Interview: ASEAN will play more important role in enhancing regional stability, economic development: expert

SINGAPORE, Nov. 16 (Xinhua) — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will play more important role in enhancing regional stability and economic development, an expert said here Monday ahead of the forthcoming ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“In my view, the role ASEAN plays in promoting cooperation is becoming more and more important when compared with other regional organizations,” said Lee Chian Siong, senior advisor to chairman of the China-ASEAN Business Association.

Lee thought that ASEAN was set up on the basis of regional stability and economic development, and “cooperation” is the philosophy of its development, which can be seen from ASEAN’s early efforts till its recent development.

“Through various summits held in different countries, ASEAN members have already reached the consensus that disputes should be solved through peaceful negotiations.” said Lee, who once served as director for the Community Affairs Development Directorate of the ASEAN Secretariat.

The ASEAN has promised to form the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) before the end of 2015, a major move toward the integration of member nations, which Lee said will bring various opportunities for both the countries and foreign investors, while helping enterprises expand foreign markets.

“As for ASEAN members like Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, their manufacturing industry can enter into the whole ASEAN market, which means more opportunities.” Lee told Xinhua.

As for Singapore, Lee believed that AEC will prompt the development of the city state’s financial sector and service industry.

When asked about whether strong ASEAN members become stronger while the weak ones become weaker after AEC becomes a reality, Lee said the target of AEC is to make progress step by step rather than take a “one size fits all” method.

Lee took the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and China as an example to illustrate the “step by step” method.

He said the elimination of tariffs is progressively. Six of the ten ASEAN members, namely Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, firstly cut the tariffs, then the other four members – Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar – gradually realize the goal of “zero tariffs.”

“ASEAN is like an extended family. Many cooperative programs have also advanced within the framework. For example, countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-Region cooperate with each other on their sub-regional need for development, and other ASEAN members will also give a hand when these countries need help,” said Lee.

Lee also noted worries that AEC may face challenges as economic and social development varies in ASEAN members.

“Some ASEAN members thought integration may harm the interest their of small and medium-sized enterprises. For instance, Cambodia worried that its enterprises may suffer when competing with companies from other countries a few years ago. But nowadays, the momentum of regional economic development is quite satisfying. Super malls have emerged in Phnom Penh selling different kinds of products from other ASEAN members, while products made in Cambodia have also been sold to other ASEAN countries.”

Lee said frequent communication and interaction will help to overcome difficulties, and ASEAN members can learn from each other, exemplifying the case of Thailand.

“Other ASEAN countries can take the experience of Thailand for reference, as Thailand has advantage in farming and creative industry,” said Lee.

Lee also noted that China’s Belt and Road initiative will inject new momentum into ASEAN’s development, as the initiative emphasizes interconnectivity. Besides, China is a huge market for ASEAN members, which will have more options as China’s market opens wider.

Danny Lee

Author Danny Lee

Director for Strategic Partnership at dREP

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