“With­out ASEAN, we would have no vi­sion for the fu­ture”

Asian Geographic - - Front Page - Hidetoshi Nishimura

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.

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