ASEAN’s Myth vs Reality Issues

The Association of South East Asian Nations has been around for 50 years, but there’s continual debate about whether it does enough and whether it does this quickly enough.

10 counties make it up, but it’s very much a grouping of disparate parts. From one of the most developed and wealthy countries on Earth (Singapore) to some of the least developed and poorest (Cambodia and Myanmar are on the United Nation’s least developed countries’ list).


As an economic grouping, it’s surprisingly 25% bigger than the 28 country European Union – and it’s growing a lot faster.


But it’s key challenges are because of the diversity of its members. Democratic practices and institutions are fragile or undeveloped in a number.

6 of the more developed countries agreed to almost eliminate trade duties in 2010, but Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are still working on this.

People movement has been eased for professionals, the so-called “talented”, but not for the “unskilled” labour which provides so much of the essential infrastructure and services support in the more developed economies.

ASEAN’s Consolidated Strategic Action Plan has 153 measures and 513 action lines to be completed by 2025. But too much of this won’t be achieved.

There are also tensions with the “+ 6”, the six observer countries involved in progressing a free trade agreement for the region. These include New Zealand and China, and there are concerns about China’s growing influence.

South East Asia is certainly better with ASEAN but, as it reflects on the first 50 years, there is quite some soul-searching as to the changes needed within ASEAN to have a more effective next 50. In particular this involves whether the ASEAN way of slow and consensual deliberating is relevant in today’s dynamic, digital global environment.

The opportunities are significant, but the challenges of achieving greater progress immense.


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