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Power Play: Boom or Bane for ASEAN Businesses?

01 Aug Power Play: Boom or Bane for ASEAN Businesses?

ASEAN has to tread carefully or risk being the passive subject caught in between major powers

7th ASEAN and Asia Forum

Singapore, 1 August 2014 –
 ASEAN must remain neutral as it receives unprecedented attention from its biggest neighbours, China and Japan, top officials and business leaders agreed as they weighed in on ASEAN’s economic strategies at the just concluded 7th ASEAN and Asian Forum (AAF).

Speaking on behalf of Myanmar, the current ASEAN Chair, Coordinating Minister for Economic Development U Soe Thane said: “ASEAN does not seek to be exclusive, but inclusive. If we (ASEAN) steer too hard in favour to one country and away from others, we risk damaging ourselves.”

Minister U Soe Thane spoke to some 250 delegates during his keynote address at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs’ (SIIA) annual flagship event.

The SIIA also released a special report on Myanmar’s business and investment landscape after its political and economic opening at the conference. The report is based on the institute’s fieldwork research in the past months, and is available on
In his opening speech, SIIA Chairman Simon Tay agreed that ASEAN has to tread carefully with ongoing tensions between China and Japan.

“If ASEAN fails to develop a common voice on major issues, it risks being the passive subject of the power play between big powers,” Professor Tay said.

He also stressed the need for businesses to understand the geopolitical issues in the region. “Being conscious of the tensions in the region will help give businesses new perspectives on their long-term investment strategies. Such awareness will also enable businesses to adapt quickly to new developments and survive in an increasingly competitive region,” he added.

Speaking on behalf of Hong Kong SAR, which last month completed its first round of negotiations on the free trade agreement with ASEAN, Hong Kong Financial Secretary John Tsang stressed the need for the region to work together to “create a bigger pie, rather than competing for the slice”.

The economic integration of ASEAN, however, will not be completed by 2015, the intended deadline.

“There’s a certain assumption across the board that we will see a very strong confluence, almost a natural flow towards unity,” said the SIIA Executive Director Nicholas Fang. “But there are infrastructure gaps and development gaps between ASEAN member states and this creates a significant challenge for integration.”

These challenges, however, can be overcome with strong political will, he added.

The SIIA also organised two breakout sessions to discuss Singapore’s future as an economic powerhouse in ASEAN, as part of the SIIA Future 50 (F50) programme. The programme features a series of events aimed at encouraging public debate about Singapore’s future in the lead up to the country’s 50th birthday in 2015.


The Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) is ranked as one of the world’s leading think tanks and number one in Asia and the Pacific. Our policy research and analyses aim to deliver vital insights and policy-relevant recommendations to politicians, the private sector and our members. We are also a founding member of the ASEAN-Institutes of Strategic Studies (ASEAN-ISIS) network of think tanks, and play an active role in Track II diplomacy supplementing official dialogue between governments. As a well-networked think tank, we collaborate with experts from leading think tanks, academic institutions, and other organisations both in the region and globally.

About the ASEAN and Asia Forum: 
The annual AAF aims to be the leading conference for Singapore’s private sector to discuss regional issues, and is part of the SIIA’s mission to promote awareness about ASEAN and international affairs. As a flagship event of the institute, the forum builds on our connections to both the public and private sector to create a venue for meaningful dialogue. For more information, visit