What Are The Missing Links In The ASEAN Community?

ASEAN is in dilemma. The ASEAN Economic Community has its fair share of supporters and sceptics; some view it as visionary, others as outdated. As the timeline draws nearer to 2015, the gaping levels of awareness and confidence between the public and private sector remains widely divided. Here we ask where the stumbling blocks are.


Meidyatama Suryodiningrat

Editor-in-chief, The Jakarta Post

Well first of all, values are not defined or differentiated by ethnicity, religion, race or any of those sort of things. You can have different religions, be different ethnicity and have the same values. Common values means common respect for fundamental freedoms, democracy, human rights, respect for liberal economic regime, free enterprise, those sort of things. I mean those are the sort of values that what I’m talking about. How to disseminate and promote them? I think the business sector does a lot of that by their activities and in disseminating these ideals of liberal free and creative enterprise – you are instilling new values and you’re spreading values to the market place, which is where everybody goes to.

Rodolfo Severino JR.

Former secretary General of Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Head of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore

The main challenge is this first, the lack of awareness of the benefits, particularly of the benefits of regional integration. Then you have the presence of interest groups that oppose greater regional competition because they have gotten used to being, operating in a protected market. So those are the challenges, then the inability of governments to overcome these interest groups in favour of the country, of the economy in general. So that’s the big challenge and there’s also this sense of mutual suspicion that arises from territorial disputes, historical legacies, misunderstandings and so on. So you have this reluctance to enter into integration deals, whether with ones neighbors.

Ambassaor Kesavapany

Executive Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore

A lot of the problems are internally created. For example, you have a lot of restrictions within our borders, let alone between one country and another you have domestic barriers. For example in the area of services, like doctors, dentists, lawyers – the domestic associations prevent liberalization of services. Even if the governments want to do it, domestic trade associations want to protect the interest of their members who are not in favour of liberalizing it, etc. So, that’s one area. The other area is non-tariff barriers are to be seriously looked at and where they can be dismantled. Transaction costs are another area which is making it a very slow process towards 2015.

Amado Mendoza

Professor of Political Science and International Studies, University of the Philippines

We’re not there yet. There’s no free flow of labour. The minute you call a worker an undocumented worker, that is simply a symptom that there is no free flow of labor. You also don’t have free flow of services. For example, suppose I’m an accounting firm; I would not necessarily be able to practice in Singapore or in Brunei. That is also true for lawyers and so on. So what has been done is to stimulate freer trade, more liberal trade in goods, but we still have a long way to go.

Anies Baswedan

President of Paramadina, University in Jakarta

ASEAN must pass a test. The test is being mature as a family, as a community. Matured means to understand the limits beyond which differences cannot continue. The problem today is there are no differences that are being expressed and therefore we are not being tested as a community. In EU, there are stark differences between some countries. They debate those differences, but at the same time they are developing their maturity as a community. Us, we don’t debate. We don’t talk to Myanmar; we don’t talk to some of the countries. By talk what I mean is addressing fundamental issues that are present there. We refrain ourselves from being candid – frank – and I think as a community ASEAN needs to do that. With maturity, so meaning the way you deliver the message is very important, not only the message itself.

Grace S. Ugut

Associate Dean Asian Institute of Management

I can see that right now ASEAN is at like a “midlife-crisis”. The story of the 70s and 1980s, the growth is really in ASEAN countries. The most populous countries put forward a lot of reform around the 80s and early 90s before the crisis and the momentum was just lost after the financial crisis in 1998. Now, more than ten years of that crisis, we see there are emerging powers in the region which is really driven by China and India. This is about time perhaps for ASEAN to redefine what their role is and how they will be more competitive.

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