“Without ASEAN, we would have no vision for the future”
ASEAN always functions best in times of crisis. In fact, ASEAN started because so many countries in the region were on the verge of war with one another. In particular, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines struggled to come to terms with new borders and regions that were the legacy of colonial powers after the end of World War II. ASEAN was conceived as a neutral platform for leaders to come together and discuss issues before they became full-blown conflicts. And it has worked.
In today’s turbulent world, there are increasingly grave risks for any small or medium-sized country that tries to stand on its own. Risks of lost opportunities. Risks that Southeast Asian countries will not have a voice in global affairs and are not strong enough to negotiate for their own best interests. Risks that the region’s economies will not continue to develop. Risks that people will not be able to live and work in places they choose, raise their children in healthy cities with good schools, and have opportunities to advance in their careers.
Without ASEAN, we would have no vision for the future: No possible picture of an integrated Southeast Asia, where regional issues like corruption and environmental degradation are addressed. No interconnected region, with people and products free to move from one country to another. The great irony is: Maybe we’re lucky that many people do not understand the great importance of ASEAN, precisely because it does its job so well.
Deepening integration through improving connectivity and increasing trade and investment are critical to the realisation of the vision of a resilient, people-oriented, rulesbased region that has become a global voice. ASEAN is the platform to make that vision come true.