Leaders of 10 south-east Asian nations ranging from fledgling democracies to an absolute monarchy gathered today to sign a landmark accord aimed at moulding their disparate region into a European-style economic community by 2020.
The blueprint, dubbed the Bali Concord II, envisages a single market and production base within an economic community encompassing 500 million people.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations wants to band together to counter the burgeoning economic might of India and China, Asian powerhouses that are siphoning off investment and trade seen as essential for south-east Asia’s development.
The 36-year-old ASEAN is comprised of diverse nations with vastly different political systems that also include communist autocracies and a military dictatorship alongside the region’s democracies.
Leaders who gathered in Bali for today’s start of a two-day summit acknowledged that the diversity of governing systems would complicate efforts to emulate European integration.
Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said it would take 40 to 50 years before a Euro-style common currency could be created for ASEAN, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Burma, Malaysia and Thailand.
Goh said ASEAN must speed up efforts at regional integration or risk being marginalised in global competition. He compared south-east Asia’s planned moves towards economic integration with Europe’s after the Second World War.
“Just as the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community 50 years ago helped revitalise the war-torn European economies, I believe the ASEAN Economic Community will revitalise ASEAN economies,” Goh said.
Draft summit statements promise to set up a network of free trade zones across south-east Asia and set deadlines for lowering tariffs and travel restrictions. They aim to create by 2020 the ASEAN Economic Community, modelled on European integration of the 1960s and 1970s – before the advent of the European Union.