By Former Ambassador Gheorghe Savuica*
The Southeast Asian countries back into 1967, more exactly on the 8 th of August of that year, when they were confronted with cold war and the necessity to consolidate their newly gained independence and the formation as emerging forces needed a regional cooperation. It goes to the merit of well-known and illustrious leaders of the five founding countries- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, who opted in favour of an economic organization and not a military bloc. The ASEAN was established through The ASEAN Declaration or Bangkok Declaration.
Brunei Joined ASEAN since 1984, later the expansion of membership of ASEAN includes Vietnam in 1995, Laos in 1997, Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.
This event was highly and friendly received by Romania, who was one from the very few countries at that time to officially declare from the outset that ASEAN is a genuine regional economic organization as per ASEAN Declaration. Many other countries initially viewed ASEAN as a substitute to the military bloc of that time called Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).
ASEAN so far has passed through three important steps: exclusive economic regional organization; primarily economic regional organization with added political, security and social –cultural dimensions; and regional organization in full process of political, security, economic and socio-cultural integration, which led in 2015 to ASEAN COMMUNITY based on three pillars: the Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Socio-Cultural Community.
ASEAN COMMUNITY is developing without hesitations or second thoughts towards the target of „one vision, one identity, one community”, as it comprised in the document adopted at the end of 2015 by the Head of States at ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur -“ASEAN 2025: FORGING AHEAD TOGHETHER” .
ASEAN has entered into a multiple network of partnership and cooperation having 10 Dialogue Partners: Australia, Canada, China, the EU, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US.
ASEAN, in fact, became, with international recognition, the driving force of the architecture of the regional cooperation in the centaury of Asia.
Taking into consideration the importance of the ASEAN’s progress and with the intention to make young students to realize it, The University of Economic Studies (ASE) and The Romanian Institute for Europe-Asia Studies (IRSEA), based on their Agreement of Cooperation and in the framework of the “International Week” declared by ASE, have organized on May 8, 2017 a conference in Aula Magna called “ASEAN DAY” dedicated to the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN. It was the first such event that took place so far in Romania this year.
The Chief Guests and main Speakers were H.E. Mr DIAR NURBINTORO, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Indonesia, H.E. Dato’ TAJUL AMAN MOHAMAD the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Malaysia, and H.E. Mr TRAN THANH CONG, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam,. All three high representatives are members of the ASEAN Diplomatic Committee in Bucharest. The Chair of the Committee during the time of the event was H.E. Dato’ TAJUL AMAN MOHAMAD.
Their Excellencies were received for an exchange of views on bilateral cooperation in the field of education by Prof. MARIUS PROFIROIU, Vice Rector, in charged with International Relationships of ASE, attended by Prof. DOREL PARASCHIV, Vice Rector, in charged with the Relationships with economic and social environment and student life, Prof. GHEORGHE HURDUZEU, Dean, Faculty of International Business and Economics and Prof. Anca Ilie, Vice Dean, Faculty of International Business and Economics.
H.E. Ambassador DIAR NURBINTORO, in his topic called “Introduction to ASEAN and ASEAN Connectivity”, presented ASEAN at a glance as a group of ten member countries that encourages political, economic, and social cooperation in the region. In 2015 ASEAN tied together 646 million people and about 4.4 million square kilometres of land.
Today, the group is considered one of the most successful regional organizations in the world, and it seems to have a brighter future ahead.
According to World’s Bank data, ASEAN, as a region, has contributed to 2, 4 trillion US Dollars to the world’s GDP. Each member states has contributed to the amount of the total GDP as follows: Indonesia 867 billion US Dollars, followed by Thailand with 401 billion US Dollars, Malaysia with 312 billion US Dollars, Singapore with 287 billion US Dollars, The Philippines contributed 272 billion US Dollars, Viet Nam with 170 billion US Dollars. Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos consecutively contributed 59 billion, 17 billion and 10 billion US Dollars.
Connectivity in ASEAN is implementing through Master Plan of ASEAN Connectivity ( MPAC) and refers to the physical, institutional, and people-to-people linkages that can contribute towards a more competitive, inclusive, and cohesive ASEAN. Greater connectivity supports the political-security, economic, and socio-cultural pillars of an integrated ASEAN Community.
