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ASEAN ANALYSIS  Asean Affairs   25 October 2010

Asean continues its steps forward

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     25 October 2010

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Looking ahead to the end of this week, the Asean community again meets in Hanoi to move forward on its plans to create a truly connected entity.

The 10 Asean countries will meet to develop railroad, maritime and air travel within the sprawling Asean community that stretches from the Philippines to Vietnam. The improvement within the Asean grouping is to improve economic competition with the bookends of Asean, India and China.

The concept is to appeal to investors to see Asean with its 560 million population as one market rather than 10.

The question is: “Will that concept work?”

Each of the countries is quite different in size, language, religion (Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic). Some have more skilled labor forces, Malaysia and Singapore come to mind, while others, Cambodia and Laos, have large, unskilled workforces. And of course bringing up the rear is Myanmar, separated in every way possible from the rest of the world by its military junta. Hopefully, what emerges from the meeting will be a more substantial timetable and plan for the region.

A keyword in all of this is infrastructure and there is little question that most Asean countries need more and improved infrastructure. In some cases, they are already acting on their own, such as Thailand’s hookup with China on expanding into high-speed rail to supplant its decrepit and outmoded rail system.

In a week, the results of the connectivity meeting will be known and the world can then assess how serious Asean leaders about the issue.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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