SEACA: Peoples’ solidarity is key to ASEAN Community Building

As member-countries of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) march towards integration in 2015, civil society organizations and the peoples around the region struggle to counter the negative impacts of this regional project.

As member-countries of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) march towards integration in 2015, civil society organizations and the peoples around the region struggle to counter the negative impacts of this regional project. Several observers of the regional grouping believe that it is not yet ready for the ASEAN Economic Community. For instance, many believe that marginalized sectors, including small farmers, entrepreneurs, migrant workers and laborers will bear the brunt of ASEAN economic integration.
The South East Asian Committee for Advocacy (SEACA), a regional organisation and Diakonia partner, works with local, national and other regional civil society organisations to bring out peoples’ concerns, and facilitate their involvement and participation in the ASEAN integration processes. In this interview with Diakonia, SEACA Regional Coordinator Corinna Lopa upholds the view that regional solidarity and people to people exchange are key to enhancing participation and improving the lives of the peoples of ASEAN.
Diakonia: Is there real solidarity in Asia? Why do you say so? Why do you think SEACA should be involved?
SEACA: There can only be as much solidarity in Asia as much as there is knowledge about Asia outside of one’s own sphere. Yes, there is solidarity in Asia, prodded by many of the Asian regional CSO networks. Through people-to-people exchange programs and regional meetings and conferences, knowledge about the rest of Asia is growing, greater knowledge about the diversity and similarities in the region is increasing, and along with it real solidarity. I say there is peoples’ solidarity because there is a growing consensus regarding the analysis of problems and issues in the region.
SEACA is focused on capacity building for advocacy of peoples’ issues, and creating spaces for South East Asian peoples’ engagement with their governments and inter-governmental organisations, specifically the ASEAN. That is our contribution to this process of solidarity and community building within South East Asia. SEACA co-convenes the SAPA Working Group on ASEAN which is a coordination and action platform for civil society engagement with the ASEAN. It is also able to share its learnings and analysis with others in the Asian region through its involvement with Asia Democracy Network. Through these networks, large voices and constituencies are able to stand behind burning issues and campaigns in the region, and make policy recommendations that will benefit people and communities.
D: Have advocacy strategies changed or has people evolved more into other forms of influence (focus on business ethics, political parties etc.)
S: Advocacy strategies have definitely evolved, reflecting an appreciation of the broader and more complex nature of social issues and problems, and looking at the different stakeholders as well. Where attention on advocacy began with capacity building of CSOs and national and regional networking, complementary focus has been devoted to engagement with power holders, official mechanisms and processes in different levels of government including intergovernmental organisations. Over the last few years, attention has been devoted as well to engaging the private sector, which is often in collusion with states in advancing its corporate interests. Thus, advocacy has been devoted to engaging businesses, challenging the limits of corporate social responsibility, and advancing the notion of corporate accountability. In the arena of advocacy, lobbying and public influencing, attention has also been paid to engaging political parties, legislators, and the security establishment. The use of social media and new and emerging technologies have likewise altered the terrain of advocacy strategies. With the onset of a globalized world, global and inter-regional solidarity has become an essential part of advocacy with transnational actors impacting on the lives of communities, nations and regions.
D: Is it important for local organisations to be involved in regional advocacy or should there be complementarity between national and regional advocacy? What will happen if people do not become interested?
S: Certainly, there must be complementarity between local, national, regional and international advocacy. Battles won on standards and norms at the international level need to be translated down to the smallest villages. Quite often regional and national standards are not up to par with international standards and norms to which countries and regions have already agreed to. Across the region, and globally, it is also important to see common issues and problems that need concerted regional and global solutions, action and solidarity for greater effectiveness.  Lack of awareness of and lack of interest in the regional and global aspects of a problem will render inappropriate responses and solutions.
D: Why do you think your organisation is important in responding to Asia’s current situation?
S: ASEAN as an association of South East Asian nations is evolving and is steering itself towards one community in 2015. ASEAN is ensuring that its community pillars grouped under the political, economic, and socio-cultural communities are able to guide this process. Such community building involves ASEAN nations’ peoples, and therefore SEACA is engaged in capacity building for advocacy so that NGOs, people’s organisations, peoples’ movements, national and regional networks are able to advocate with their governments and the ASEAN on issues and policies that affect their lives.
D: How can people participate in SEACA’s advocacy/activities? How can people support what you are doing?
S: We encourage everyone to support SEACA’s CSO capacity building programme to engage ASEAN effectively; participate in the SAPA Working Group on ASEAN of which it is its co-convenor, in order to facilitate regional strategizing on engagement with ASEAN; and finally, join SEACA’s initiatives on inter-regional solidarity (with South and North East Asia) through the Asia Democracy Network.