ASEAN Vision: Peace or Conflict?
Author: Kyi Kyi Seinn
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 11/12/2008
One Vision, One Identity, One Community ASEAN Motto
My initial interest in studying the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) integration derived from the fact of being a citizen of the ASEAN
region myself. Lately, I have been facing the dilemma of whether I should
really appreciate the postmodern peace concept of ASEAN integration in this
region or not. Although on one hand, regional integration will bring a stronger
economy and job opportunities in the region as a whole, the economic
cooperation plan for the developing countries in the region, especially
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam (CLMV) is still vague and uncertain. CLMV
countries’ economic, social, and political status are in the fragile stage
where, economically, they have to depend largely on the ASEAN 5 countries
(Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines) and the ASEAN trade
partners (US, EU, Japan, China, South Korea, etc), which makes their position
in the region become vulnerable.
The glory of ASEAN integration was
already two decades old when the decision was made to include the much less
developed CLMV countries. The participation of the CLMV countries brings more
economic security and contributions to the ASEAN 6, through the CLMV’s through cheap
labour and natural resources. On the other hand, it also harms the image of ASEAN
with poverty and a huge human development index gap, followed by economic
instablity and displacement from the CLMV countries. As the exploitation goes
on in the region (such as squeezing out the economy from the CLMVs and
neglecting the instabilities in these countries in the name of non-interference, and for not
coming up with the consensus, but, yet demanding the CLMVs to change their
policies and internal conflict situations), the gaps are more likely to grow
My perception as a citizen of a CLMV country is
that the creation of ASEAN Vision 2020 in the region, which is full of
diversity in terms of politics, economics, social and historical conflicts
among its member countries, is more likely to bring larger inequality and
conflicts rather than integration and peace when the time arrives.
I focus this article only on analyzing the ASEAN
Vision 2020 and the challenges of its components; ASEAN Security Community
(ASC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community
(ASCC), and how they affect the CLMV countries.
ASEAN Vision 2020
The idea of establishing the ASEAN Community
derived from the creation of ASEAN Vision 2020, which was adopted by the Hanoi
Plan of Action on the 30th anniversary of ASEAN on 1997. ASEAN
member countries agreed on a shared vision of ASEAN, involving outward looking
economic and social policies, living in peace, stability and prosperity,
building partnerships in dynamic development, and fostering a community of
In order to enforce ASEAN vision 2020, the
leaders of ASEAN signed the implementation of three pillars in Bali Concord II,
2003 covering the areas of ASEAN Security Community (ASC), ASEAN Economic
Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). The creation of each
community, however, impacts member countries differently, instead of creating
ASEAN Security Community (ASC)
The ASEAN Security Community (ASC) aims to
ensure that countries in the region live with the region and world in a just,
democratic, and harmonious environment. It is the creation of the “we feeling” where every country
shares the same feeling. The areas of implementation under ASC includes
political development, shaping and sharing of norms, conflict prevention,
conflict resolution, post-conflict peace building, implementing mechanisms and
the areas of activities.
However, these policies seem not to be applicable
in the real situation where the member countries act on their own self-interests
differing from collaboration. The ongoing cases of Cambodia-Thailand border
disputes, Thai-Myanmar refugee issues, and the political self-interests among
the ASEAN countries, reflect the negative feelings that the member countries continue
to have towards each other. That “we feeling”
of ASEAN Security Community may be merely a superficial agreement – the actions
of its member countries are certainly telling different stories.
ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)
The vision of the ASEAN Economic Community is to
create “a single market”, and the concept has become synonymous with the idea
of moving forward in a unified manner. The target timeframe of creating the
ASEAN Economic Community has been shortened from 2020 to 2015 for the reason
that most of the ASEAN countries are almost ready for the change. There are
three approaches to achieving AEC, all of which involve strengthening existing
agreements: the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), the ASEAN Framework Agreement on
Services (AFAS), and the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA).
The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) is the most
important tool in the framework for the ASEAN economic cooperation. AFTA has
developed a mechanism called the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT)
scheme, where the tariff rates are to be reduced from five percent to zero
percent gradually by 2015. By creating this free trade area, the ASEAN
countries intend to increase their combined international competitiveness and
integration with the world, thereby bringing more competitiveness to its member
The ASEAN Framework agreement on Services is designed
to promote the service industry by encouraging nations within the ASEAN
investment Area (AIA) to welcome more foreign direct investments, including
special economic zones and the free flow of capital investments in the region.
This leads the community to the place where free-flow of production-based
goods, services, and investments are very competitive in the regional market.
The member countries which cannot compete in this market will be left out,
while the member countries which are competent in this market will gain more
market shares and the economic growth.
Therefore, for the CLMV countries to catch up
with the rest ASEAN countries is still not possible since the technology,
investment, and skilled laborers needed to compete with ASEAN 6 are still
lacking. CLMV countries are more likely to get the role of filling in the
blanks for the benefit of other ASEAN countries. Even Brunei Darussalam, a
small rich country with a population of less than one million, will miss out on
the benefits of integration, as it does not have as much foreign direct
investment as the rest ASEAN member countries. If we compare the ASEAN 5’s
foreign direct investment (FDI) intra-ASEAN net inflow, throughout the year
2004 to 2006, ASEAN 5’s net inflow has increased for 135% from 2492.2 US
million $ to 5856.6 US million $ where that of BCLMV countries’
increased only for 23% which was from 311.5 US million $ to 385.5 US million $
The combined GDP of ASEAN is 1100 Billion US$ in
However, there is a huge gap from one ASEAN country to another in terms of GDP
per capita. While the per capita GDP of countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are struggling under 1000 US$, countries like Brunei Darussalam
and Singapore are over 30000 US$, which is over 300 times more. These gaps are
a big challenge in reality to build integration together with one single vision.
