I have found it interesting to watch over the last several decades the unification goals of neighboring nations.  Once possibly enemies that have forged alliance in order to capitalize on power against more formidable unions and lead economic nations.  In the case of ASEAN the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (2-24-1976) was signed in order to maintain the autonomy of each of the member nations.  This is a bit different that the EU in which a common economic (currency) unity was formed and even involved regional mobility in the form of the Schengen Visa and EU passport.  So it ends up being the convergence of interests in the areas of,

  • Economic Growth (probably the biggest aspect but most complex of all the objectives),
  • Social Progress,
  • Cultural Development and 
  • Stability in the Region

What is a bit confusing is how these goals can possibly come into congruence given the diversity of the countries in terms of economic and cultural differences.  While some believe that all you have to do is to snap your fingers, holds some meetings and discuss how things can be leveled out the reality is that it will require a concentrated unified mandate.  This in an of itself challenges the accord as mentioned earlier.  How can you have compliant change and equalization without directing change within each and every one of the ten (10) member nations?  Some socially and cultural have a much stronger attachment to the ASEAN unification that others, in fact some of the originating member nations who you would think to be the strong backers of change are today some of the most staunch opponents for some very personal and controversial reasons.

The effective implementation of a real and positively constructed alliance will require sweeping change in just about every nation.  While some may have more barriers to overcome, others will still need to make change in order to make prudent inline adjustments.  It will most certainly require a comprehensive examination of key contributors to the goals of ASEAN.  These contributors will then have to be evaluated both internally and in unbiased fashion outside of the nations involved in order to formulate an appropriate action plan and timetable for implementation.  Most certainly additional changes will be required and a close monitoring maintained over the ever changing dynamics within the region.

Most certainly issues that require attention will center on the following.  Each nation is convinced they are bring value to the pact but are apt to either over estimate the value or undervalue their shortcomings.  This is why it is so important that proper impartial evaluation takes place.  Some of the areas will most likely include,

  • economic balance and currency equalization,
  • foreign direct investment policy (fdi),
  • balance of trade within region and globally,
  • trade agreements,
  • import/export policy including anti-dumping and IPR (intellectual property rights) protection,
  • matters relative to special inter-ASEAN activities include immigration, aviation, media, and internet,
  • education (all levels),
  • human rights, and
  • rules of law including arbitration and extradition.

A man is not an island and the creation of the ASEAN alliance brings together both opportunity as well as challenges.  Positive and meaningful creation of ASEAN will depend upon whether its some diplomatic exercise that sounds good but does little, or whether the current 10 members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) are simply fair weather participants.  I know that time will tell but I am hoping that the discussions will become open starting today and not left to occur upon the embarkation or the next scheduled meeting.  Stay tuned for the upcoming regional economic integration to occur in 2015.

One last concern is the question relative to the turbulence that will impact non-ASEAN nations.  Whether its with the general geographic region (Japan, India, Korea, China, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand) or much further afield in North and South America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  As we have seen instability in Asian monetary markets sends jitters elsewhere, and with a unification that is new (and possibly unstable) one can only wonder whether the outside world will side with the change or reserve their intimacy on a one-on-one basis with individual ASEAN nations.  I am sure that if the ASEAN pact can do the right things, take the proper measures and be real that the world community will embrace the change.  This is not to say that the world community must give approval but without an acknowledgement ASEAN may be just a bit of paper without being able to capitalize on the strength in unity as it was first imagined.



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