what is ASEAN AECLiving 

ASEAN, actually?

What is that ASEAN and AEC thing, actually?

It’s 2015. The year of ASEAN. The year AEC will finally come into realization. Maybe.

But let’s not be too critical about it. Just because it already had been postponed for a year doesn’t mean it will happen again. Therefore we all have to get ready for it and the whole region seems to feel the same. Getting ready for ASEAN seems to be THE slogan these days. But what does that actually mean? What is ASEAN? And AEC? What’s happening? And does that have any affect on me?

Let’s see.

As with many of my classes I’d like to introduce the vocabulary that’s necessary to understand before starting with analyzing the topic.


Vocab 1: ASEAN. ASEAN, as Google will tell you, stands for Association of South-East Asian Nations. After asking google for the meaning we check Wikipedia for the definition and some background information and find this:

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN/ˈɑːsi.ɑːn/ ah-see-ahn, /ˈɑːzi.ɑːn/ ah-zee-ahn) is a political and economic organisation of ten countries located in Southeast Asia, which was formed on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Since then, membership has expanded to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Vietnam. Its aims include accelerating economic growth,social progress, sociocultural evolution among its members, protection of regional peace and stability, and opportunities for member countries to discuss differences peacefully.

This short intro paragraph shows us a few interesting things:

  • Nobody really knows how to pronounce ASEAN (and you’ll always look and feel weird when trying not to say “asian”).
  • People still need to call Myanmar (Burma).
  • It has been formed in 1967.

Say what? Why 1967? Why is there such a big hubbub about it? Are we celebrating  [calculators out] 48 years of ASEAN? But why do I hear ‘it’s going to happen this year’ then all the time? That doesn’t make sense at all!

Right! ASEAN has been there ever since 1967. It iss, as the most commonly used resource for homework states, the organization of ten countries here in Southeast Asia. It has forums, meetings, debates, and everything else you’re used from international, inter-country organizations. EU, APAC, BRIC, KFC. You name it. So ASEAN per se is nothing new and has been around for quite a while now. What is new though is what is going to happen within the ASEAN region. And that’s…


Vocab 2: AEC. Wait, another acronym? Hell yeah! And this now actually is the ‘new’ thing that is going to happen. AEC stands for ASEAN Economic Community and is not only cool because it’s an acronym that includes the letter of another acronym.

When we check the official ASEAN website we see the following explanation:

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) shall be the goal of regional economic integration by 2015. AEC envisages the following key characteristics: (a) a single market and production base, (b) a highly competitive economic region, (c) a region of equitable economic development, and (d) a region fully integrated into the global economy

So we now learned that

  • ASEAN is nothing new and that
  • AEC is going to happen within the ASEAN region.

Now let’s look at the benefits and challenges that come with that proposal.

The benefits of AEC within ASEAN

are quite obvious I guess and outlined in the ASEAN vision above. A single market and production base would help to have products flow and services flow more freely within ASEAN. This would eliminate lots of barriers and hurdles that international trade and work in general still face between ASEAN member states.

Moreover having a highly competitive economic region would obviously strengthen the ASEAN market compared to other huge international markets and would give its participants more power in comparison to having them ‘fight’ all by themselves on the international market.

A region of equitable economic development is definitely a nice idea and would benefit all member states on a certain level. Economic growth for some smaller players, ethical improvements and growth on a more meta level for others.

A region fully integrated into the global economy is the last point mentioned in the statement above and, of course, can also be reached easier if you have a strong market instead of having several smaller ones.

It all does sound reasonable, doesn’t it? So where are the problems here?


The challenges of AEC within ASEAN

Not all that glitters is gold and not everybody put onto a team is actually a good team mate. That is probably something everybody has already experienced. Just because you play together in a (soccer, football, volleyball, basketball, …) team doesn’t mean you actually like all of your team mates. Maybe you’re even benched because you’re not as tall as the others or not as fast or you simply don’t go out drinking with the guys afterwards and are therefore not considered as ‘equal’.

What does that have to do with AEC and ASEAN? To start obvious: Just take a quick look at the map.

ASEAN member states
ASEAN member states. Pic via evbn.org

So while your mom always told you (and your girlfriend does right now) that size wouldn’t matter there have always been bullies team mates tall bullies that would think differently. They think just because they are bigger, their voice should have more weight within the team than the voice of the small guy on the bench. Now one could say that does sound not too bad since the big guy probably does a lot and has lots of attention on him. So why not give him a bigger voice? But is it the small guy’s fault that he’s small? And shouldn’t all team members be treated equal to ensure a smooth relationship within all members? Tough questions that need to be addressed.

Talking about that.

Inequality within ASEAN

It’s not only about size of course. Just ask Muggsy Bogues. There are small players on the team that still make an impact. In times they even are the best players on their team and without them the big guys wouldn’t know what to do. For example: I’m 1,80m and play volleyball. I’m not pretty tall for a volleyball player but my position is the position of the guy who runs the offense, calls the plays and feeds the ball to the big guys who then finish the attack with a huge hit (like a QB in football so to say). Without me the big guys couldn’t score. Problems then occur when, just like me in this example right now, the small guy gets too cocky. This then might make the big guy angry and would lead to fights or at least a bad atmosphere within the team.

How is that related to ASEAN? You just looked at the map and realized that Singapore is one of the smallest member states, right? Strangely though Singapore is the top member in terms of economic and education success. They rock. They have the best relations with the west, have everything pretty neatly organized and simply run a successful (not talking about the laws now) country while, on the other hand, players like Vietnam or Myanmar are, no offense towards those countries, still way behind.

Religion in ASEAN

Due to recent events I’m not going to joke around here. Bringing different religions under the same hat is quite tough. Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world (quite liberal though), The Philippines are mainly Christian and Brunai is quite a hardcore Muslim country again while other countries in Southeast Asia are primarily buddhist. Some member countries (probably easier to check which countries don’t) even still face religious fights and slaughter.

Maybe all member countries should check out this scientific explanation on how to handle religion in order to make things work out.

Laws in ASEAN

Last but not least the laws in each ASEAN member country are obviously a problem – if there actually are any. Corruption is quite common in many member countries and needs to be eliminated. Good luck with that. It’s like when your team member gets bribed by bookies to play shitty. You tell him he has to stop but he knows you can’t kick him off the team since, if you do it, he would play for another team and you’d be incomplete. That was actually one of the main reasons for AEC to be postponed from beginning of 2015 to the end of the year.

Furthermore different religions also lead to different laws and so do different states of economic, technological and societal development. While in Myanmar (you know, Burma) bloggers can go to jail for criticizing the government bloggers or social media users in Thailand can be imprisoned for talking badly about the monarchy and Singapore fines you for chewing gum in public and Malaysia sends you to prison if you’re a girl and hug a celebrity. Or if you’re simply a girl. Can’t really remember. Nevertheless I’m not saying you wouldn’t deserve any of that, it’s just difficult to get all those existing laws on a similar level. How would a gum chewing hugging girl from Cambodia be treated in Laos after she travelled through Malaysia and Singapore?

So as you can see there are lots of challenges ahead of ASEAN’s AEC but also lots of benefits waiting on the horizon. Let’s see if we’ll actually see AEC happening by the end of this year or if students all across the region have to continue studying ASEAN values for another year.

[cover pic via The Nation]



Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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