Indonesia, one of the most influential members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will host the ASEAN leaders’ summit this September. A topic that is sure to come up is ASEAN centrality—the idea that the institution of ASEAN should be the primary force behind any region-wide architecture built in the Asia-Pacific. Though each ASEAN member interprets the principle of ASEAN centrality differently, some view the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad)—a partnership including Australia, India, Japan, and the United States—as a competitor to the grouping in the region. However, the structure and benefits of the Quad are very different from those of ASEAN and complement rather than supersede the grouping.
ASEAN has a strict principle of non-intervention in its member states’ affairs and consequently has played an important role in economically integrating the region. However, the grouping has been constrained with regard to two factors—balancing China and the delivery of global public goods. ASEAN has always been wary of any explicit containment of China, in part because China has closer relationships with some ASEAN members than with others. The whole raison d’être of the Quad, on the other hand, is to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific—that is, an Indo-Pacific in which China does not get to set or reinterpret the norms of maritime behavior.
This offsets any burden on ASEAN and therefore should align with the interests of all ASEAN countries. Moreover, the Quad has begun to offer global public goods that should be of interest to ASEAN, including humanitarian disaster relief and the development of infrastructure, digital connectivity, and public health. As both ASEAN and the Quad have strengths and weaknesses, forging a solid relationship between the two is key to Indo-Pacific stability. To read more about the need for cooperation between ASEAN and the Quad, see the original piece in the Hindustan Times, available here.