Asean governments and businesses must continue to stay open and engage their domestic, regional and dialogue partners to maximise gains from the Asean Economic Community, which will be fully effective in 2015, Anangga Roosdiono, chairman of the Asean Business Advisory Council, said last week.

“The key challenge for Asean is to stay the course in community building as a whole,” he said.

A transformation of mindset from “national interest to regional action” to “regional interest to national action” is also necessary for community building as a whole, he told a forum entitled “TMA Top Talk: AEC 2015 Fact, Fiction, Future” held by the Thailand Management Association.

However, public awareness of the AEC remains relatively low in Indonesia and most other Asean members.

Asean is on track for the Asean Economic Community.

“We have no other choice but to meet and confront the pressure of globalisation. While readiness is important, it is not sufficient to deliver the AEC by 2015. The building of the AEC will need strong leadership, vision, political will as well as strong mechanisms and institutions to support coordination and implementation, both at the national and regional levels,” he said.

“I hope with the AEC being four years away from now, the public sector, private sector and all stakeholders of Asean can work hand in hand to make this dream into a reality for the betterment of the region,” he said.

There is some sort of scepticism regarding Asean’s relevancy to the future. Is the Asean Summit only a meeting place, a making of declarations to be forgotten afterwards? Is Asean still relevant? If so, what is its role?

“To respond to the question, we have to see Asean in the changing global economy. The most important change in the global economy decade is the shifting of the centre of global trading from Europe and America to Asia,” he said.

In the future, two-thirds of world trade will be in Asia. The financial global crisis has changed the world trade locomotive from America to countries with a surplus, which is Asia. Consequently, Asia’s role has become very important in the global economy.

In Asia inter-regional trade increases and is dominated by components and the production network. Asean has an important role here.

Roosdiono said that according to Indonesian vice-president Boediono, in his remarks at the Axiata Asean Leadership Forum, the Asean economic scale increased from US$700 billion in 2003 to $2.3 trillion at present. If this economic scale is widened – including the countries with economic relations with Asean – the value will reach $15 trillion.

“The strengthening of Asia’s role in the global economy will lead us to the question, how can Asean put itself in global geopolitics. For sure to be an important player in Asia and global, Asean has to interact with China, Japan, South Korea, India and Australia and New Zealand if we want to include Asia-Pacific. It is not a secret that there is silent competition in East Asia, specifically Japan and China. Looking at the international political economy map, Asean has to position itself as the hub to bridge Japan and China,” he said.

The strategy that has been chosen to have an Asean plus – which means the trade relations scheme will be centred in Asean plus other countries outside Asean – was correct. By positioning Asean as a hub, Asean can enjoy the flying geese pattern whereby Asean will also enjoy the economic growth of Japan, South Korea, China and India. On the political side, Asean will act as “mediator” in the silent competition in East Asia. With this strategy Asean’s position geopolitically shall be very important. But the question is whether Asean is ready to play this role.

“The classical problem of Asean is leadership. There is no country that has the initiative to become the leader. From the point of political stability, economic scale, population, membership in important forums such as the G-20, the most potential to be the leader is Indonesia. This year, Indonesia holds the chairmanship of Asean.
This opportunity should be used if Indonesia would like to play the role geopolitically in the context of the global economy,” he added. –Kwanchai Rungfapaisarn, The Nation (Thailand)