This year is an instrumental turning year in deciding the success of ASEAN Community building process. The role of Myanmar as the ASEAN Chair in the delivery of key targets and priorities in 2014, and in the development of the ASEAN Community’s post-2015 vision, is therefore very significant.
The chairmanship year also comes amid Myanmar’s ongoing democratisation and reform process, which has been enjoying strong support from ASEAN member states. ASEAN is committed to extending all necessary assistance and cooperation to ensure the accomplishment of Myanmar’s chairmanship. Myanmar’s success is ASEAN’s success.
One of the issues on the agenda is the ASEAN charter. Do you believe it should be changed and if so which sections should be examined?
The ASEAN Charter came into force at the end of 2008. After five years the charter may be reviewed based on the decision of an ASEAN Summit. Member states would have to discuss and decide on whether the review will take place. The review of the ASEAN Charter, if and when it is undertaken, will have significant implications on the future direction of ASEAN.
While [a] decision [on this] is pending, our focus now is on the ASEAN Community building process. ASEAN has community-building targets … in line with the roadmap to ASEAN Community 2015.
What are the encouraging signs for regional integration and where is more progress needed?
ASEAN must remain united, cohesive and resilient while working together toward the ASEAN Community by December 2015. [We can overcome] internal and external challenges; I believe that our shared beliefs and values, our mutual interests, and our inter-dependence and enhanced sense of belonging will be the glue cementing our unity.
With less than two years to go to the December 2015 deadline, to date about 83 percent of the measures [required] … have been or are being implemented.
Narrowing development gaps is also one of the main challenges to be tackled. We believe that this will be the foremost challenge for ASEAN in the years to come. [Only] when we bridge the development divide in the region [will] we become truly one ASEAN Community.
How do you respond to critics who say ASEAN integration is moving too slowly?
ASEAN integration is a work in progress. To accelerate the process toward the AEC as 2015 draws near, we are focusing our efforts on the timely implementation of [priority targets] that can contribute the most to the realisation of the economic community. While we anticipate this year and the next to be tougher and more intense, ASEAN remains firmly committed to the realisation of the ASEAN Community.
The bottom line is that stronger implementation of AEC initiatives is needed at the country levels by ensuring that national agenda are in line with regional initiatives … Bottlenecks need to be addressed. It is also imperative that member states deal effectively with the practical but important aspects of implementing the AEC, particularly strong internal coordination and budgeting processes to support the timely implementation of AEC projects.
According to your experience, what kind of activities could accelerate the bloc’s integration?
Effectively communicating the economic community to ASEAN citizens and businesses will help to ensure the community’s goals are achieved. As the [deadline] approaches, developing and disseminating appropriate key messages to national and regional audiences will enable the start of the AEC to gain maximum exposure and impact. It is critical that correct messages are disseminated in a coordinated manner across all of ASEAN.
In particular, the goal should be to clarify to the general public and the business community how the community works in order to inform and prepare them for the changes as they become part of the AEC. It is also important to reassure [them] … by addressing their concerns. This entails clearing up misunderstandings on some AEC initiatives.
We are now in the process of developing an AEC information kit, which will contain key messages that broadly communicate community achievements, opportunities and implications for the private sector and the general public, to be presented in a way that is clear, concise and easy to comprehend.
ASEAN’s current policy stresses non-interference in members’ domestic affairs. But can’t domestic issues in countries like Thailand and Myanmar hinder the bloc’s progress?
ASEAN subscribes to the vision of building an ASEAN Community as a concert of Southeast Asian nations, living in peace, stability and prosperity for a better future of the ASEAN peoples. This is the very foundation that has brought ASEAN countries together and bonded them.
While pursuing their respective national interests member states [must] bear in mind the shared community interests. This notion is enshrined in the ASEAN Charter, which requires members to uphold shared commitment and collective responsibility in enhancing regional peace, security and prosperity, and to enhance consultations on matters seriously affecting the common interests of ASEAN.
In future, can we expect ASEAN to play a larger role in balancing power in the region?
I am optimistic that as long as ASEAN stays strong and united we will be a significant stabilising factor in the wider Asia-Pacific region. Geography has put ASEAN in a unique bridging position between the great Asian powers.
ASEAN has withstood the test of time, and has contributed immensely to regional peace, stability and prosperity. As such, ASEAN is well positioned to present itself as part of the solution to global challenges.