ASEAN needs to raise awareness on integration

National 2 minutes, 37 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

ASEAN countries need to significantly improve awareness on how integration into a single community will impact the lives of its citizens in 2015, several officials have said.

“ASEAN is bad at communicating its own relevance,” said Danny Lee, director for Community Affairs Development at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.

People have a hard time relating to ASEAN because they cannot feel a tangible connection to it in their everyday lives, he told ASEAN journalists in Singapore during a workshop on regional integration.

A study published by the ASEAN Foundation in 2012 showed that 46 per cent of Bruneians had little or no awareness of ASEAN. Vietnam had the highest level of awareness, with 88 per cent saying they had some knowledge of ASEAN, while Myanmar ranked the lowest with just nine per cent having some knowledge of ASEAN.

Lee added that ASEAN has a very limited budget for publicity and people-to-people exchanges. Many of its activities like workshops and exchange programmes are funded by its dialogue partners.

“ASEAN should be people-driven and not government-driven,” he said.

The European Union Ambassador to Singapore, Dr Michael Pulch, said once the 10-member bloc begins to merge its national economies into a single economic community in December 2015, people need to understand how the change in flow of good and services will affect their lives.

“That is something governments need to explain to their people,” he told journalists in Singapore recently.

“When you create a single market it means that you open up [your economy] and that means there will be more competition, and that will have an impact on some of the economic operators.”

Consumers will also be affected by the wider range of products which will push down pricing.

Eventually, ASEAN may want to integrate further, allowing people to move across borders more freely in order to work, study or travel to other ASEAN countries.

“All of this will have an impact on society... you have to make sure that people understand what you’re doing and are in agreement,” said Dr Pulch.

When Indonesia assumed ASEAN’s chairmanship in 2011, the country’s foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said that more work needed to be done “to make ASEAN directly beneficial and more meaningful to its people”.

“An ASEAN community cannot come into being only by having signatures on documents and the participation of senior officials. It must also involve the ASEAN peoples,” he stated.

Malaysia has also expressed concern about the lack of awareness on ASEAN, which is a major obstacle toward fulfilling the vision of a “People-Centred ASEAN.”

In July, foreign affairs minister Dato Sri Anifah Hj Aman said his ministry would embark on a “very aggressive campaign” to promote ASEAN in Malaysia.

“We need to firstly, foster a change in the mind-sets of governments. Secondly, create a sense of belonging amongst peoples of ASEAN, and thirdly, institute arrangements that can foster People-Centredness,” he noted.

“A people-centered ASEAN means that ASEAN will be an even more powerful vehicle for the realisation of our people’s aspirations — good governance, transparency, higher standards of living, sustainable development, the empowerment of women and greater opportunity for all.”

The Brunei Times