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Inclusive connectivity the way forward for Asean

csis-asean-600

28 Nov Inclusive connectivity the way forward for Asean

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Inclusive connectivity will create many opportunities for Asean to step into a more advanced future, a panel discussion heard last week during the Asean Business and Investment Summit held in Nay Pyi Taw.

David Carden, partner-in-charge of Asia, Jones Day, and former US ambassador to Asean, said Asean needs more cooperation among the member states and it should learn from developed countries in the West.

“In 1776, the United States was very similar to Asean today: Low productivity; no manufacturing – very similar. How did we change all that? We focused on institutional development, rural power and education. We did it all in a way where people became connected to each other,” said Carden.

“At that time, there was no common market but there were different currencies. What we need is the institution, leadership, and deep understanding. It is the only way Asean is going to be ready to shape the future. The challenges are too great. Productivity is too low. The demand for infrastructure is too high. So many things need to be done. Yet, there is no way it cannot be accomplished,” he said.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, chairman of the Southeast Asian Press Association, said Asean had aimed to promote inclusive connectivity in October 2009. “Although five years have passed, progress is too little.

“We need to look at inclusive connectivity in a more practical way, particularly from the street level. It must be bottom-up. One of the most important challenges for inclusive Asean connectivity is to communicate with the people. They fear losing their opportunities. We must resolve this,” said Kavi.

“Both physical connectivity and institutional connectivity are crucial. People-to-people contact is very important because inclusive connectivity will not be possible and sustainable without support from the bottom. So, better communication is needed to create a better environment.”

Kavi added that Asean should have a master plan to alleviate people’s fear and concerns such as losing jobs and losing out on opportunities. He said a lot of work needed to be done to achieve inclusive connectivity within the region.

He also underscored the importance of having an Asean identity for Asean centricity. He believes member states need to increase the use of symbols that represent Asean.

“The people need to learn from each other. We need to have a common knowledge of Asean history and a common curriculum before we create an Asean identity. Now, we only have three things – Asean National Day, Asean anthem, and Asean flag. We should widely use Asean flags and send Asean missions around the world,” said Kavi.

Simon Tay, chairman of Singapore Institute of International Affairs and senior consultant of Wong Partnership, called for the need to create favourable conditions for small and medium enterprises.

“So often, we look at Asean as a whole. We also need to look at the micro level. Corporate Social Responsibility is very important but land and resources are also important. We have very low productivity and huge infrastructure requirements. We need more cross-border partnerships,” he said.

Tin Maung Htun, chairman of Myanmar Airways International, called for the need to improve infrastructure in an effort to increase air travel among member states.

“We need to improve infrastructure for air transport. We need to upgrade airports and also improve the use of more advanced planes. At the same time, we need to encourage low-cost airlines so that everyone can fly cheaply,” he said.

He emphasised on upgrading airports in rural areas so that passengers can avoid unnecessary delay and to ensure it does not take much time.

This article was originally posted in The Nation on 28 Nov 2014.