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ASEAN & Asia Forum 09: BT - Domestic issues constrain Asean progress

Updated On: Apr 18, 2009

 SINGAPORE, April 18 — The postponement of the Asean summit in Pattaya is a setback and will hurt credibility, but it also highlights Asean's long-standing challenges, the divergence of both the political and economic situations of member states, speakers at the Asean and Asia Forum yesterday said.

Organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), the forum is in its second year.

The protests in Thailand which led to the postponement of the Asean summit were a vivid illustration of how domestic political situations often limit “how far and how fast Asean is able to progress”, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies Thailand, who also cited the example of Myanmar's military dictatorship.

The “incongruence of regime types” despite the “democratising push of the Asean charter”, he said, seems to have led to frustration on the part of other members eager to move forward; leading some to turn to multilateral groupings outside Asean — for instance, Indonesia joining the G-20.

The many bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) and regional groupings between individual Asean members and non-members is further evidence of such frustration, but might impact Asean's relevance, he added.

Singapore's ambassador-at-large and former Asean secretary-general Ong Keng Yong was slightly more optimistic. “Yes the summit problems have created a negative image,” he said. “However, the 2015 blueprint for an Asean community and the Asean Charter creates a rules-based regime, a regional architecture which can bring accountability, predictability and transparency. Hopefully, it will enable us to better handle and discuss domestic issues as regional ones too.”

Jawhar Hassan, chairman and chief executive of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, said that Asean, though the subject of much criticism, should also be recognised for having grown out of conflict and succeeded in maintaining regional political stability thus far.

“The immediate challenge now is economic, the livelihoods of people,” he said, stressing that Asean must expedite economic integration.

“Asean is great for putting on the table many things to do, but perhaps the plate is overloaded, and what's needed now is implementation.”

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said in his closing keynote address that it was necessary to have social and political stability in order for economic recovery to take place. “We cannot benefit even if the world's economic engines somehow manage to restart when our societies are in tatters,” he said. — Business Times Singapore



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