ASEAN as a “Rules-based Community”: Business as Usual

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In establishing the ASEAN Economic Community, ASEAN political elites emphasised their commitment to the rule of law. The definition of the rule of law adopted in the ASEAN Charter mirrored UN reforms that recognised the rule of law as interlinked with democracy and human rights. This commitment raises questions, given the various tactics employed by the grouping’s authoritarian and post-authoritarian regimes to silence dissent. This article critically assesses this apparent shift in regional governance. It first maps the inclusion of rule of law rhetoric in agreements since ASEAN’s foundation, and then examines the form and implementation of dispute settlement mechanisms. It finds that dispute settlement mechanisms have consistently retained the scope for protracted political and bureaucratic negotiation between disputing parties, and “opt out” clauses that enable their contingent application. These findings undermine claims regarding the development of a “rules-based community”, and indicate the continuation of rule by law rather than rule of law. The emphasis placed on ASEAN’s rule of law reforms by elites suggests, then, the rebranding of this political project in support of the ASEAN Economic Community so as to create confidence for investors in the region’s juridical environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210–228
Number of pages19
JournalAsian Studies Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2018


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