Why It Matters

Asean set to do better together

On Sunday, leaders of all 10 Asean countries signed a landmark declaration that will formally establish the Asean Community on Dec 31 this year.

The Asean Community seeks to draw members of the 48-year-old grouping closer together by integrating their economies, working together to improve the lives of their people, and ensuring that peace and stability are maintained in the region.

This is why there are three pillars or aspects to the Asean Community. One is the Asean Economic Community, better known as AEC. Its birth can be traced back to 1992 when leaders decided to form an Asean Free Trade Area to improve trade flows.

It envisions a common market and measures to make businesses more competitive and let professionals move more freely across borders.

Why does this matter? In a challenging global economy, few countries can match up to competition from Asian giants China and India. But as an economically integrated region with sufficient diversity and rules to safeguard investments, Asean has a stronger chance of holding its own.

With the global economic outlook still uncertain, the AEC offers Asean countries a way to jointly lift incomes for their 625 million people.

But economic growth also needs security, and the Asean Political-Security Community, the second pillar, brings officials together regularly to tackle tough challenges, from terrorism to maritime disputes. It also enables Asean to speak with one voice on matters like the South China Sea.

Economic and political cooperation can go only so far when people do not feel they are part of Asean. The Asean Socio-Cultural Community is the third pillar that seeks to strengthen an Asean identity through youth exchanges and other efforts, and responding jointly to natural disasters.

The peace, stability and growth Asean helped to develop in the region in the past decades have been key in fuelling Singapore's progress. This will get a further boost with the ongoing strengthening of the Asean Community, as it will help to lift Singapore and its Asean neighbours to a new level of growth.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2015, with the headline 'Asean set to do better together'. Print Edition | Subscribe