Removing obstacles on the way to ASEAN integration

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

What recently happened close to Brunei’s border – the “invasion” of the Royal Army of Sulu in Sabah in an attempt to claim territorial rights – is an object lesson of what kind of obscure problems the ASEAN integration into a free-trade zone and eventually a political unity is still facing.

While on the political level the path is clearly defined – to unite the 10 ASEAN members in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the beginning of 2016 – there seems to be more obstacles on the way than originally feared even by the harshest critics of the AEC. It now seems that the AEC will not work simply on agreements on the highest level, but will have to take into account a multitude of minority interests and have national bureaucracies work out detailed specifics that seem to have been ignored so far.

Brunei, which is located at the peripheries of the Sabah-Sulu conflict and is chairing ASEAN this year, needs to take up a position on the issue and calm down both sides for the benefit of the integration of ASEAN and a peaceful solution of the conflict. The impending AEC deadline is pushing the bloc’s member countries to clarify, document and establish consensus on their respective policies, and they cannot afford an unresolved issue that is not only questioning the bloc’s ability to stand united, but also jeopardises functioning partnership,s such as the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

If the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN chair do not clarify that historical territorial claims have nothing to do with today’s reality of ASEAN, investors might turn their head from the region and look elsewhere for opportunities. This is even more urgent now that many issues still await agreement within and among member-states.

The AEC blueprint envisions ASEAN as a single market and production base that would allow the free flow of goods, services, investment, capital and skilled labour. This implies that ASEAN citizens will enjoy full market access and national treatment throughout the region. But how does free movement of people go together with territorial claims?

For Brunei, which is interested in keeping stability and peace in and around its territory, the conflict can be a good occasion to sharpen its profile within ASEAN and to search for a win-win solution for the respective countries, investors and the entire ASEAN community.

It needs to point out that ASEAN is meant to be a borderless trading area and growth zone that would enlarge all member economies with a minimum amount of formalities and barriers, expansion of sea-air linkages, tourism promotion, agriculture-fisheries development, transportation and communications upgrades, energy cooperation as well as environmental protection – and at the same time put all old problems on the backburner to help spur the lives of the region’s peoples.

ASEAN is meant to be the realisation of socially acceptable and sustainable economic development – and there is no space for unresolved tensions or political tit-for-tats that disappointingly hamper the integration process.

 

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Arno Maierbrugger

What recently happened close to Brunei’s border – the “invasion” of the Royal Army of Sulu in Sabah in an attempt to claim territorial rights – is an object lesson of what kind of obscure problems the ASEAN integration into a free-trade zone and eventually a political unity is still facing.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

What recently happened close to Brunei’s border – the “invasion” of the Royal Army of Sulu in Sabah in an attempt to claim territorial rights – is an object lesson of what kind of obscure problems the ASEAN integration into a free-trade zone and eventually a political unity is still facing.

While on the political level the path is clearly defined – to unite the 10 ASEAN members in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the beginning of 2016 – there seems to be more obstacles on the way than originally feared even by the harshest critics of the AEC. It now seems that the AEC will not work simply on agreements on the highest level, but will have to take into account a multitude of minority interests and have national bureaucracies work out detailed specifics that seem to have been ignored so far.

Brunei, which is located at the peripheries of the Sabah-Sulu conflict and is chairing ASEAN this year, needs to take up a position on the issue and calm down both sides for the benefit of the integration of ASEAN and a peaceful solution of the conflict. The impending AEC deadline is pushing the bloc’s member countries to clarify, document and establish consensus on their respective policies, and they cannot afford an unresolved issue that is not only questioning the bloc’s ability to stand united, but also jeopardises functioning partnership,s such as the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

If the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN chair do not clarify that historical territorial claims have nothing to do with today’s reality of ASEAN, investors might turn their head from the region and look elsewhere for opportunities. This is even more urgent now that many issues still await agreement within and among member-states.

The AEC blueprint envisions ASEAN as a single market and production base that would allow the free flow of goods, services, investment, capital and skilled labour. This implies that ASEAN citizens will enjoy full market access and national treatment throughout the region. But how does free movement of people go together with territorial claims?

For Brunei, which is interested in keeping stability and peace in and around its territory, the conflict can be a good occasion to sharpen its profile within ASEAN and to search for a win-win solution for the respective countries, investors and the entire ASEAN community.

It needs to point out that ASEAN is meant to be a borderless trading area and growth zone that would enlarge all member economies with a minimum amount of formalities and barriers, expansion of sea-air linkages, tourism promotion, agriculture-fisheries development, transportation and communications upgrades, energy cooperation as well as environmental protection – and at the same time put all old problems on the backburner to help spur the lives of the region’s peoples.

ASEAN is meant to be the realisation of socially acceptable and sustainable economic development – and there is no space for unresolved tensions or political tit-for-tats that disappointingly hamper the integration process.

 

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

Brunei Times logo

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