Myanmar leads ASEAN into 2014

Myanmar’s political transition has found active support in all nations — but the 2011 ASEAN Summit in Bali encouraged the reforms by according Naypyidaw the association’s chairmanship in 2014.

In this period of reform and transition, Myanmar now faces the challenge of leading a region that is working towards prosperity and integration, while remaining stable and peaceful in its pursuit of economic growth. Domestically, Myanmar’s Framework for Economic and Social Reform sets out the country’s development priorities until 2016 and aims for peace, prosperity and democracy.

There is a general consensus among those watching the reforms unfold that the government and the people are looking for the same tangible developments, mainly in improved and cheap access to healthcare and education, electrification, agrarian reforms, business facilitation, and improved infrastructure. But Myanmar’s road to development is also tinged by its unique demography.

The path towards 2014 demands greater reconciliation among ethnic groups so as not to derail either the development process or the physical and moral resources of the government in chairing ASEAN and hosting other related summits in 2014. On the external front, with ASEAN moving closer to its community-building objectives in 2015, there is renewed pressure on member countries to implement the ASEAN Community Blueprints as development gaps influence the quality and pace of economic integration.

The East Asia Summit (EAS) presents an even more complex environment in both geopolitical and economic terms. The entry of the United States and Russia into the EAS in 2011 has rearranged the economic and strategic dynamics of the region. In particular, the US ‘pivot’ to Asia has revealed the trust deficit among many member countries, and new strategic alignments among regional players are now in the making.

Disputes over the South and East China Seas, and the dormant volatility of the Korean peninsula, continue to loom over the region. Against this backdrop, Myanmar’s early signs of leadership in ASEAN are commendable.