ASEAN: Leaders Focus On Building The Community
ASEAN: Leaders Focus On Building The Community
The community building of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), gauged toward the goal of establishing an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015, is expected to be on the top agenda at a regional summit that kicks off here on Wednesday.
However, ASEAN officials have recently indicated that the date of Dec. 31, 2015, should not be seen as a deadline, but an important milestone in a progressive process. Officials are drawing up a new roadmap for ASEAN community building covering a 10-year period subsequent to the current roadmap for 2009-2015.
In developing the next roadmap, ASEAN leaders are poised to take into account upcoming challenges it faces in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, while continuing to work on unfinished job left over from the first roadmap, scholars told Xinhua in interviews ahead of the ASEAN summit and related meetings.
“When the AEC vision was created earlier, the world economy was quite different,” said Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit, an assistant professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
The ASEAN Community comprises three pillars such as the AEC, the ASEAN Political-Security Community and the ASEAN Socio- Cultural Community, led by efforts on the AEC. While it is difficult to quantify the progress, a scorecard gauging the progress released by the ASEAN Secretariat in May shows that the bloc has achieved 80 percent of the required steps.
Most recently, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a forum that ASEAN has achieved some 85% of the targets set out. ASEAN may not necessarily get an honor, but it will pass the exam, he said.
ASEAN has made remarkable achievements in terms of free trade of goods, with tariffs already close to zero on most of the products.
The AEC vision is defined by factors, such as a single market and production base, a competitive economic region, equitable economic development and integration into the global economy.
Observers said that the remaining 15 percent of the targets, though only a small part, are the hard ones, as they may involve domestic efforts. Kaewkamol said that they mainly fall into issue areas such as non-tariff barriers, services trade liberalization, investment liberalization and free flow of people, particularly skilled labor.
There are also challenges arising from the changing global economic landscape. The European economy remains weak and the recovery in the United States has been slow. Meanwhile, the ever closer integration of the regional production network has been a key factor, too, Kaewkamol said.
“These immediate challenges we have to address in 10 years. I think these elements will be put into the vision beyond 2015,” he said.
Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, highlighted connectivity, consensus and ASEAN centrality as the three core issues that ASEAN leaders will have to tackle beyond Y 2015, with non-traditional security challenges as another Key area of cooperation.
“ASEAN Centrality will consequently have to be re-emphasized to maintain ASEAN’s relevance in the face of geopolitical flux,” he said.
ASEAN has been known for being a platform for cooperation in the wider region. Such cooperation, including the China-ASEAN cooperation, often works by building on consensus so that it is comfortably acceptable to all parties involved, said Mi Liang, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
“For political and security, the emphasis should be on supporting the ASEAN centrality,” said Termsak Chalermpalanupap, leading researcher for political and security affairs at the ASEAN Studies Center of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
At the upcoming Summit a report is expected to be submitted by a taskforce charged with generating ideas on how to strengthen ASEAN bodies, including the ASEAN Secretariat.
While consensus is important for ASEAN to stay together, the regional cooperation will have to be driven by economic cooperation, said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
The community has also said it sees the need to be more people-centered, largely due to the rise of non-traditional security issues, such as health security, food and energy security, as well as disaster management. These challenges provide an additional driver for regional cooperation, scholars said.
By Chen Jipeng, Xia Fan
Paul Ebeling, Editor
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