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Asean cooperation-a work in progress

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs 22 June 2010

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Sending a message to Thai investors, the director-general of Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Board, Ampon Kitti-ampon, today advised the investors to more fully cooperate with the nine other member states of Asean.

His remarks could clearly be placed in the “good advice” category as the Asean common market, slated to become a reality in2015, draws closer each day.

The world has already seen the rocky road that the European Union has travelled in its development since its starting date of March 25, 1957. The United Kingdom still maintains its own currency and a constitutional treaty was killed off in 2004 but passed in 2007, with bailout provisions for those members that choose to do so.

History tells us that past is prologue and the 10-member Asean is as dissimilar a grouping as one could find. In many cases, a history of disagreement and rancor continues to exist between members.

Thailand, for example, is the only Asian country not to have been occupied by a colonial power, is an extremely nationalistic country with a distinct language and culture and lies right in the middle of Southeast Asia

It has had recent disputes with Cambodia over a disputed World Heritage site on the border between the two countries and in 2008, a Cambodian mob burned Thai-owned companies in Phnom Penh.

On the other side of Thailand lies Myanmar. The two countries share a common Buddhist faith and their history of warfare against each other goes back centuries.

Although Thailand has reached agreements with the Myanmar generals on developing energy resources in Myanmar, the cross-border flow of drugs and refugees into Thailand remain sore points between the two countries.

To Thailand’s south, the ongoing Muslim insurgency in its southernmost provinces is thought to be caused by terrorists crossing the border, using Malaysia as a base.

Hishammuddin Hussein, in charge of Malaysia’s domestic security, recently confirmed that there were Islamic and non-Islamic militant groups operating in the country. No small comfort to Thailand, which has claimed more than 3,500 lives since it was reborn in January 2004, according to the Bangkok Post.

Other dissimilarities abound in the Asean group, language, religion, currencies and geographical distance between the countries is also a factor that can’t be dismissed.

Look at the trio of the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. The trio is separated by language, religion and culture but unified in that all three are employing a type of democratic rule, often, though, with historically mixed and questionable results. The recent unrest in Thailand and the continued slaughter of journalists in the Philippines, being prime examples bumps on the democratic road.

Nevertheless, the road to an Asean common market is on its way and Asean Affairs will be reporting and commenting on it as it proceeds toward its culmination in 2015.


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