GRANDIOSE statements from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are the region’s Christmas crackers: they appear at regular intervals, create a commotion but contain little of substance. In November the leaders of the club’s ten members declared that the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC)—a single market around which goods, services, capital and “skilled labour” are supposed to flow freely—would come into being on December 31st. So will South-East Asia’s 622m people wake up in a new world in 2016, or will the AEC prove another paper crown?
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. For one thing, much of the work towards economic integration has been done: by ASEAN’s reckoning, 79.5% of the measures the AEC involves have already been implemented. ASEAN already attracts large amounts of foreign investment, and its leaders have been talking up integration and regionalism since the organisation was founded in 1967. So the AEC represents less a radical change than an attempt to accelerate existing trends.
But anyone hoping that ASEAN is about to turn into an Asian…Continue reading