If the last decade of the 20th century, to whose final death throes we are now the unhappy witnesses, can be termed the Age of Nationalism, then the 21st century, whose pale dawn is visible over the horizon, can be aptly described as the Coming Age of Regionalism.
This Foreword focuses on regionalism rather than on ASEAN because the latter is no more than a local manifestation of a global political, economic and cultural development which will shape the history of the next century.
Should regionalism collapse, then ASEAN too will go the way of earlier regional attempts like SEATO, ASA and MAPHlLlNDO. All that remains today of these earlier experiments are their bleached bones. Should the new regional efforts collapse, then globalism, the final stage of historical development, will also fall apart. Then we will inevitably enter another Dark Ages and World War III, fought this time not with gun-powder, but with nuclear weapons far more devastating than those exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Modern technology and science are pushing the world simultaneously in the direction of regionalism and globalism. What is responsible for today’s economic disintegration, disorder and violence is the resistance offered by nationalism to the irresistible counter-pressures of regionalism and globalism.
As of today, there are only two functioning and highly respected regional organizations in the world. They are, in order of their importance and seniority, the European Community (EC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The first came into being in 1957 and the second in 1967. A mere ten years separates the two. The population of the European Community as at 1990 was 350 million, and that of ASEAN an estimated 323 million. In terms of population, they are not all that unequal. In terms of political and economic dynamism, though, the gap is qualitatively wider. The economic dynamism and the proven political cohesion of ASEAN is nevertheless slowly but steadily narrowing the gap between the European Community and ASEAN. To compare ASEAN with the so-called Little Dragons of Asia is to compare unrelated political species. The Little Dragons are lone wolves hunting separately. They lack collective strength or awareness. With them it is a case of each wolf for itself. In the case of ASEAN, as integration proceeds, its strength will be the cohesiveness of over 300 million people with far greater resources than any of the lone baby dragons.
The most remarkable feature about the two regional organizations is their continuity and coherence despite the persistence and often unmanageable turbulence and tensions that have and still characterize the post-war world. There have been some 100 international, civil, racial and religious conflicts. Far from abating, these are growing in number. By comparison the European Community and ASEAN are the still centres in the eye of the storm. There is apprehension that chaos, not order, is the draft of world politics and economies today. For many, the expectation is that tomorrow will be worse than yesterday and that history has been a descent from the Golden Age to the Dark Ages. To quote the poet Yeats, though the world is seemingly intact: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.”
Yet the two multi-racial and multi-cultural regional organizations I have mentioned con- tinue to grow in maturity, cohesiveness, and confidence. They believe that regionalism can survive the buffeting winds and storms.
The European Community, unlike ASEAN, has had far more experience with regional organization because its founding members, in particular Britain, France, Holland, Belgium and even Germany participated in the creation and management of far-flung complex global empires. Their scientific and technological cultures were many light years ahead of all preceding cultures and civilizations. However eminent and admirable pre-European tradi- tional civilizations were, the 19th and 20th century culture created by the West cannot be surpassed or displaced by invoking ancient creeds. Only Japan has so far demonstrated that the gap between medieval and modern cultures can be narrowed and possibly over taken. Moreover, only Western nations and Japan have demonstrated a capacity for con- structing massive modern empires, though unfortunately, they demonstrated this by their ability to organize and unleash modern wars. No Asian nation, however, has fought, let alone won, wars of comparable magnitude. Saddam Hussein’s chest-thumping has the resonance of hollow drums.
Western Europeans have over a period of 500 years built a chain of multi-racial and multi-national empires that at their peak stretched from Portugal and Spain to the Pacific shores of Russia, and parts of Asia and Africa. So reconstituting a West European regional community should be child’s play for them.
But creating and managing, within a brief period of only 25 years, an ASEAN community of six economically and industrially under-developed peoples who had no experience of administering a modern, complex multi-racial regional organization verges, in my view, on the miraculous.
The reach of the ancient empires of Greece, Rome, China, India, Persia and Babylon, ruled by allegedly Divine emperors, was ludicrously short and their claims of being rulers of World empires were fanciful exaggerations. The effective extent of their empires did not go beyond the palace and surrounding villages.
Modern nationalism, regionalism and globalism are of a different order politically, economically and even psychologically. Nationalism is a 19th century concept. Earlier forms of nationalism were, in fact, imperialism. It united petty principalities, states and clans into nations. These have now outlived their usefulness.
But regionalism is based on concepts and aspirations of a higher order. Asian regionalism was first launched on 25 April 1955 at Bandung. It was initially a comprehensive Afro-Asian Conference presided over by Heads of Government. It included legendary figures like Sukarno. Nehru, Zhou Enlai, Kotalawela of what was then Ceylon, Sihanouk and Mohammed Ali, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. However, this regional effort did not last long. Asian and African nationalisms which helped speed up the collapse of Western, and later Japanese imperialisms, did not last long.
Within a few years after its founding, not only Afro-Asian solidarity but also the solidarity of individual Asian and African nation states was in disarray. The destruction of nationalism is today being brought about, not by Western imperialism, which had already grown weary. thanks to two world wars, of holding sway over palm and pine, but by Third World nationalism. The economic and political underpinnings of European nationalisms were in fact, even before the start of the 20th century, beginning to crack. In fact, Lord Acton. towards the end of the 19th century, predicted the inevitable collapse of nationalism. I quote his judgement- “Nationality does not aim either at liberty or prosperity, both of which it sacrifices to the imperative necessity of making the nation the mould and measure of the state. It will be marked by material and moral ruin.” This prophecy is as accurate today as it was when Lord Acton made it in 1862. So was Karl Marx’s prophecy about the inevitable collapse of nationalism but for different reasons. He predicted the overthrow of nationalism and capitalism by an international proletariat. So did Lenin and so did Mao with their clarion call of: “Workers of the World unite.”
