The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) turned 40 on Wednesday and since its establishment the group has contributed much to regional development and stability by adopting the "ASEAN mode," said a signed article in the People's Daily.
Consultation, harmony and cooperation lie at the heart of the mode's core values, which have helped the bloc transform itself from a regional lightweight in the early years to an organization wielding significant regional influence in politics, economy and culture, the article said.
The need to adopt consultation within ASEAN is based on the fact that there are huge differences among members. The only effective way to promote integration in such a region is through consultation rather than compulsion, the article said.
As for harmony, with a view to establishing a peaceful and stable alliance among nations, ASEAN always upholds its fundamental principles of respecting every member's independence, sovereignty and equality, non-interference in other members' internal affairs, a peaceful settlement of disputes and restraint from the use of force, it said.
These principles safeguard the organization's solidarity and harmony, which in turn guarantee progressive development of the region, it said.
Cooperation, the third characteristic of the mode, has also played an indispensable part in promoting regional development and stability, it added.
The ASEAN mode has exerted a significantly positive influence in establishing a rational order within the bloc as well as the international arena. Without resorting to force when settling disputes, as some western countries often do, ASEAN employs a "soft hand" in dealing with differences and disputes, the article said.
By providing a platform where all members are equally engaged in dialogue, ASEAN contributes immensely to maintaining regional stability and keeping a balance among regional powers, it said.
This role is best manifested in the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum, which brings together ASEAN members and East Asian countries, as well as India, Russia, the United States and the European Union to open dialogue on building trust, conducting preventive diplomacy and seeking a dispute-settling mechanism.
ASEAN also took a lead in promoting East Asian cooperation with the establishment of the "10+1", "10+3" and "10+6" meeting mechanisms, which form a new type of flexible and open regional cooperation.
The ASEAN mode is also unique in its way of promoting regional economic development, the article said.
As early as the 1990s, ASEAN put forward plans to establish a free trade area facilitating flows of trade, service and investment within the bloc. Up till now, tariffs on nearly 99 percent of trade products among members included in a preferential customs plan have been slashed to 5 percent or even zero, with an average tariff of 1.51 percent.
Furthermore, ASEAN grants less developed members different grace periods with regard to timetables of opening markets, taking into consideration different development stages and capabilities among members.
It is true that many challenges lie ahead for ASEAN's further development, including internal imbalances among members, unstable situations in some nations and far-from-perfect integration mechanisms, yet the ASEAN mode, with its ability to reinvent itself, will find the most suitable development course for the bloc.