Cambodia and other undeveloped countries within Asean must do more to prepare for regional integration, experts say.
The free flow of goods, skilled labor and people that will come with Asean integration at the end of the year mean challenges of economic competition that Cambodia is not ready for, even as the region overall is facing ongoing security challenges, analysts say.
Vannarith Chheang, a lecturer in Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Leeds in the UK, told “Hello VOA” recently that poor countries like Cambodia need to work harder to reform laws, institutions, leadership and human resources to prepare for integration.
“So, the challenge for a weak economic nation is competition, whether we can compete in the regional market, how much we can export our products, to compete in a market with 600 million people of Asean,” he said. “Frankly speaking, we [Cambodians] need to take efforts more than other countries in the region to take this opportunity and to be able to compete.”
Meanwhile, Asean is in flux, creating other challenges and opportunities, he said.
Challenges include the dispute between member nations with China over the South China Sea and the democratic backslide of Thailand, and positive changes include progress in Burma and Indonesia, he said.
Malaysia, a claimant state to parts of the South China Sea, is the head of Asean this year, but Vannarith Chheang said he did not expect much progress on the issue. Malaysia enjoys close ties with China, as Cambodia does, making talks over the sea difficult. Vietnam and the Philippines, other claimant states, are more vocal in their grievances.
The dispute has become intractable for bilateral or even multi-lateral solutions, he said. “The issue can be solved only by bringing it to the international court.”
An integrated Asean will still have geopolitics to contend with, including the growing influence of China and renewed interest from the United States.
“The role of the US still exists, to maintain the balance of the power in the Asia Pacific, but what is happening in the US is internal politics in the US,” he said. “The Republican Party defeated the Democratic Party, so President Obama will not implement his foreign policy efficiently like before.”
Despite these global influences, Asean must look to itself for security and disasters, he said. Its members must work together for a variety of purposes, from aviation security and disaster relief to the prevention of racism and discrimination.