The date December 31, 2015 has been etched into the diary of all politicians, business people and journalists for
a long time. is is the day that the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) finally comes into existence.
I say finally, as it seems that the only question I have been asking business people over the last two years has been, “What do you think will be the impact of the AEC?” Apparently I’ve even been asking it in my sleep.
Now, it’s all over, or has it only just begun?
In many respects ASEAN is not one community, but very much like the European Community, two separate yet interlinked communities – the have’s and the have not’s.The image that goes through my mind is that of a child’s see-saw. Weighing down one side you have the fat cat nations of Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, while lifted aloft on the other side are the emerging economies of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar (CLVM). You just have to look at the relative per capita GDPs to see how great the disparity is. While Singapore boasted a mighty $56,319 and oil-rich Brunei $36,607, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia managed a paltry $1,693, $1,221 and $1,081 respectively, all figures for 2014. It’s not so much an unlevel playing field, as taking on Usain Bolt in a 100-metre race with both your legs tied together.
In our cover story, we ask how a poorer nation, such as Cambodia, can benefit from the advent of the AEC, and whether December 31 marks anything more than just another milestone in Singapore’s domination of the region.
When we launched ASEAN Forum back in March, the intention was to take a
look at the whole region and beyond. Although our remit is mainly business, we always intended to look at the impact that business and politics has on the social, cultural and environmental spheres.
In this, our fifth issue, we are taking a look at possibly the biggest social issue a ecting the region, and arguably the world, one that is only likely to intensify with the advent
of the AEC – social migration.
Ate Hoekstra has been to Thailand to talk to some of the Myanmar migrants who make the often dangerous journey to Bangkok in order to seek illegal work there. He asks whether the AEC has the potential to improve their working conditions. Ate also looks into the political quagmire that is the Thai constitution. How the country’s lack of democracy is leading to the country missing out on major trade agreements as it struggles to overcome its red and yellow conundrum.
We also take a look at Laos – often seen as a sleepy back water. But as Luke Hunt writes, the country’s ambitious new development plans could have an environmental consequence that might impact upon the rest of the region.
As Myanmar’s elections seize all the headlines, we speak with former UK ambassador to the country, Vicky Bowman, to see why she feels that human rights and responsible business are essential to the country’s development.
With Cambodia’s organic movement, blossoming movie industry and impact hubs, regional software bootcamps, a look inside Vietnam’s La Residence hotel and 48 hours in Hanoi, I hope you nd ASEAN Forum a great read.
On a final and personal note, we have also included an article of mine about how Nepal is struggling six months after the earthquake that devastated the country on April 25, killing more than 9,000 people. Although not part of ASEAN, I felt that the villagers still suffering from the after-effects of this natural disaster had a story that needed to be told, and one that I trust you will want read.