ASEAN 'risks overstretching for AEC'

ASEAN 'risks overstretching for AEC'
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

Academics and experts have warned that ASEAN is in danger of overstretching itself due to the speedy deepening and enlarging of ties with full integration of the region scheduled for the year-end.

The regional grouping of 10 nations will officially integrate into a community for what is supposed to be political, security, economic, social and cultural benefits.

The group is preparing a vision paper for the next decade.

The post-2015 vision to be launched at a summit in Malaysia late this year will likely echo the same old ways, but use different words to express how ASEAN will look and the direction it wants to take in the next decade, Shofwan Al Banna Choiruzzad, from the University of Indonesia, said yesterday.

That vision will continue to consolidate the ASEAN Community and deepen integration, with enhanced and expanded co-operation and coherence for the three pillars - political security, the economy and culture, he said.

"What happens when the desire for deepening and enlarging regional institutions is not coupled with the capacity of the members to pay for the cost of maintaining the enlarged and deepened integration?" Shofwan said at the seminar "ASEAN's Post-2015 Vision" hosted by Thammasat University's Centre for ASEAN Studies and private think tank C-ASEAN.

Citing the Greece crisis as a lesson to learn for ASEAN, Shofwan suggested the region not rush to deepen integration as it needs time to assess the current level of integration.

Speaking on the same panel, Termsak Chalermpalanupap, from Singapore's ASEAN Studies Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said ASEAN's capacity is limited as it is a poor organisation, which depends entirely on resources from member states. The ASEAN secretariat has to handle a huge co-operation task and other challenges with a budget of only US$19 million (S$26.3 million) a year, he said.

Termsak, who served at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta for years, suggested that the region implement a new political co-operation treaty to have "balance of national sovereignty and collective responsibility". The treaty should empower the chair of ASEAN to deal with internal problems and conflicts.

"We need to have a code of conduct among member states to handle our own problems," he said.

ASEAN in the next decade should be able to reach out to people to become a true people-centred community, rather than focusing too much on co-operation among states, he said.

"How can ASEAN become a community without people?" he said.

Mohamed Jawhar Hassan of the News Straits Times Press in Malaysia, said ASEAN's post-2015 vision should not be time-bound to avoid a new vision having to be crafted every five or 10 years.

ASEAN needed to formulate a longer-term vision that observed and preserved a strategic nature, he said.

More importantly, ASEAN must be able to implement and deliver on its visions and plans, he said.

Prapat Thepchatree, director of Thammasat University's Centre for ASEAN Studies, said ASEAN will face a lot of challenges internally and externally in the next decade including democracy and human rights issues, political conflicts, economic disparity, security threats and geo-political changes, he said.

Prapat suggested that the group consolidate itself as a community, promote ASEAN as a people-centred community, enhance ASEAN centrality for regional security and build the region's common platform.

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