ASEAN IS still a “work in progress” despite the realisation of the Asean Economic Community at the end of this year, Surin Pitsuwan, a former secretary-general of the regional grouping, said yesterday.

The process of community building no longer belonged to only a handful of decision-makers, but to the people in the region, he said.

Asean member states should continue to develop physical and institutional infrastructure such as roads and railways, harmonise law at the regional level in order to make this regional grouping more attractive in the eyes of the international community.

This is not to forget the enforcement of laws and regulations that would help Asean materialise this project, Surin said.

The development of the three Asean pillars – political security, economy and sociocultural ties – should be given equal importance.

People in Asean should be more active in the international market in order to increase the level of competitiveness of the region.

The media could play an important role. It will also require advice and criticism to push the process of community building forward. The role of the media is to communicate to the people that this dream of Asean as a community belongs to everyone, he told the Annual Asean Journalists Club Forum in Bangkok.

Charnvit Kasetsiri, an expert on Southeast Asian history and a former rector of Thammasat University, highlighted the importance of placing more emphasis on the socio-cultural pillar to strengthen ties among people in the region.

People-to-people, academic-to-academic, student-to-student exchanges were as important as government-to-government relations.

In terms of politics and security, Panitan Wattanayagorn, an expert in international relations from Chulalongkorn University, warned that the region would soon turn into a region of confrontation between superpowers.

The engagement of great powers such as China and the United States with different countries in the region would be the source of disintegration among Asean countries.

He went on to highlight the problem deriving from transnational issues such as illegal migration and other problems along national borders. This would require a strategic plan for border management, he added.

Kasemsant Weerakun, an expert on the Asean economy, said economic disparity among Asean member states is perceived as a big obstacle for deeper economic cooperation. The business community attached more importance to the larger market of Asean plus six – the 10 Asean countries along with China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand. –THE NATION