Signs of growing ASEAN unity

THE range of initiatives announced by Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong following their meeting last week shows that ASEAN integration is growing apace despite the bumps that beset the regional grouping.

Affin Investment Bank Bhd research head Andy Ong told StarBizWeek the initiatives showed that the political leadership in both countries were willing to work on areas in which both sides agreed on.

The initiatives announced included an underground link as an expansion of the proposed rapid transit system between Johor Baru and Singapore as well as the sale of electricity to Singapore.

Other initiatives were the alignment of radio frequency spectrum plans for digital broadcast and mobile broadband services, the proposed ferry service, the formation of a new work group on industrial cooperation to promote Iskandar Malaysia and Singapore, cooperation in aviation and airport services between Senai International Airport in Johor and Changi in Singapore as well as education services.

Broadly speaking, these initiatives are a follow-up to a meeting held in May last year following the resolution of the KTM Bhds land and water issues. The announcement shows both sides are committed to pushing through commonly agreed areas instead of dwelling on past differences, Ong observed.

He said that going from the statements by both leaders, everything pointed to closer collaboration being the way forward and also pointed to the deepening links between ASEAN members.

The initiatives also bring greater clarity to the several long-term projects that have been announced, including the multi-billion-ringgit property project to be headed by both Khazanah Nasional Bhd and Temasek Holdings (Private) Ltd on the former KTM land, Ong said.

However, he cautioned that these initiatives would hinge on the survival of the current administrations due to their long-term nature.

This is actually a good time to work on transport links, investment flows and the success of Iskandar Malaysia as these are mutually beneficial plans, Ong said.