ASEAN, a region of opportunities for the citizens

The ASEAN Community rests upon three pillars, “namely political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation”.

aean tourismThe first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the  Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is my travels to seven countries (counting the Philippines). Of course, to travel the remaining three ASEAN countries  (Myanmar, Cambodia and  Brunei ) is in my bucket list . Like many tourists, there is long list of reasons to travel in the ASEAN  member states (AMS) “ranging from swimming in azure seas and relaxing on pristine beaches to feasting on spicy street food and indulging in luxurious spa treatments” . Lana,  a Vietnamese blogger based in Thailand believes “ASEAN countries have so much to offer. The wondrous landscapes, friendly people, beautiful cultures, awesome food – This unique diversity is ASEAN’s most precious treasure. “ The ASEAN is at the heart of Asia  and feels so close to home.

What is Asean? What is in it for me?

ASEAN  is now promoting an experiential and creative tourism that respects environment and culture. But other than travel, what is ASEAN to you?

From five countries in 1967 composed of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, ASEAN has now expanded to 10 countries to include Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Do you truly feel part of the ASEAN community?

Asean emblemASEAN Charter will “promote a people-oriented ASEAN in which all sectors of society are encouraged to participate in and benefit from (…) ASEAN integration and community building”. The charter is summed up in one motto, “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”. This is the claim of those who drafted this Charter.  Looking at the Charter chapter by chapter, I  can see that the “people-centered” principle remains  a vision, far from actually being implemented. The noble sounding words of politicians seem hard to comprehend by ordinary citizens. Is there one vision shared by the ASM?   ASEAN does not have one identity yet because it is something we hope to achieve. ASEAN is still not a community either.  “One Vision, One Identity, One Community “ is something to achieve.

As citizens, we will understand and believe in this claim  if we achieve the motto. In the meantime while waiting for this motto to be realized, what is  in it for us?  It is but natural to think about opportunities outside travel.  ASEAN hopes to broaden opportunities  to citizens,  foreign countries and investors.

The ASEAN Community

asean membersThe ASEAN Community  rests  upon three pillars, “namely political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation”. The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) that will integrate the economies of the 10-member states will “transform ASEAN into a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labor, and freer flow of capital” which  simply means the ASEAN will become one big single market and production base.”  The integration will allow companies based in AMS to enter each other’s markets, encouraged by zero tariffs and reduced bureaucratic clearances.

Though some business sectors in the Philippines are not that optimistic to the idea of a single market, the Philippine government are taking steps for the integration of economies. An example is  the Department of Trade and Industry ‘Doing Business in Free Trade Areas’ seminar for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) on how to take advantage of free trade agreements. While we would do well to aspire to produce more of the finished products ourselves, one can see that we are largely complementary rather than competitive in nature.

Asean Opportunities for the citizens

With the single market coming through in 2015, citizens may benefit from an economically increasing purchasing power thus making our life less expensive.  It has not happened yet but there will be benefit from new ways to make your career simply  because there is a choice of 10 countries. A Filipino can “work without permit in any of the ASEAN countries as well as people of other ASEAN nations can also work and go to school here without restriction.”

asean member countriesFormer Senator Ed Angara stressed though that at  present, “if a Singaporean and a Filipino apply for the same position, believe me, the Singaporean will get the job because of their very high standards of education. We must be competitive with our peers anywhere in the ASEAN because Filipinos now are the most mobile and migratory people in the world.”

A free exchange of people and goods will occur across boundaries of the ASEAN. With the integration, competition is no longer just national.  The welfare of ASEAN citizens play in the center stage as ASEAN offers the same opportunities to all inhabitants.  This sounds promising to our ASEAN citizens because  not all of us live in a democracy.

Not everything is rosy in ASEAN. Human rights issues in Cambodia and social media censorship in Vietnam exist. Myanmar  needs to be  “transparent about its internal conflicts and communal violence in order to avoid pitfalls when assuming ASEAN chairmanship next year.”

Our region is exposed to natural disasters but  we are there to help each other during disasters. Our community generates faster and more effective help in case of emergencies.

Join the opportunity?

asean secretariatWith the help of social media, a people-oriented ASEAN  can become a reality  as long as it opens up and listen to the citizenry.  The beauty of social media lies in the opportunity for citizens to get in touch with an organization that appears abstract to most of us at the present time. ASEAN needs to make itself understandable with its messaging especially on  how benefits can be derived . There are potential benefits in a life of a  secure environment, a better living standard , better job prospects, sufficient income and stable prices, a better education to our children, effective help in case of disaster and emergencies and the freedom to travel , work and settle

The focus is now on the  benefit from the opportunities of a borderless community of 10 ASEAN nations. Many opportunities are open and we shouldn’t be inordinately focused on perceived threats. Citizens need to own and  take it in order to make it happen.

Will you join this opportunity?

Photos from Asean Secretariat Facebook. Some rights reserved.