Asean nations are trying to achieve economic integration some time next year. But experts say the 10 Southeast nations that comprise the bloc have many domestic political and security issues that must be ironed out.
Those issues are far from resolved, imperiling the integration, an Asean diplomat said Monday.
Asean has developed so-called scorecards for three categories of communities: economic, socio-cultural and political-security. Asean officials say they score 92 percent for economic community and 82 percent for socio-cultural. But Asean only scores 12 percent in political and security issues, said Hassan Wirajuda, the Indonesian ambassador to Cambodia.
Speaking at a public lecture at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace on Monday, Wirajuda said these issues remain a major gap in Asean integration.
“Because of differences among Asean countries on the state of their political development in terms of democracy, quasi-democracy and authoritarian government, which makes the issue of political and security community most sensitive to some,” he said. “But through time since the Asean Charter and Asean Blueprint were adopted, we made a lot of progress. Not as fast as we wanted, but we made progress.”
Asean nations are facing many different challenges, amid human rights violations, backsliding democracy and, in Thailand, ongoing political unrest, including a May coup.
The recent exodus of illegal Cambodian workers from Thailand, following the coup, points to larger problems of integration as a whole in the region, observers say.
Experts point to the recent prolonged military standoff between Cambodia and Thailand and ongoing disputes over the South China Sea as further evidence the region doesn’t have the proper mechanisms in place to tackled sensitive political or security matters.
If not addressed, such issues can hurt upcoming Asean integration, Wirajuda said.
“Don’t inherit these problems for future generations,” he said. “That is the principle that we in Indonesia have been adopting. Otherwise, we cannot develop a strong and cohesive community among ourselves.”
Some “modest” progress has been made, however, he said. Asean nations have seen more open dialogue on human rights and political issues among its members, for example.
Despite these challenges, Pou Sothirak, executive director at Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said Asean should not delay the deadline of its integration.
“Asean leaders have set the deadline for the integration,” he said. “It cannot be delayed. The problems that remain will be addressed continuously. This is the process. Not only Cambodia but also Laos, Myanmar and even Vietnam that are lagging behind others. We need to increase our efforts along with others. Building the Asean community is like a departing train, so if we do nothing, the train will pass us.”