Laos kicks off ASEAN chair – security, integration on top of agenda

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ASEAN Laos meetingLaos this week kicked off its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, with an agenda-setting meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in the capital Vientiane. It is the first such meeting in a series that Laos will host as chair of ASEAN this year, and also the first ministerial-level meeting held since the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, on December 31, 2015. Laos last chaired ASEAN in 2004.

Security challenges including terrorism and cyber security were on the top of the agenda, while the ministers also discussed issues involving natural disasters and climate change, epidemics and irregular migration. They also touched upon international issues such as conflicts in the Middle East, denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and maintaining peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.

The 10-member group agreed on promoting “a peaceful, stable and outward-looking ASEAN region with a highly-integrated and cohesive regional economy, enhanced connectivity and strengthened efforts in narrowing the development gap,” Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Thongloun Sisoulith said, pointing out that ASEAN’s 2016 theme was “Turning vision into reality for a dynamic ASEAN community.”

He added that the bloc seeks to effectively realise the “ASEAN Community Vision 2025” and informed about the progress of the post-2015 “Plan on ASEAN Connectivity” and preparations for the third phase of the “ASEAN Connectivity Initiative.”

The main ASEAN Summit will be held from September 6 to 8, also in Vientiane, earlier than usual and combining the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summit to not coincide with the US election in November. US President Barack Obama is expected to attend the summits.

With regards to the AEC, focus areas included infrastructure projects and cross-border tourism development, as well as joint efforts for preservation, protection and promotion of the region’s rich cultural heritage. The group also committed to narrowing development gaps while facilitating trade, development of small and medium enterprises, promotion of job opportunities and greater formalisation of the region’s economic framework as most nations still remain highly informal economies.

However, it has also been acknowledged that increasing trade ties in ASEAN are not just a welcomed development for business, but also a boost for transnational crime. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in a recent report warned of the “significant danger” posed by criminal activities such as drug trafficking, maritime piracy and human trafficking across the region.

Illicit money flows in the region are valued at about $100 billion a year in a “conservative estimate” by the UN body. That money – generated from trade in drugs, wildlife, people and fake products, among others – carries the danger of destabilising the region by funding criminal networks. The loss in tax revenues reduces the benefits of trade liberalisation and hurts law-abiding businesses, issues that UNODC urged to be focused on in the course of this year when the AEC continues to be implemented.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Laos this week kicked off its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, with an agenda-setting meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in the capital Vientiane. It is the first such meeting in a series that Laos will host as chair of ASEAN this year, and also the first ministerial-level meeting held since the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, on December 31, 2015. Laos last chaired ASEAN in 2004.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

ASEAN Laos meetingLaos this week kicked off its chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, with an agenda-setting meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in the capital Vientiane. It is the first such meeting in a series that Laos will host as chair of ASEAN this year, and also the first ministerial-level meeting held since the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, on December 31, 2015. Laos last chaired ASEAN in 2004.

Security challenges including terrorism and cyber security were on the top of the agenda, while the ministers also discussed issues involving natural disasters and climate change, epidemics and irregular migration. They also touched upon international issues such as conflicts in the Middle East, denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and maintaining peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.

The 10-member group agreed on promoting “a peaceful, stable and outward-looking ASEAN region with a highly-integrated and cohesive regional economy, enhanced connectivity and strengthened efforts in narrowing the development gap,” Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Thongloun Sisoulith said, pointing out that ASEAN’s 2016 theme was “Turning vision into reality for a dynamic ASEAN community.”

He added that the bloc seeks to effectively realise the “ASEAN Community Vision 2025” and informed about the progress of the post-2015 “Plan on ASEAN Connectivity” and preparations for the third phase of the “ASEAN Connectivity Initiative.”

The main ASEAN Summit will be held from September 6 to 8, also in Vientiane, earlier than usual and combining the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summit to not coincide with the US election in November. US President Barack Obama is expected to attend the summits.

With regards to the AEC, focus areas included infrastructure projects and cross-border tourism development, as well as joint efforts for preservation, protection and promotion of the region’s rich cultural heritage. The group also committed to narrowing development gaps while facilitating trade, development of small and medium enterprises, promotion of job opportunities and greater formalisation of the region’s economic framework as most nations still remain highly informal economies.

However, it has also been acknowledged that increasing trade ties in ASEAN are not just a welcomed development for business, but also a boost for transnational crime. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in a recent report warned of the “significant danger” posed by criminal activities such as drug trafficking, maritime piracy and human trafficking across the region.

Illicit money flows in the region are valued at about $100 billion a year in a “conservative estimate” by the UN body. That money – generated from trade in drugs, wildlife, people and fake products, among others – carries the danger of destabilising the region by funding criminal networks. The loss in tax revenues reduces the benefits of trade liberalisation and hurts law-abiding businesses, issues that UNODC urged to be focused on in the course of this year when the AEC continues to be implemented.

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