Why BREXIT Strengthens Beijing’s Hand in the South China Sea 

BY PHAR KIM BENG / 18 MAR 2017 / SCMP

As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) reaches its 50th anniversary it would do well to consider the irony that as it celebrates its golden jubilee, the entity that inspired its creation in 1967 is losing one of its most important members.

With the British parliament this week passing the Brexit bill, the way ahead is clear for Prime Minister Theresa May to trigger the two-year divorce process that would remove Britain from the European Union. May has vowed that will happen by the end of the month; some Whitehall insiders have suggested it may happen as soon as next week.

While Brexit may seem like a small pebble thrown into the far-away pond that is Europe, its significance for Asean – and by extension the East Asian Summit of 16 nations – should not be underestimated. Why not?

Contrary to what the founding fathers of Asean claim, the 10-member body for regional cooperation is remarkably similar to the EU and it is built on the same principle – eliminating regional tensions.If the European project fails, or seriously falters, why should Asean succeed?

If the European project fails, or seriously falters, why should Asean succeed?

This question is particularly pertinent when you consider the political wills that drove the creation of the two bodies.

The DNA of European integration was planted not by the likes of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant or Jean Rousseau, even if pro-European politicians like to quote them. Rather, it emerged from the ideas of former French resistance fighters such as André Boulloche. Boulloche had witnessed the horrors of the second world war – losing nearly half of his family members to Nazi atrocities – and it was from this devastation that the idea of one Europe, undivided by seemingly perpetual French-German rivalries, emerged.

Neither Asean nor the East Asia Summit has a figure equivalent to Boulloche – the focus on Asian integration is about convenience. It is driven by market logic rather than deep humanitarian instinct. Why then should its binds prove more lasting than the EU’s?

Secondly, while there is some truth to Asean’s claims that its decision making is more controlled and less structural than that of the EU – whose stifling levels of bureaucracy were a large part of the reason Britons chose to extricate themselves – the point is that all such regional integration projects are based on overarching, supra-regional ambitions – the politics of the grandiose.

Brexit has revealed such projects to be little more than organised pretences.

Indeed, with Brexit, even pretence may no longer be tenable – Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants Scotland to leave Britain in the event of Brexit, leading to the possibility that in voting itself out of one regional union, Britain will have set in motion a chain of events that will bring about the dissolution of an even older regional union – the United Kingdom. Read more…

 

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