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A nation must think before it acts.
Despite worries that ASEAN is becoming weak, the organization remains as strong as it ever was, given the parameters of its design. Its member countries still tightly embrace the organization’s principles, the “ASEAN way.” But simple adherence to those principles can be problematic. ASEAN countries, whose national economic and political interests collide, often appeal to the same principles to back their positions. That tends to pull ASEAN in different directions. Great power policies, particularly those of China and the United States, now exacerbate the situation. At the same time, ASEAN’s reliance on multilateral consensus has made it difficult to reconcile real differences among its member countries or develop unified regional responses. That can be seen in issues from the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River to the South China Sea. The ease with which ASEAN’s principles can come into conflict and its consensus-driven decision- making can become deadlocked clearly marks the limits of the “ASEAN way.”