The connectivity is going to be achieved through the Roadmap on ASEAN Connectivity:
Firstly is Sustainable Infrastructure, the strategies involved are to Increase public and private infrastructure investment in each ASEAN Member State, as needed; to Significantly enhance the evaluation and sharing of best practices on infrastructure productivity in ASEAN; and to increase the deployment of smart urbanization models across ASEAN.
Secondly, Digital Innovation, the strategies involved are to Support the adoption of technology by micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); to Support financial access through digital technologies; to Improve open data use in ASEAN Member States; and to Support enhanced data management in ASEAN Member States.
Third, Seamless Logistic, the strategies are to lower supply chain costs in each ASEAN Member State; and improve speed and reliability of supply chains in each ASEAN Member State
Fourthly, Regulatory Excellence, the strategies involved are to Harmonize or mutually recognize standards, conformance, and technical regulations for products in key sectors; and to reduce number of trade-distorting non-tariff measures across ASEAN Member States.
And the last strategies in People Mobility are to support ease of travel throughout ASEAN; to reduce the gaps between vocational skills demand and supply across ASEAN; and to increase the number of intra-ASEAN international students.
Integral Visa Policy between member states of ASEAN agreed on the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Visa Exemption on July 2006 to exempt visa of ASEAN member states citizen to travel within the region of ASEAN.
All these achievements favoured as well the labour mobility, particularly strengthening of the skills mobility in the region and, where appropriate, by establishing high-quality qualification frameworks in critical vocational occupations, and to encourage greater mobility of intra-ASEAN university students.
To enhance regional co-operation in education, ASEAN Education Ministers have agreed four priorities for education: (1) Promoting ASEAN awareness among ASEAN citizens, particularly youth; (2) Strengthening ASEAN identity through education; (3) Building ASEAN human resources in the field of education; and (4) Strengthening the ASEAN University Network.
The ASEAN Youth Forum, or AYF, is envisioned to be a free and empowering platform for youths to voice out their concerns and strategize for ways to achieve a better ASEAN. AYF has been working regionally to strengthening youth movement, engagement with ASEAN, and civil society.
Several initiatives have been put forth by the member-states to actively involve youths in the formation of ASEAN Community with discussions made on matters that impact the people whilst affording them with platforms to cooperate on a multitude of issues that pertain to the region or the wider community.
ASEAN Youth Entrepreneur Seminar and Expo provide a platform to enhance and support economic self-reliance and self-employment of the ASEAN youths. Aside from achieving economic objectives, summits such as the ASEAN+ Young Leaders Summit (AYLS) aim to bring together youths from various member countries to participate and lead in dialogues that advocate regional integration and cohesiveness on various levels.
The importance to enhance the Youth role in ASEAN is to develop a cohesive and competitiveness in order to further materialized the One Vision, One Community and to assume One Identity.
H.E. Ambassador Dato’ TAJUL AMAN MOHAMAD dwelled upon the “ASEAN-EU Relations and ASEAN-EU Free Trade Agreement”,
both topics having a paramount importance in these days.
In his view, ASEAN is aimed at enhancing the economic growth and maintaining the stability in the region through the “ASEAN Way”- a sacred principle of mutual respect, non-interference in the internal affairs of one another and observe consensus in decision making held and practiced by Member States.
Economic wise, if ASEAN were a single country, it would be the seventh-largest economy in the world.
The block is set to grow to become the equivalent of the world's fourth largest economy by 2050. Economy expanded at 4.7% in 2017. The major trading partners are China, Japan, the EU and the US.
The EU became ASEAN’s Dialogue Partner since 1977. An important milestone in the dialogue relations represents the adoption of the Bandar Seri Begawan Plan of Action (PoA) to strengthen the ASEAN-EU Enhanced Partnership (2013-2017) with aimed at providing a more strategic focus to cooperation between ASEAN and the EU in a wide range of areas – political/ security, economic/ trade and socio-cultural. Currently, there are undergoing negotiations on the PoA 2018-2022.
The EU has appointed its first dedicated Ambassador to ASEAN on 17 September 2015, together with the establishment of the Mission of EU to ASEAN in Jakarta, demonstrated the EU’s commitment to deepen its engagement with ASEAN.
The EU was ASEAN’s third largest trading partner after China and Japan in 2016. Total trade ASEAN and the EU was amounted to US$ 207,5 billion (2016). The EU remained the largest external source of Foreign Direct Investment in ASEAN– 23.3 billion Euros in 2015.
The ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) and the EU Trade Commissioner endorsed the ASEAN-EU Trade and Investment Work Programme for 2017–2018 aimed to enhance economic cooperation in addressing emerging challenges and capitalizing on opportunities for trade and investment between the two regions.
Negotiations for a region-to-region FTA with ASEAN were launched in 2007 and paused in 2009 to give way to Bilateral FTAs negotiations. On 10 March 2017, the AEM and the EU Trade Commissioner have tasked the Senior Economic Officials (SEOM) to develop a framework encompassing the parameters of a future ASEAN-EU FTA, and to report back to the next AEM-EU Trade Commissioner Consultations in 2018. In 2017,
ASEAN will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary as well as its 40th Anniversary Dialogue Relations with the EU.
At the end of his presentation, the Ambassador pinpointed several challenges within ASEAN:
- Diversity in foreign policy, economic policy, and security policy among the Member States.
- Lack of priority of ASEAN by national governments: comes from a lack of awareness and knowledge — both of ASEAN itself, and of other ASEAN states among the citizenry. People do not readily see how ASEAN impacts their lives, nor do they realise what potential it has to affect their lives for the better.
- Lack of the necessary physical infrastructure, roads, bridges and rail, for business and travellers to move through the region.
- ASEAN has had to deal with new problems that require collective coordination on issues such as cross-border diseases, transnational crimes, terrorism and non-state actors playing a much larger role in the world at large.
- Fragmented state of democratic development: the region’s different political values in regards to governance systems.
- Regressive process of democratization in the region.
- Development gaps between and within members in income, human capital, institution, disparities in good governance and the rule of the law.
- Disparities in population grows and population aging.
- To further enhance the intra-trade among the Member States.
- Social diversity in terms of religion, language, ethnicity and culture
- The need to have a better understanding of what the differences are, how they can be lessened, and the commonalities that we can hope to achieve.
- A lack of a sense of ownership of ASEAN among our populations.
- Our citizens do not as yet identify themselves as ASEAN, unlike the citizens of the EU. No shared feeling of ASEAN peoples, that we are ASEAN and ASEAN is us.
-ASEAN still depends on other markets like Europe and the U.S. for exports. The smaller economies of ASEAN may be indirectly hit with a popular protectionist backlash in other parts of the world.
-Competition will be more intense in the business world. Whether the companies from ASEAN would be able to compete and survive.
H.E. Ambassador TRAN THANH CONG entertained the participants by commenting a video presentation on “Tourism in Asia”, whereby the beauty and attractions in the region were emphasized such as Beaches, Nature and Wildlife: - Beaches & Oceans, Eco Tourism, Flora & Fauna, Jungles & Forests, Mountains & Volcanoes, Cruises, Tours, Rails & Rivers - Tourism, Pilgrimage Tourism and Long-Stay Travels • History, Culture and Heritage, Education Tourism, Food and Nightlife.
After such exiting preamble , Ambassador TRAN THANH CONG continued to present the most attractive tourist opportunities in each one out of 10 ASEAN Member Countries together with essential data about them (capital, population and so on).
It was a very outstanding introduction to the ASEAN's culture, heritage and nature - and above all, to feel the warmth of ASEAN hospitality.
In the audience there were more than 100 students from the University of Economic Studies (ASE), primarily from the Faculty of International Business and Economics, who had the pleasant chance to enter into a vibrant Q&A session with their Excellences representing Indonesia, Malaysia and Viet Nam.
At the end of the event, Prof. Gheorhe Hurduzeu presented “Certificate of Excellence” to the main Speakers and Moderator on behalf of the Faculty of International Business and Economics, Bucharest.
* The Author is President of IRSEA, and a carrier diplomat specialized in the Moscow Institute for International Relations on Southeast Asia, speaker of Bahasa Indonesia, He served as Head of the Romanian Diplomatic Missions to Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cyprus, and Finland/Estonia, and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Romania to Indonesia and Pakistan. His last position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania was Director General of the Department for ASIA-PACIFIC, MIDDLE EAST, AFRICA AND LATIN AMERICA.
He observed the evolution of ASEAN since the day of its establishment -1967- the year when he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania. As President of IRSEA, he organized similar events to mark the 40th and 45th Anniversary of ASEAN in Romania.