastest growing economies. Indonesia has long been seen as the natural leader of ASEAN, given its size and central position in Southeast Asia. When Indonesia has been strong and economically robust, ASEAN has been strong and forceful. Conversely, when Indonesia struggled to overcome its internal problems following the 1997 financial crisis, ASEAN too suffered. Under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia is once again asserting its leadership within ASEAN and, as a member of the Group of 20, on the broader global stage.

It comes as no surprise that Yudhoyono’s address at the summit touched on Asia’s role in overcoming the global financial crisis and a new proposal for the foreign ministers of the 16 East Asian countries to meet ahead of the G-20 summit. Yudhoyono’s ability to crystallize the issues illustrates his statesmanship and leadership qualities.

He has elevated Indonesia onto the global stage and, under his presidency, Indonesia is displaying the hallmarks of a country that not only has the largest and fastest-growing economy in the region, but of a nation that has the capacity to set agendas that will take the association forward. On his first overseas trip after being inaugurated to a second five-year term, the president called on all East Asian countries to maintain real growth and to push ahead with resolving the deadlock in World Trade Organization talks.

As the only ASEAN member to be part of the G-20, Indonesia has both a duty and a responsibility to represent the organization there, at what is viewed as the most influential global grouping, even ahead of the Group of Seven industrialized nations. But as Indonesia rises, so does ASEAN.

The new emerging world order is still being defined, but ASEAN’s role will remain central in shaping this order. As Indonesia’s new foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, noted, it’s difficult to imagine how Indonesia can influence the G-20 if it does not play an influential role within ASEAN.

Source: The Jakarta Globe

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