Asean integration will need firm commitment

Flags of Asean members at the Prime Minister's Office Building Complex in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, where the 22nd Asean Summit was held.
Flags of Asean members at the Prime Minister's Office Building Complex in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, where the 22nd Asean Summit was held. ST PHOTO: NURIA LING

The Straits Times survey in the 10 Asean nations on the topic of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) showed that only slightly more than half of respondents expect business to improve after the formation of the AEC; and only a quarter believe that Asean is close to becoming a community ("Asean to gain competitive edge as one community: ST survey"; Monday).

The results are not unexpected.

Though the AEC will become official next Thursday, it is just an ideological framework with no concrete resolutions to realise it.

Over the past five decades, councils and committees have been set up to conduct reviews and surveys, propose initiatives, and develop strategic frameworks and blueprints to achieve a greater common good for the region through cooperation and integration.

But we still have only a wish list, with few concrete action plans and a lack of urgency, conviction and commitment to see them through.

Member nations should now seek endorsement from their respective parliaments to firm up the plans and implement them in phases, together with an approved timeline and allocation of the needed resources.

Citizens also need to be informed of the implications, such as what national interests may have to be sacrificed to achieve regional common goals.

Only with firm commitment from member nations can progress be made. Nobody knows how long this will take or whether some member nations will back out because of resistance from their own citizens.

For nations that are determined to forge ahead, perhaps they should strengthen their national establishments which are involved.

Member nations that strongly feel the need to speed up integration may even consider setting up a ministry to deal with such matters.

Governments should also urge their citizens to get ready to make good use of the benefits of integration and to deal with any inconveniences associated with the process.

Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2015, with the headline 'Asean integration will need firm commitment'. Print Edition | Subscribe