The “ASEAN WAY” Revisited For Strengthening Regional Environmental Governanance: A Macro Perspective

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Yitian Huang


The “ASEAN Way” has been applied to tackle regional environmental problems in Southeast Asia for decades. As the political economy in Asia Pacific has become more turbulent in the 2020s, the “ASEAN Way” faces more difficulties. This article attempts to explore how the “ASEAN Way” could play a larger role under new circumstances. After looking into the traditional concerns about international actors, it discusses the domestic constraints of the “ASEAN Way”, which include corruption, lack of environmental capacity and negligence. On this basis, it analyses traditional implications of the “ASEAN Way” for environmental governance. It suggests that being non-interfering in nature, the “ASEAN Way” has three technical features in the sense that it is in favour of strengthening and using institutional linkage, promoting standard harmonisation, and integrating environmental protection into a broad development agenda. Three new challenges at the macro level are identified and discussed: industrial relocation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Sino-US tension. Then it analyses three directional policy options for augmenting the “ASEAN Way” in the face of old and new conditions: further involving environmental NGOs, incrementally engaging neighboring countries and international institutions, and adopting a market-oriented approach to transnational policy coordination. It concludes by discussing how these policy options could be gradually implemented by ASEAN and its external partners.


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