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  July- Sep 2008         
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As diverse as ever

InsideOut looks at the interesting issues and topics more or less peculiar to the ten members grouped together as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which has been in search of a unity in diversity.
Forty-one years after its inception in 1967, the regional bloc is getting serious to setting up a seamless, barrier-free market as early as 2015. Despite the ambitious integration drive, there is, and will be, a need for Asean watchers to keep track of the developments in each member countries. For they will most likely remain as diverse as they always are.


The oil-rich sultanate has a problem when it wants to ramp up industrialisation: it does not have resources to assure potential strategic investors with sufficient power supply. As a result it loses big time multinationals to fellow Asean members – Malaysia and Singapore.
Look beyond the power supply problem. There is a fight going on between Brunei's national investment firm and Prince Jefri Bolkiah over the $88-million mansion in Singapore. Who’ll be the winner?



One of those smaller members of Asean, Cambodia has its own inside stories of interest to outsiders. The most recent one is about the one-horse race in the 11-party election contests, to be held very soon. Bet on Prime Minister Hun Sen, Asean’s longest-serving head of government, and you are unlikely to lose.


The biggest economy and democracy in Asean is focusing on infrastructure developments. The Suramadu bridge, which will become Indonesia’s longest, is almost complete, will connect East Java's provincial capital of Surabaya and Madura island.
Thanks to the construction boom - of power plants, bridges and toll roads total domestic and foreign direct investment is set to rise 15 percent to nearly $16 billion in 2008, from a record $13.8 billion in 2007, and surge to $20 billion in 2009.


As part of its attempt to join the World Trade Organisation, the landlocked Laos cannot help but opening up for business and investment. Government officials are busy pitching opportunities for foreign investors, talking about reforms and going on road shows. 



It is not easy for Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to say he’ll be stepping down, and handing over power to his anointed successor, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak. But then there are protesters in the streets shouting, "Down with PM, long live the people." 



The junta, the cyclone and international aid teams occupied global headlines for more than a month after the May-2 natural disaster. Yet, Asean
should have been at the centre stage but the media apparently failed to recognise it. But Asean’s Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan talks about the new Asean which has emerged from its response to cyclone-hit Myanmar, and showed the world that it can take on the responsibility placed on it.



When it comes to watching free TV in Asean, the Philippines offers the highest load of TV commercials, some 18 minutes per hour. Naturally, Filipinos have over the years learnt to adapt to avoid watching the unwanted ads one after another. Will the authorities see a need for more regulation of these commercials?




The city state is graying, and the ageing population - those aged 65 and above will double to 20 percent in 2020. Blame it on a relatively low birth rate and high-quality health care, which helps people live longer. How is the ‘baby bonus’ drive by the government to boost population and balance age groups?



The two-million baht in the snack box that was delivered to the country’s highest court made the headlines and so did Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister, whose lawyers were found guilty and sent to jail. 




Capital markets are in low spirits but the tourism industry is on the fast lane. The launch of Jetstar Pacific – a joint-venture between the budget offshoot of Australian carrier Qantas and Vietnam's Pacific Airlines – has set a stage for a dogfight with state-run Vietnam Airlines, while Canadian luxury resort and casino developer ACDL’s 4.2-billion-dollar resort and casino strip near southern Ho Chi Minh City, due to kick off in late 2010, may help put Vietnam ahead of Thailand and Malaysia in tourist arrivals.  


Find out more ‘inside’ stories – from Brunei to Vietnam in Check them out – by country, by topics which are updated daily. Explore the Country Profiles for all the background information and research. Get all the perspectives out of the Weekly Review and Focus menus. Just register (at no charge), if you have not already done so.  




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