Internationalism has a long history. Chinese, Christians, Greeks, Romans and Muslims were never tired of announcing themselves as “World Rulers”, However, after World War II, empires went out of fashion. It is today being gradually replaced by a more rational form of political and economic organization.
The early years of the 20th century witnessed, for example, experiments with a novel form of regionalism -continental regionalism. It was formed by simply prefixing the word “Pan” to the continents of Europe, Asia and America -Pan-Europa, Pan-America and Pan-Asia, of which Japan, after having in 1905 defeated the Russian fleet in one of the most decisive naval battles ever fought in the Tsushima Straits, became Asia’s most persistent publicist. After World War II, Pan-African and Pan-Arab movements were added to the list. However, these early “Pan” movements have since then either collapsed totally or are in the process of violent disintegration because of dissension on grounds of race, religion, language or nation.
However, the word “Pan” has recently been revived in East Europe. It is called “Pan-Slavism” and is today being revived with bloody vengeance. The multi-racial and multi-cultural Yugoslav nation that President Tito created during World War 11 and which is today being torn apart is a grim warning of what can happen to nations possessed by racial and religious demons.
The new regionalism that is now emerging out of the ruins of post-World War II nationalism appears to have learnt from the errors of the past. A more sophisticated and realistic form of regionalism is being constructed, not as an end in itself but as the means towards a higher level of political, social and economic organization.
I propose to do no more than list the names of some of the new regionalisms now taking shape. Basic to this approach is that there is not going to be any sudden great leap forward from regionalism to globalism. However, none of the new regionalisms now taking shape are as bold as either the European Community or ASEAN. The latter two are more rationally focussed regionalism. But a word of caution is necessary. We must know how to handle these new regionalisms intelligently. They could be steps towards global peace, progress and cultural development or they could be fuel
for World War III.
Foremost among the new regional approaches is the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum. Among the many other regional concepts waiting in the wings are: the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); the Group of Seven (G7); East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC); Pacific Economic Co-operation Conference (PECC); the amiable Little Dragons of South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan for which no acronym has yet been announced. There are also the distant rumbles of the possible emergence of Big Dragons but as a Chinese saying goes: “There is a lot of noise in the stairways, but nobody has so far entered the room.” One fervently hopes that when a Big Dragon turns up, it would be an amiable Great Dragon and one which would know its way around the Spratly and Paracel Islands but without being a Dragon in a China shop. World War II started, it must be remembered, simply because the German and Japanese Dragons got their maps all wrong.
Real regionalism requires a world-view if it is not to lose its way in the global world of modern technology and science. It must also have a rational and deep understanding of the new history which is being shaped not by heroic individuals, but through the co-operative inter-action of some 5 billion people who today live in a vastly shrunken planet and who, thanks to growing literacy and fast-as-light electronic communication, are better informed about the world we live in than earlier generations. Nobody, not even super-computers can predict what will happen when each day the flow of history is cumulatively determined by individual decisions made by 5 billion human beings who are asserting their right to a decent and just society. Fewer and fewer people today believe that oppression, hunger and injustice is God’s will to which they must meekly submit. People today know the difference between “Let us pray” and “Let us prey”.
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism has, in no way, made for a more peaceful world. Wars have ended in the West- ern world but not so elsewhere. World War III, should it ever be unleashed, would be the last war mankind will ever fight.
As a student of history, I believe that it is not common ideals but common fears that generally hold groups and nations together. The moment the common fear disappears, the brotherhood becomes an arena for dissension, conflict and even bloodshed. Two world wars and what is going on in Africa, Asia and Central Europe provide ample proof that we live in dangerous times today.
However, I believe there is evidence suggesting that ASEAN is an exception to the rule. ASEAN was born on 8 August 1967 out of fear rather than idealistic convictions about regionalism. As one of the two still surviving founder members of ASEAN (the other being Dr Thanat Khoman) I can attest to the triumph of fear over ideals.
The anticipated military withdrawal of the Americans from Vietnam in the eighties raised the spectre of falling non-communist dominoes in Southeast Asia. It appeared then that both the East and West winds of communism had joined forces to sweep over Southeast Asia. Fortunately, Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand carne to ASEAN’s rescue. The Sino-Soviet split started. The East and West communist winds were suddenly blowing in contrary directions. The second outburst of ASEAN fear was in December-January 1980 when Vietnam with the backing of the Soviet Union proclaimed the liberation of not only its Indochina Empire but also of the whole of Southeast Asia.
Fortunately for the first time in the history of an Asian regionalism, ASEAN, instead of trembling with fear, dug its toes in and decided to stand up against a Vietnam that had never ceased to boast that it had defeated two great Western powers in Vietnam – first the French and then the Americans.
So in the case of Vietnam, it was not belief in regionalism but resolution, born out of common fear, that eventually brought about the collapse of communist Vietnam.
Today a new fear haunts ASEAN and which, I believe, now makes inevitable the emergence of ASEAN regional solidarity, and, no less important, the actualization of the ASEAN Free Trade Area or AFTA. I also believe this solidarity will manifest itself politically and militarily so long as a common fear persists.
1 September 1992