The fighting and fallout in Sabah rises interesting and sombre questions about the value of ASEAN in resolving issues among its member states.
The association prides itself in providing a forum whereby the heads of states are able to meet and resolve regional tensions in an amicably manner, plus a few photo shoots and shopping in various capitals would not hurt. However, in terms of deliverables such as trade, political or military interoperability (I don’t even dare to use the term integration), the association is far behind other regional organisations such as the EU.
This latest crisis will continue to strain the relationship between Philippines and Malaysia as Malaysian leaders toe the line between fighting the insurgents and respecting Philippine’s sovereignty. Back home, Malaysia citizens are criticizing the way the crisis is being handled and elections are looming. Mr Najib will likely win this election but his popularity may suffer if this crisis drags on and is mishandled. Philippines, likewise, faces a dilemma as its leader, Mr Aquino is portrayed as not helping his fellow Filipinos in a fight against Malaysians.
With its non-intervention policy and deliberately not discussin “sensitive” issues in its official agenda, can ASEAN hope to provide a fast resolution to this issue?