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Localizing ASEAN: The Role the Local Government as the Main Locomotive in the ASEAN Integration Process

Localizing ASEAN: The Role the Local Government as the Main Locomotive in the ASEAN Integration Process

Mochammad Faisal Karim

Since its inception on August 8th 1967, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which now consists of 10 countries in Southeast Asia, has put a greater cooperation among member states as one of its main agenda. ASEAN members consider that any constructive relations with other member countries can strengthen the network of ASEAN economic cooperation and make it more effective in facing the challenges of the future.

In pursuit of a proactive economic cooperation, ASEAN tends to expand the economic cooperation within Asia Pacific. ASEAN has initiated many regional frameworks such as ACFTA, ASEAN Plus Three, East Asia Summit, and many more.

However, still, the cooperation that has been made to realizing an integrated region cannot eliminate the biggest challenge facing by the ASEAN namely the challenge to narrowing the development gap within ASEAN countries especially in the border region.

Many have argued that the failure of the current ASEAN development model in narrowing the development gap is due to its elitist approaches which lack the most crucial components that have brought about the success of other similar regional organizations namely general participation in the formation process (Benny 2011). The integration process in ASEAN has been viewed as capital city’s problem rather than a local government issue.

There is a promising mechanism in making the ASEAN more down to earth. Besides widening its regionalism, ASEAN also conducted the deepening process of its regionalism through the sub-regional economic cooperation. Currently, there are four sub-regional cooperations within ASEAN namely the Greater Mekong Sub region (GMS), the Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore Growth Triangle (IMS-GT), the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT); and the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). These sub regional cooperation could be a mechanism for ASEAN member to create more deep integration process (Dent & Richter 2011).

As argued by several Scholars  (Marks, Gary, Haesly, Richard & Mbaye, Heather A.D; 2002; Sánchez; 2011, Hessel; 2006, Hepburn; 2007), there is currently a major trend in the regional integration process in Europe and Latin America where there is an increased activity of local and regional authorities which can be classified as Sub-State level in the process of regional integration especially in the border area. Therefore, the trend of regional integration is going to be localised where the sub state actors such as the local government play a major role in the integration process.

The trend is also occurring in the ASEAN. The local governments play an important role in fostering cooperation in the regional integration process. For instance, local government units in Southern Philippines and North Sulawesi, Indonesia, tried to develop a smaller-scale growth area through cross-border exchange in education, commerce, and tourism. Therefore, the ASEAN has been deepening not only to the sub regional cooperation but also to sub state cooperation.

Yet again, even though the initiative involves towns and provinces in the border areas, many of the main actors and decisions makers are from the central governments. Hence, denying real participation to communities directly affected by this initiative. In the case of sub state cooperation in Kalimantan, the central government of Indonesia, in particular, has been lukewarm in supporting the scheme because of fears of losing full control over its border regions.

Furthermore, the problem in the border region is usually seen in the context of sovereignty issue. The tendency to see problems in the border region as a sovereignty issue is mostly caused by the development gap between the neighboring countries. In the case of Borneo, the development gap between Indonesia’s Kalimantan and Borneo’s Malaysia has created a tension in the border region. As a result many in Indonesia see the development of Malaysia’s Borneo as a threat Indonesia’s Kalimantan. Not surprisingly, the issue of development gap between regions Sarawak and Sabah Malaysia Borneo Indonesia often trigger the tensions between the central government of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Despite the above condition, the local governments in the border area continue to cooperate closely. For instance, in the 28th Indonesia-Malaysia Socio-Economic Meeting, both local government from Malaysia (Sabah) and Indonesia (East Kalimantan) agree to increase cooperation in tourism such as the provision of discounted flights and hotels in both countries. Moreover, West Kalimantan and Sarawak also agreed that each city/ county in the district will notify all invitations related to the field of culture and tourism. However, the cooperation in the sub state level is yet to become an important part of the ASEAN Mechanism in integrating the Southeast Asian region since the ASEAN mechanism in the regional integration process is still highly driven by the central government.

Therefore, the question needed to be asked is that:

  1. How the local government can enhance the regional integration process to realizing the ASEAN Community 2015? What sort of creative policy conducted by the local government to boost their economic cooperation
  2. Moreover, to what extent the local government’s role in regional integration process through socio-economic cooperation will likely to reduce poverty gap between the neighboring countries, the biggest challenge of ASEAN, through regional cooperation? Can regional cooperation between local government

Funded by ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership Program

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