ASEAN Community

>> Sunday, 18 April 2010

At its Ninth Summit in October 2003 the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced its intention to create an ASEAN Community based upon three pillars: ASEAN Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and an ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. A year later ASEAN established the Vientiane Action Programme to realise this goal.

The process of ASEAN community building is a result of the considerable change in the association’s mission in the recent two decades. The end of the Cold War, the advance of globalisation, the rise of China and India in economic size and political influence as well as the Asian financial crisis have forced ASEAN to shift from its original preventive diplomacy of maintaining peace and harmony among its members and in the region to the constructive diplomacy of community building to cope with increasing political and economic competition in a globalised world.

In more details, one of the most notable threats to ASEAN members is China, whose robust economy is in direct competition with those of its Southeast Asian neighbours, especially in trade and foreign direct investment. Meanwhile, in recent years, the sleeping dragon has also tried to enhance its economic and political influence and presence in the region, particularly in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. This important change has increasingly drawn ASEAN states, which share the common fear of intrusive outside powers, into the long-term strategic competition between the United States and China in Asia Pacific. In order to cope with China and avoid external intervention, Southeast Asian countries feel the need to act collectively and to lean on each other, so that they can have combined strengths as well as better bargaining power in both economic and political issues. The same will work when dealing with an amalgamated or regional community such as the United States and the European Union, or with international organisations such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation.

Besides, in the time of economic globalisation and after it was hit hard by the Asian financial crisis, forming an economic community will help Southeast Asia boost its economic competitiveness and attractiveness to investors inside and outside the region (Almonte, 2006). In a 2003 study done for the ASEAN economic ministers by McKinsey & Company warned that “The region is falling behind its rivals. Turning it into a true single market would... help restore its economic luster”.

In terms of political and security issues, internal ethnic and religious tensions (most dangerously in Myanmar, Southern Thailand, Eastern Indonesia and Southern Philippines) have led to cross-border instability, terrorism, illegal migration and drug-trafficking. These and other problems such as air pollution, avian flu, AIDS all require regional concerted and coordinated actions.

Against this backdrop, the future of the region and of ASEAN will be, to a considerable extent, contingent on the degree of success of community building.

The ASEAN Community is based on three intertwined and mutually reinforcing pillars: ASEAN Security Community (ASC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). The ASC is expected to maintain and strengthen peace, security and stability and enhance ASEAN’s capacity for self-management of regional security. It includes maritime cooperation and fight against terrorism, but no plan for a regional military bloc or defence pact. Besides, member countries are free to pursue their own foreign policies and defence arrangements. Meanwhile, the mission of the AEC is to develop a single market and production base that is stable, prosperous, highly competitive and economically integrated with effective facilitation for trade and investment in which there is free flow of goods, services investment, skilled labours, and freer flow of capital. But it will not adopt a common currency like the European Union. And last but not least, the ASCC is for a Southeast Asia bonded together in partnership as “a community of caring and sharing societies”. The ASCC Plan of Action contains four core elements: Building a community of caring societies, Managing the social impact of economic integration, Enhancing environmental sustainability, and Strengthening the foundations of regional social cohesion towards an ASEAN Community. In 2005, member countries agreed to establish an ASEAN Charter, which would serve as the legal and institutional framework for the regional organisation and the ASEAN Community. Although it will not take on any supranational functions, with its ambitious goals, the ASEAN Community is believed to have far-reaching and important impacts on the lives of the people in Southeast Asia.


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