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
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
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 www.aseanaffairs.com. 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.