ASEAN leaders eye stronger integration beyond 2015

By Ouyang Wei, Uditha Jayasinghe

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, (PNA/Xinhua) — As the 23rd ASEAN Summit wrapped up here Wednesday, the leaders agreed to push ahead with a post-2015 vision for an ASEAN Community that is politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible.

“In advancing the frontiers of our cooperation that will be more responsive to the needs of our people and our future together,we tasked the ASEAN Coordinating Council, in consultations and coordination with the three ASEAN Community Councils, to develop ASEAN’s vision beyond 2015,” said a chairman’s statement adopted following the summit.

As an outcome of the summit under the theme “Our People, Our Future Together,” a Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on the ASEAN Community’s Post-2015 Vision was also adopted by the ASEAN leaders.

According to the declaration, the ASEAN Community councils have been tasked to expedite their work on developing the ASEAN Community’s post-2015 vision, recognizing the importance of promoting coherence and consistency in efforts to develop this vision, and building upon the achievements recorded in the implementation of the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community (2009-2015).

Meanwhile, the ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC) is requested to further develop the central elements of the ASEAN Community’s post- 2015 vision for endorsement by the ASEAN Summit in 2014.

The adoption of the declaration is a reflection of ASEAN leaders’ commitment to bringing forward stronger regional integration in the long run, analysts said.

With only two years to go for the crucial integration goal of ASEAN Community, leaders of ASEAN member states are keen to seek ways to intensify and extend cooperation amid growing worries about global economic woes, they said.

The regional bloc has planned to materialize its ASEAN Community, consisting of three pillars namely the Political- Security Community, the Economic Community and the Socio-Cultural Community, by 2015, with the top priority given to the Economic Community.

Despite acknowledging that the most challenging part of integration goals remains ahead, the ASEAN Secretariat is optimistic all the 2015 targets will be met in a timely manner, and said the regional group has made significant progress in implementing the roadmap for forming the ASEAN Community.

According to the chairman’s statement adopted following the summit, 279 measures, or 79.7 percent of the AEC Blueprint, have been implemented.

“We are very pleased to note that we have seen a more concerted effort to assess and prioritize our work. For 2014, we will remain focused on expediting the implementation of the remaining 2015 targets and ensuring greater convergence of the three ASEAN Community pillars — where peace, stability and development are one another’s conditions and driving force,” ASEAN Secretary- General Le Luong Minh said on the sidelines of the summit.

Nevertheless, the global economic recovery is still facing uncertainties, and the bloc has recognized the importance of drawing upon the experiences and endeavors of ASEAN to advance common interests and overcome challenges within the region and beyond.

Earlier in the week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) trimmed its forecasts for global output for the sixth time since early last year, saying stronger growth in most advanced economies would fail to make up for a slower expansion in the developing world.

Prospects for emerging markets, long the engine of the global recovery, have dimmed somewhat with both structural and cyclical factors at play, the IMF said in its latest snapshot on the health of the global economy.

For 2013, the IMF now expects global output to expand just 2.9 percent, down from its July estimate of 3.1 percent, making it the slowest year of growth since 2009. It predicted a modest pickup next year to 3.6 percent, below its July estimate of 3.8 percent.

Emerging markets, which include ASEAN, are expected to keep growing, but nowhere near the heady rates they had before 2008.

Clearly these forebodings were in the mind of Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who told fellow leaders at the beginning of the summit that they must maintain financial stability as well as be an attractive and competitive destination for trade and investment. “ASEAN must work together in areas such as trade facilitation and logistics to ease the way of doing business in the region,” said the sultan, who chairs the ASEAN Summit this year. He added ASEAN must continue to show greater political will in doing “all it can” to realize the community goals by 2015.

Though details about the post-2015 vision remain unknown, Indonesia has proposed some goals, such as doubling ASEAN’s combined GDP and halving the percentage of people living in poverty by 2030.

Singapore also has suggested ASEAN’s working procedures being improved through a review of institutions and external relations.

Hassanal highlighted two points as part of ASEAN’s preparations for the future. First, ASEAN must strengthen external relations with its dialogue partners as well as with the global community.

In light of this, he said, ASEAN should continue to have deeper and more constructive relations with all existing dialogue partners, and find ways of engaging other countries and regional organizations that ASEAN sees as potential partners.Second, the bloc must strengthen its institutional support and give serious consideration to the constraints the ASEAN Secretariat is facing. “They must be more capable in supporting the future work, and be better coordinated with other ASEAN organs, so as to reinforce ASEAN’s central role in the region,” said the sultan.

In the declaration, the ASEAN leaders also noted the importance of realizing a truly people-oriented, people-centered and rules- based ASEAN as central elements of the post-2015 vision. Touching on a people-centered ASEAN for the future, Hassanal urged that whatever ASEAN does for the future, it “must be meaningful to all of is peoples.”

Last year, the bloc as a whole registered a GDP growth of 5.7 percent, maintained its level of foreign direct investment inflows at 108.l2 billion U.S. dollars, and recorded 2.47 trillion dollars in total merchandise trade.

As the global economic situation remains tenuous, all eyes are on ASEAN to see whether it can go the distance to achieve its objectives.