Taking their cue in part from regional examples of cooperation such as the European Union, and buoyed by the recent economic opening of Myanmar, the 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plan to form a Southeast Asian economic community by the end of 2015.
An economic community would cut trade costs and make it easier to do business across Southeast Asia – adding to the region’s alreadyburgeoning appeal to outside investors, including companies from the United States.
But, despite the much anticipated opening of Myanmar and flurries of pro-integration rhetoric at events such as the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Brunei that US Secretary of State John Kerry attended this week, even a small-scale Southeast Asian version of the EU looks increasingly unlikely to happen by the due date. In Brunei, disagreements over who is at fault for a throat-clogging haze blanketing parts of Malaysia and Singapore, as well as saberrattling over the disputed South China Sea, overshadowed economic integration discussions and highlighted the sometimes-fractious nature of relations between ASEAN member-states.
Despite more than four decades of cooperation – ASEAN was set up in 1967 – the region’s countries are suspicious of any development that appears to trump national sovereignty, says Professor Jorn Dosch of the CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI), a think tank backed by Malaysia’s CIMB Bank.
Myanmar – once the subject of many disagreements among ASEAN members – will now be a key driver of the proposed economic community. more…