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Deeper Integration within ASEAN should be a Priority

06 Aug Deeper Integration within ASEAN should be a Priority

Media Release
For Immediate Release

Deeper Integration within ASEAN should be a Priority
The SIIA’s “Renewed Concerns in Key ASEAN Economies: Politics and Growth Prospects
after the First COVID-19 Wave” calls for greater cooperation within ASEAN

Singapore, 6 August 2020 – As Southeast Asian countries look towards reopening their economies and borders, interdependencies within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are even more important and the progress towards deeper integration should be a priority. How ASEAN recovers as a region would have implications for Singapore’s status as a regional hub. These finding was shared in a report by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) that was launched today.

Titled “Renewed Concerns in Key ASEAN Economies: Politics and Growth Prospects After the First COVID-19 Wave”, the report examines how key ASEAN economies – Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam – are emerging after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The four countries surveyed in this Special Briefing represent some 70 per cent of the total ASEAN GDP.

At the start of 2020, ASEAN was on track to outperform the global average and even match China’s growth rate. However, ASEAN’s prospects seem uncertain at present. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, ASEAN governments have had to introduce a wide range of policies to protect lives and livelihoods. Some of these policies have been welcomed by citizens and others have been criticised for their tardiness, ineffectiveness or inconsistencies.

“The longer the pandemic continues, the wider the contagion and the deeper and diverse the effects – on public health, the economy, politics and social cohesion – the more fundamental the changes. Looking beyond the first wave and at the contours of a new post-COVID-19 world, new challenges are emerging. How ASEAN responds collectively would help each country and ASEAN as a whole,” said Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the SIIA.

The Renewed Concerns in Key ASEAN Economies report takes a qualitative approach and compares how these economies have fared based on the response and handling of the pandemic, and the impact it would have on the economic and political situation. The following are highlights of the report –

  • Economic Situation: Vietnam is expected to emerge from the pandemic relatively well, having dealt well with the health issues and having positioned itself for recovery and growth. However, a second wave of infections in the epicentre, Danang, will test its efforts. It is relatively less certain in other countries. Thailand’s economy, especially, is heavily impacted while growth prospects for Malaysia and Indonesia have softened considerably.


  • Political Situation: There are also considerations of political infighting and potential instability. This is clearest in Malaysia and Thailand. For Indonesia, the pandemic was not well handled. While there is continued support for Joko Widodo as president, vested interests have reasserted themselves. Parties in the ruling coalition continued to push for their own political agendas and some reforms were therefore compromised. Compromises will limit prospects for new growth, even as the existing economy weakens.


Associate Professor Tay continued, “As ASEAN integrates more closely, people can see it as a place of growth and opportunity or as a red dot of pandemic and concerns. Singapore’s recovery is very much intertwined with ASEAN. For Singapore to continue to have relevance as a hub, the continued flow of goods, people and services in essential. Deeper integration with ASEAN economies post-pandemic is critical in maintaining this flow. Singapore needs to negotiate more quarantine-free travel bubbles with economic partners who have managed to keep the outbreak under control, so as to facilitate essential business.”

The “Renewed Concerns in Key ASEAN Economies” report can be downloaded from the SIIA website at this link.

Media Contact

Rohini Nambiar
Senior Policy Research Analyst, ASEAN

About the Singapore Institute of International Affairs

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Established in 1962, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) is a non-profit and independent think tank committed to producing policy analysis, fostering in-depth dialogues and bridging gaps between policymakers, private sector decision-makers and experts to shape public policy and social responses. Centred around ASEAN focused themes, the institute aims to deliver policy analysis in international affairs and on issues driving environmental sustainability. The SIIA has been consistently ranked as one of the leading think tanks in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, in the Global Go-To Think Tank Index by the University of Pennsylvania. Since 2017, the SIIA was ranked the No. 1 independent think tank in Asia. It was also recognised as one of the top 50 think tanks globally, excluding the United States of America. In 2019, it was recognised as the No. 1 think tank in South, Southeast Asia and Pacific (excluding India).

About the SIIA’s ASEAN Programme

The SIIA’s ASEAN programme produces policy analyses and facilitates dialogue on how politics and socioeconomic policies in ASEAN impact business and investment in the region. Also closely watched are emerging trends in key economies as well as ASEAN’s relations with major partners China, Japan, the USA and the EU. In recent years, the SIIA has done key work on Myanmar and Indonesia, providing assistance and advice in close cooperation with their government agencies. Key research output includes special reports evaluating the changing political and economic landscape as well as the business and investment opportunities of the respective countries. Key platforms developed by the SIIA to facilitate dialogue are the ASEAN and Asia Forum (AAF) and the ASEAN Myanmar Forum (AMF). These events bring policy makers and the business community together to facilitate dialogue about the region’s political, economic and strategic challenges.