When I was 3, my mother, like millions of other housewives from all around Indonesia, decided to sign up for work in foreign countries. She was sent to Saudi Arabia and worked as a maid for about ten years in total. My step father was also an Indonesian worker who earned money from his Malaysian employer. For more than a decade he was a provider for his big family before he supported my family once my mother settled at home to raised her daughters. By the time my parents returned home permanently, me and my sister were no longer slept in our relative’s house and lived under the solid building with comfortable roof instead. For me, ASEAN and Malaysia in particular, is an important part of my family journey. I believe so are millions of Indonesian workers whose payroll depends on their rich employers in Brunei, Singapore or Malaysia. Those countries alters their course of life.

For many people, those aforementioned countries are the epitome of economic glory. Those countries offer so better opportunity at work that many people race to be employed regardless the job preference in order to get a decent salary. They are oblivious to the notion of ASEAN as a regional power with coveted status of the new Asia’s powerhouse. They hardly recognize the concept of ASEAN community, let alone ASEAN as an entity. They see that there are economic opportunity but sadly they don’t grasp the core reality of ASEAN as regional community. When they are challenged to this discourse, an intriguing question emerged, “Does it matter?”

Should it matter?

(photo retrieved from asean.org)

(photo retrieved from asean.org)

Yes it matters. It should matter.

The comprehensive concept of ASEAN shouldn’t be the known only by elite communities. The government, scholars, and big industry players are not the only parties that will be affected by the new wave of free trade and border-less exchange. The lack of knowledge about ASEAN can mislead the civilians and grass root communities to act upon the current economic or social circumstances. The limited mindset will encourage majority to focus on earning money rather than creating strong economy alongside with solid security and tight solidarity. To achieve a strong economic stability in each member states, ASEAN must assure the security in its region and that the existing conflicts can be settled by promoting non-violence force and upholding societal norms. Those situation will never happen if the people of its member states do not possess the same sense of identity towards ASEAN.

(photo credit: private collection)

(photo credit: private collection)

Khun (2009) in his book The Architecture of Security in the Asia- Pacific claims that one of the restricting factors why ASEAN has slow integration force despite its burgeoning power is the country member’s civilians lack of sense of belonging towards ASEAN. How people perceive themselves towards ASEAN determines the dynamic of the community that amassed more than 600 millions people in the region. The strong identity of being one unity as ASEAN members will help Indonesian to see the big picture of the real opportunities and consequences that lie ahead. The improvements to compete in seizing economic opportunity is not at fault, however by knowing that we are one community that seek for mutual benefits, our act will beyond money-wise. We will be able to make use of opportunities to improve relations by enhancing cultural understanding and therefore it will strengthen the regions bonds and the unnecessary conflict could be avoided.



Khun, Zhai. (2009). The Architecture of Security in the Asia- Pacific. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24h898.8 on September 24, 2017


By Evi BAITUROHMAH, ASEAN Correspondent from Indonesia