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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs  25 October 2010

ASEAN to challenge Asia's giants

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The leaders of the 10 Asean member countries will convene this week to discuss a new master plan for enhancing ties and building new infrastructure that would allow the group to compete with rising economic giants China and India.

The 10 leaders will convene from Thursday to Saturday in Hanoi, Vietnam, to discuss the so-called Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which would anchor the region's long-term strategy to improve infrastructure and institutional and people-to-people relations, the ASEAN Secretariat said in Jakarta on Saturday.

"The deepening and widening of connectivity in the region would reinforce ASEAN's position as the hub of the East Asia region and preserve its centrality," the draft plan stated.

Experts have praised the plan as a necessary step to improve economic integration that would allow the region to compete with China, which has become a huge magnet for investors.

"Asean integration is becoming even more urgent as we prepare for the rise of China and India, as well as the possible normalization of Japan's military role. As rivalry heightens, these major powers will use economic and military means to achieve their national goals," Rizal Sukma, executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Jakarta, said.

By enhancing connectivity, investors would see the nation grouping of 560 million people as one united market rather than as separate countries, the expert said.

The master plan proposes strategies to boost road, rail, shipping, air and other networks between Asean members to reduce economic disparities in Southeast Asia and help Asean achieve its goal of becoming an economic community by 2015.

Indonesia is the coordinator for achieving maritime interconnectivity in the region. ASEAN plans to build 42 new seaports in the region.

He said the master plan called for efforts to improve the region's connectivity in three areas - physical connectivity such as transport and ICT infrastructure, institutional connectivity such as trade and investment liberalization, and people-to-people connectivity such as tourism and education.

The leaders will also likely discuss criticism of the group's stance on Myanmar's decision to bar foreign observers and journalists form entering the country during its elections, scheduled to take place on November 8.

ASEAN will host the United States and Russia in the East Asian Summit, along with the six existing partners - China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

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