At the recent “Ten Nations, One Community” seminar jointly organised by the Department of Information and the Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama), it was declared that ASEAN would only become a strong regional influence if all the ten member states can enforce regional stability.
The Bernama reported Malaysian Information Ministry secretary-general Datuk Siti Balkish Shariff as saying that the “ASEAN community with different political and economic interests must pool their resources with one objective… to maintain stability in the region and promote economic integration and strengthen social stability”.
However, how this is to be done remain questionable. Malaysian Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) assistant director-general Dr Stephen Leong, has offered some direction, saying that good governance was the key to socio-economic progress.
Reminding that good domestic administration free from corruption was a major challenge to ASEAN, he added that good governance was the key to freedom from poverty and the path to a higher standard of living.
Leong said “good leadership, good plans and good government” were important to ASEAN states but it would be a long process of restructuring and reform before certain member states “could effectively practise it”.Bernama editor-in-chief Datuk Azman Ujang spoke of the need for regionalism, saying, “Any development, like cross-border pollution, in one country would have an effect on neighbouring countries… However, Asean had successfully managed these challenges compared with other groupings.”
This may be too optimistic a view considering that ASEAN is unable to stem the flow of illegal migration from the region. The Asian Development Bank’s report said that there is an increasing number of female migrants from Indonesia and the Philippines who decide to migrate to Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong in search of jobs. These women who end up as domestic labour or sex workers face untold challenges and risks because of their illegal status and gender.
In addition, environmental protection remains inadequately addressed as annual open burnings in Indonesia shroud the region in haze, affecting the air quality. Since this week, Butterworth and Penang Island have been affected by “the hot air from open burning in Sumatra that was being blown to Penang by the southwesterly winds”.
In view of these regional challenges, ASEAN needs much more than good domestic governance to get its act together.
Haze in Butterworth, Penang Island (Bernama, 5 July 2006)
Asean Will Only Be Strong If It Can Maintain Stability (Bernama, 4 July 2006)
Asean Countries Must Focus On Good Governance (Bernama, 4 July 2006)
Illegal migration increasing in S.E. Asia: ADB (ANTARA, 4 July 2006)