ASEAN moves toward further integration with establishment of landmark community

2015-11-23 10:11Xinhua Editor: Mo Hong'e

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) forges ahead toward further integration and closer cooperation as the ASEAN Community is slated for materialization by end-2015 deadline. [Special coverage]

The formal establishment of the long-aspired ASEAN Community on Dec. 31, 2015, will mark the culmination of ASEAN's decade-long efforts to integrate and cohere in a region still plagued by economic downturns, currency devaluation and threats of terrorism and human trafficking.

"We resolved to consolidate our community, building upon and deepening the integration process to realize a rule-based people-oriented ASEAN Community," said the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 adopted at the end of the summit, the 27th of its kind since ASEAN's inception.

The declaration underlined the urgency to "enhance ASEAN institutional capacity and increase ASEAN institutional presence at the national, regional and international levels."

Under the theme "Our People, Our Community, Our Vision," the two-day summit also touched on serious issues such as climate change, maritime cooperation in the Asia-Pacific and terrorism in the wake of Paris attacks.

As the outcomes of the series of meetings, the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Community and the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together were endorsed, spelling out the strategic action lines in the next 10 years.

The building process of ASEAN Community started in 2003 amid global challenges as well as the need for ASEAN to reassert its centrality and ensure its driving force in shaping the constantly evolving regional architecture.

At the heart of the regional integration course is the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the most advanced of all the pillars of regional community.

By far, the implementation rate of AEC measures have reached 92.7 percent with 469 measures carried out, 37 still pending and some to be addressed on a priority basis early next year, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said at the summit.

With collective economic growth and resources, ASEAN is seen as the next engine of growth in Asia especially after it becomes successful in achieving the ASEAN Community by the year-end.

It is estimated that initiatives ASEAN is implementing under AEC will raise the group's overall GDP by 7 percent by 2025.

The talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which involve 10 ASEAN members and six dialogue partners - China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India - also topped the agenda at ASEN summit and related meeting.

The RCEP could potentially lead to one of the world's biggest trade area covering about 3.4 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of about 22.7 trillion U.S. dollars, about 30 percent of global output.

When concluded, the RCEP is expected to deliver tangible benefits to businesses through potential improvements in market access, trade facilitation, regulatory reform and more trade-facilitative rules of origin.

While catering to the differences among the 16 countries and providing special policies for the least developed members of ASEAN, observers suggest the RCEP negotiations focus on those areas where a consensus can be reached more easily - similar to the "Early Harvest Program" of the ASEAN-China FTA - so that participating countries can enjoy the benefits as early as possible and will be willing to promote follow-up deals.

At the 18th ASEAN-China, Japan and South Korea (10+3) leaders' meeting on Saturday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that China stood ready to work with other parties to conclude the prolonged RCEP negotiation by 2016 to accelerate trade and regional integration.

He added that China's talks with ASEAN on the upgrading of their free trade area (FTA) will end soon.

The meeting was held weeks after the resumption of the China-Japan-South Korea tripartite summit in Seoul following a three-and-half-year hiatus.

Once implemented, a trilateral FTA will bring together a market of more than 1.5 billion people, raising China's GDP by 2.9 percent, Japan's 0.5 percent and South Korea's 3.1 percent, the Financial Times said.

The planned three-way FTA will expand trilateral and bilateral trade and investment, and provide a comprehensive and institutional framework within which a wide range of trilateral cooperation would evolve.

Over its long way to pursue a truly integrated community, ASEAN has to overcome many obstacles with connectivity, consensus and ASEAN centrality among the core challenges, observers noted.

"The ASEAN Secretariat is an example of a weak institution" which neither has any authority of its own nor any monitoring function, said Sanchita Basu Das, lead researcher on economic affairs at the ASEAN Studies Center of Singapore's Institute of South East Asian Studies.

Therefore, the lack of effective mechanisms in place or being set up in the regional integration plans to ensure accountability from both governments and private sector must be urgently addressed by both ASEAN and its 10 member states.

Otherwise, the efforts to turn ASEAN into a more integrated and outward-looking community that plays a responsible role globally and shares the common destiny will remain elusive.



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