Asean's done better than EU in political-military security sphere

Comparing the budget of a supranational organisation such as the European Union with an intra-regional entity like Asean is absurd (How fear, luck and golf brought Asean together; March 18).

While the jury's still out on whether the EU can attain long-term sustainability in its current guise, few can dispute its success in achieving a core objective - that of peace-building and conflict management between member states after World War II against a communist threat from the East.

Asean was also formed and has succeeded for the same reasons.

In fact, one can argue that Asean has done a far better job in the political-military security sphere by welcoming one-time communist foes such as Vietnam and Laos into its fold after the Cold War, while the EU continues to struggle in its relations with a non-communist Russia.

Asean's cohesion and centrality cannot be more vital in the face of rising tensions in the region, especially between the global powers.

Its Secretariat must expand and foster people-to-people understanding and respect that are so critical to the success of a socio-economic community.

Tourism and education are excellent platforms to facilitate this.

Asean should seek to involve the private and people sectors for this cause, instead of relying on the standard formula of state funding.

For example, member states could consider imposing a flat US$1 (S$1.40) tax on all tickets for intra-Asean flights and cruises, with industry operators matching this sum.

The funds will be used for capacity-building efforts across the region, including aviation and maritime safety, as well as port infrastructure.

It could also be a carrot for all Asean economies to boost their transport connectivity; the higher the traffic to and from their respective ports, the more they will receive.

As South-east Asia's only advanced economy, Singapore may choose to contribute half, if not all, of its entitlements from this win-win scheme to its neighbours to assist them in their development.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'Asean's done better than EU in political-military security sphere'. Print Edition | Subscribe