It is obvious to see that ASEAN integration is
taking the form of a flying geese pattern,
where economically stronger countries such as Singapore and Malaysia exploit relatively
poorer countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, which in
turn leads to a third generation of economic exploitation from the least
developed countries in the region, such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and
Vietnam. Therefore, it is very crucial for the CLMV countries, which are
becoming economically dependent on the rest ASEAN 6, to have a positive
political relationship with these countries in the region.
ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC)
The common goals for creating a socio-cultural
community include: building a community of caring societies, managing the
social impact of economic integration, enhancing environmental sustainability,
and strengthening the foundation of regional social cohesion. Being a region
with member countries as small as Brunei Darussalam and Singapore on one hand,
and as large as Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Thailand on the other, the
population and migration gaps among ASEAN nations is a critical issue.
When managing the social impact of economic
integration, migration issues in the region play a very important role. ASEAN member
countries have already begun to prevent future migration problems in their
countries by enacting new migration policies and laws. Small countries such as Singapore and Brunei Darussalam are aware of the potential dangers of migrant inflow into
their countries. Singapore, with a current population of 4.6 million people,
already has an estimated 1.2 million migrant workers in its country, which is
one fourth of the country’s population. Singapore’s migration policy now favors
more skilled labour migrants and no longer unskilled labourers, since the
country trying to follow a more capital and technology intensive economic
strategy, rather than a labor intensive strategy. Thailand and Malaysia on the
other hand, who receive more than 1.9 million, mainly unskilled foreign workers,
are now facing illegal migration issues, human trafficking issues, and
deportations – all of which have brought conflicts between the respective governments
in the region. For this reason, the Malaysian government has initiated talks
and negotiations with the governments of labour sending countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos on the issues of deportation and illegal
migration. ASEAN labour migration policies and labour distribution systems have
become a major challenge in the region, especially since so many parties
benefit from migrant workers, and cheap labour they bring drives the economies
of many countries in the region. The Thai government also signed memorandum of
understandings (MOUs) with neighboring countries but many points stated in
their agreements are not practical. For example, the MOU between Myanmar and Thai government states that: “A three-year break is required for a worker who
has already completed the terms and conditions of employment to re-apply for
This restriction is not possible for the many labourers who wish to return to
their jobs within the three-year timeframe, and could lead them to migrate
Of course, it is not particularly surprising that
there would be disagreement among these countries, since all ten ASEAN member
countries come to the table with very different interests based on their very
different backgrounds and natures, including geography, sizes, population,
economic strategy, history, poverty, and so on. Furthermore, the involvement of
the great power strugglers – China and United States – as supporters of some of
the ASEAN member countries, such as Myanmar, Philippines, and Thailand, can
only bring more complicated political issues to the region, and may distract
from the ASEAN goal of creating peace, harmony, and prosperity.
Adjustment and Conclusion
The creation of an integrated region such
as ASEAN can be thought of as a postmodern attempt at building peace, where the
leaders of all ASEAN member countries intend to block the potentially positive
energy of conflict through economic (and to some degree, social) integration, as
outlined in the ASEAN Vision 2020. Postmodern peaces do not believe in one-dimensional
way but as networked and systemic structures, or fields (Dietrich, 2006).
However, ASEAN integration cannot be taken as a fully positive example, since there
are significant power imbalances and ethno-political tensions which have not
been properly addressed.
It is not possible to have a region without such
tensions and conflicts, but it is necessary to create a continuous system of
mediation and negotiation which can accommodate the concerns of all member
therefore, confirm my statement that, as it is currently stated, the creation of ASEAN
Vision 2020 in the region, which is full of diversity in terms of politics,
economics, social and historical conflicts among its member countries, is more
likely to bring larger inequality and conflicts rather than integration and
peace, when the time arrives.
ASEAN Knowledge Kit. (2005). Declaration of
ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II), Jakarta; ASEAN Secretariat.
The ASEAN Charter (2008). Jakarta; ASEAN
Dietrich, Wolfgang (2006). A call for
Trans-Rational Peaces. IPS-6011 Conflict Analysis and Management Theory and
Practice (2008), Reader. Department of Peace and Conflict Studies,
International Peace Studies. University for Peace.
Gebrewold, Belachew. (n.d.) Deconstructing the
Civilizing Process. IPS-6011 Conflict Analysis and Management Theory and Practice
(2008), Reader. Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, International Peace
Studies. University for Peace.
Huguet, W. Jerrold & Punpuing, Sureeporn. (2005).
International Migration in Thailand, International Organization for
Migration, Regional Office Bangkok.
International Labor Organization. (2007).
Labor and Social Trends in ASEAN 2007: Integration, Challenges and
Opportunities. ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Pearce, Jenny (2004). Collective action or
public participation? Complementary or contradictory democratisation strategies
in Latin America? Blackwell Publishing. Bulletin of Latin American Research,
Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 483-504.
Seinn, Kyi Kyi. (2008). A Goal or A Blow?: ASEAN
labor Migration’s Challenge to the ASEAN Economic Community(AEC) 2015.
Wongboonsin, Patcharawalai. (2003). Migration
Patterns and Policies in the Asian and Pacific Region; United Nations
Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), Asian Population,
Studies Series No. 160. Chapter 3: Comparative Migration Policies in the ESCAP
Region, pp. 67-95.
Bio: Kyi Kyi Seinn is a Master’s degree candidate at the University for Peace.