The Region: ASEAN’s Contested Centrality (WP5)

This WP examines the evolution of the ASEAN project within the global geopolitical and geo-economic context, with particular attention to the Association’s legitimacy – both in the process of its enlargement, past and present – and in the face of, what has been argued, is a crisis of globalisation. This WP will examine the dynamics of integration and disintegration, namely the centrifugal and centripetal forces, impacting on the Association in multi-lateral, ‘mini-lateral’ and bi-lateral contexts. We propose to examine the perception and reality of ASEAN as an institution by in four research modules, examining the Association as such, membership experiences, and ASEAN within wider regional and global contexts.

Research Module 1 examines ASEAN’s specific characteristics and norms and to what extent they have contributed to an imagined regional identity. Is ASEAN, as some neo-realist scholars would have it, more about “process than progress”? This module will involve studying ASEAN practice in areas such as energy security, military cooperation and maritime connectivity. This WP seeks to examine the rhetoric of the ASEAN way in the cold light of the praxis of ASEAN members.

Research Module 2, will undertake a comparative study of ASEAN enlargement, by looking at new domestic / foreign interfaces through a comparative case study of a recent existing member, Myanmar, and a candidate for ASEAN membership, Timor Leste. These case studies will address questions of social learning and norm diffusion through a study of domestic actors.

Research Module 3 focuses on ASEAN’s centrality in the context of competing regional projects. For example, competing FTA projects (CPTPP, RCEP), involving in the latter case only some ASEAN members, could at least, potentially be divisive. Moreover, is Foreign Direct Investment – especially that from China under the Belt and Road Initiative – in certain ASEAN members a factor facilitating or, on the contrary, one which is both divisive and thus, potentially, capable of undermining ASEAN’s centrality? It has been argued, for example, that both Cambodia and Laos are Chinese client states very reluctant to express solidarity with other ASEAN members who feel threatened, for example, by assertive Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea. Moreover, significant cross border actors, such as the Chinese province of Yunnan, would appear to have their own agenda in relation to their very close Southeast Asian neighbours.

Research Module 4 examines SEA regional integration in a wider global context and asks whether ASEAN is really central in the evolution, not only of East Asia, but also in relation to other regional constructions such as the Asia-Pacific and Indo-PacificWe propose to examine the impact of external forces – Sino-American rivalry, Russia’s East Asian thrust and a global European Union – in engendering integration or disintegration within ASEAN. The resurrection of the Quad – a partnership involving Australia, India, Japan and the United States – and the concomitant promotion of the Indo-Pacific as a geopolitical entity, is merely the latest regionalist development impacting on ASEAN.


Sophie Boisseau du Rocher


Moe Ma Ma


Natthanan Kunnamas