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ASEAN is changing the regional landscape as it works towards an economic, political and cultural community by 2015, yet many remain sceptical about the region’s future. ASEAN is also engaged in reaching out to other countries in the region, but the notion of ASEAN centrality and ASEAN as a hub is also questioned by critics. The SIIA actively evaluates ASEAN’s progress and gaps, through research and events such as our annual flagship conference, the ASEAN and Asia Forum. We also examines emerging trends in ASEAN by monitoring the political and economic progress of member countries.
ASEAN Integration
The three main pillars of the ASEAN Community are the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), ASEAN Political-Security Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Currently, efforts are focused on establishing the AEC.

The AEC Blueprint, adopted by ASEAN leaders in 2007, provides a roadmap and targets to be achieved for the establishment of the AEC by 2015. The AEC envisages the following: (a) a single market and production base, (b) a highly competitive economic region, (c) a region of equitable economic development, and (d) a region fully integrated into the global economy.

However, there are key challenges for ASEAN to overcome. For newer ASEAN members such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, challenges faced include a lack of technical capacity and funding required for implementing AEC measures. Other ASEAN members such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand face challenges in terms of liberalisation and policy reform.

Alongside the AEC, ASEAN is placing emphasis on infrastructure via the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity and energy cooperation via plans such as the Trans-ASEAN Gas Pipeline and the ASEAN Power Grid.

SIIA aims to deepen research and understanding into ASEAN 2015 goals and progress, and key issues and challenges which remain. ASEAN Reinvented, a book co-authored by experts from around the region is due to be published in early 2013, looking at key questions regarding the future of ASEAN.
ASEAN Centrality
Beyond ASEAN's integration as a grouping, ASEAN reaches out to other countries in the region, for instance as the host of multilateral meetings such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit. ASEAN is also the hub for groupings such as ASEAN+3 (including China, Japan and South Korea) and ASEAN+6 (with India, Australia and New Zealand).

Recent years have also seen a rise in new regional architecture centred around ASEAN, such as the Chiang Mai Initiative, an ASEAN+3 multilateral currency swap arrangement, and the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free trade agreement at the ASEAN+6 level. The SIIA is actively watching these developments and the implications for Asia.

ASEAN centrality in regional institutions is due in large part to its perceived neutrality. Many countries in the region, such as China and Japan, might not trust each other as the driver of a regional institution, but ASEAN is neutral and non-threatening, able to take into account interests and preferences of all parties. But in July 2012, the ASEAN Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh failed to issue the traditional joint communiqué due to differences over the South China Sea territorial disputes, the first time the grouping had failed to issue a statement. This demonstrates that ASEAN's neutrality cannot be taken for granted, and that the grouping's centrality in the region is still under challenge.
Reforms in Myanmar have immediate implications for the Southeast Asia region. Though new opportunities exist the country remains complex and evolving. Over the years, Singapore has been closer to Myanmar than other developed nations pursuing a policy of engagement with the country through dialogue, investment, aid and technical assistance. However, SIIA’s early study on Myanmar in 2010 noted that business engagement had tapered off due to economic conditions and political uncertainty.

Over the past year, Myanmar’s progress has been closely watched. The release of political prisoners, election of Aung Sang Suu Kyi to Parliament and media and economic reforms have contributed to a rise in optimism about the country. These developments have been met with more caution by some stakeholders including the international community and business leaders, who wonder if the changes will be permanent. As reforms continue, many have questioned who is leading internal change in the country. There is also uncertainty about Myanmar’s role in the region, its relationship with China and other major powers such as the US.

Current SIIA research aims to review Singapore’s government and business engagements with Myanmar and better understand recent changes in the country though engagement and policy dialogues. At the 5th ASEAN and Asia Forum, organised by SIIA, the country’s changes were the topic of focus in one of a series of panel discussions on “Connecting the Region.” The SIIA is also carrying out a study on Singapore-Myanmar relations to engage the private sector, government agencies, non-governmental organisations and academia from the region on this subject.
Related Links
• Sep 25 2012
   Maritime Disputes: Taiwan ships approach Diaoyu/Senkaku islands; China cancels ceremony with Japan; Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister visits China
• Sep 24 2012
   Myanmar: President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi visit US; investment law stalls; foreign delegation visits Singapore
• India, China and ASEAN in the 21st Century

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