Looking forward the future of ASEAN “common roof” (article 4):

'Having worked across ASEAN, I am very passionate and optimistic about its future': Regional Director for Southeast Asia at TBI

Sharing with the WVR, Mr. Damian Hickey, the Regional Director for Southeast Asia at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) emphasized that ASEAN has very good foundations to master the future.
Tony Blair
Damian Hickey, the Regional Director for Southeast Asia at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) is passionate and optimistic about the future of ASEAN. (Photo: PH)

What do you expect about the future of ASEAN and its foundations for sustainable development?

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s ASEAN Future Forum initiative comes at a critical time for ASEAN as it plans for its future. Vietnam is following through on the promise of the Ha Noi Declaration on the ASEAN Community’s Post-2025 Vision and maintaining important momentum for these discussions.

As a prominent and active member of ASEAN, Vietnam has a compelling story to share about its development journey and contribution to strengthening ASEAN unity. Vietnam’s future is truly boundless, and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) is proud to support the Vietnamese leadership in delivering on its vision for the Vietnamese people and for ASEAN as a whole.

There is always an exciting opportunity to do great things when senior political decision makers come together- in this case from ASEAN member states, dialogue partners, and development partners - and focus on a collective vision. Much can be achieved when we are clear about the opportunities and challenges, correctly frame the key decisions that are necessary, inform these decisions with the best information available, and agree on how to turn these decisions into meaningful action. TBI is expert at turning bold ideas into reality and we hope to support the ASEAN Future Forum with those principles in mind.

“ASEAN deserves to be heard on the important global conversations on climate, technology, and sustainable development. The ASEAN Future Forum is an opportunity to help inform ASEAN’s voice on these issues and create momentum for positive change.”

Having worked across ASEAN for many years, I am personally very passionate and optimistic about its future. The fundamentals are clear - ASEAN boasts a growing, young, and tech-savvy workforce, the world’s fastest-growing digital market, and is an important gateway for international trade.

The proof of its potential lies in the decisions that global companies are making to invest in ASEAN. Global value chains for future growth are embedded in the region, from Vietnam’s electronics sector to Indonesia’s nickel deposits and Singapore’s logistics hubs. ASEAN will undoubtedly be a center of gravity for global growth and innovation for decades to come.

It is up to ASEAN leaders to make best use of this immense economic and social wealth and communicate ASEAN’s vision to the world. ASEAN deserves to be heard on the important global conversations on climate, technology, and sustainable development. The ASEAN Future Forum is an opportunity to help inform ASEAN’s voice on these issues and create momentum for positive change.

As I know that you will join the session in ASEAN Future Forum: “Ensuring comprehensive security for a people-centered ASEAN Community”. In order to have a comprehensive security for a people-centered ASEAN, what are core elements that ASEAN need to ensure?

This session invites us to look at security in the broadest sense - beyond the traditional concepts of military capability and strategic planning. We should seek to examine some of the more fundamental - or “people centered” - drivers of security in the modern world, such as inequality of opportunity and prosperity. We must find enduring ways to broaden the base of our prosperity to ensure the maximum wellbeing of our citizens.

Climate change also cannot be ignored as a growing source of insecurity for ASEAN and its people. Five of the world’s most at-risk countries to climate change are located within ASEAN, so this must be a priority as we plan for the future security of its members.

Of course, we must also consider the geostrategic factors affecting our region and recognize that ASEAN has a significant role to play. Rising tensions in parts of the world and growing geopolitical uncertainty is placing unprecedented pressure on global value chains. Major power competition will continue to present difficult decisions for ASEAN leaders. The future role of technology and artificial intelligence will present enormous opportunities but could also trigger society-wide disruption. ASEAN leaders must have the confidence to face these challenges and articulate a vision to meet them, based on the guiding principles of ASEAN centrality and prosperity grounded in stability.

What could this vision look like? Here are some principles to consider:

The rule of law. Adherence to international laws, the United Nations (UN) Charter and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea will be essential to the peaceful and practical resolution of tensions. ASEAN can show leadership by framing its future vision around these foundations of global peace and security.

Shared responsibility. Global and regional challenges simply can no longer be addressed by individual countries in isolation. The shared strength of ASEAN should be dedicated to a shared responsibility to support each member in their economic development, social cohesion, and national security.

Embrace technology. Technology will almost certainly fuel the next phase of global growth, but it must be properly understood and managed by governments. It is vital that the benefits of technological advances are distributed fairly. ASEAN can lead the way in establishing universally acceptable standards and guidelines that encourage innovation while protecting privacy and equity.

Leverage diversity. ASEAN is home to abundant riches of culture, history, and creativity in its people. This wealth must be fully harnessed by promoting respect, closer connectivity, and mutual understanding. This is the real strength that will drive ASEAN’s future.

What are your comments on Vietnam's efforts in promoting ASEAN to adapt to the new environment and the development of the ASEAN Community?

Vietnam is an important member of ASEAN and the global community. It is widely recognized by international partners as a country with great potential to develop sustainably, be a center of innovation, and make meaningful contributions to global issues. Vietnam is therefore well placed to offer new visions of the future—in the climate and energy transition, the technological revolution, and maintaining regional peace and security. The ASEAN Future Forum is an ideal vehicle for these visions to be formed and articulated.

But there will be much work to do in turning these visions into reality. Hard collective decisions must be made. Economic and political resources will need to be committed and sustained over a long period of time. Leaders must take their people with them on this journey for change, explaining why it will ultimately be beneficial. And still, this is no guarantee for success. But ASEAN’s collective commitment to pursue and sustain its future vision will be a worthy and necessary enterprise - one that TBI is excited to be part of.

Damian Hickey is the Regional Director for Southeast Asia at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI). Prior to TBI, Damian was the Deputy Chief of Staff and head of policy for the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defense. He was also a policy adviser to the Australian Minister for Trade, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Assistant Minister for Pacific Island Affairs. For over a decade, Damian served as a diplomat with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including postings to Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.
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