The ‘ASEAN Way’ The Structural Underpinnings of Constructive Engagement

  • Logan Masilamani, Simon Frasier University (Vancouver)
  • ASEAN Ideas in Progress Series 5/2021

    Centre for International Law

  • 2021


This article explores the foundations for ASEAN’s constructive engagement policy with Burma. It separates the policy into economic and political components. The economic aspect was driven primarily by the pragmatic self-interests of ASEAN members seeking to gain greater access to Burma’s rich natural resources and cheap labour force. The political element was more consistent with the “ASEAN Way”, a cautious and informal decision-making process style within the organization. ASEAN was careful not to meddle in Burma’s domestic affairs, as most members were themselves struggling to achieve genuine democratic progress. In general, pragmatic concerns took precedent over normative goals in engaging Burma. While improving Burma’s respect for democratic processes and human rights were the normative goals of constructive engagement, reducing China’s economic influence in Burma, maintaining regional stability, enhancing economic relations with Burma, and assuaging pressure from the West were crucial. Constructive engagement served as a rhetorical tool that ASEAN utilized to show the international community that it was taking action on Burma, while affording it the space to pursue its principal economic goals in Burma. Political and economic engagement were not appropriated in tandem to improve Burmese democracy, but worked separately to advance ASEAN member states’ economic interests.

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