Next year the 10 nations that make up the Association of South-east Nations are pledging to unite as a single regional market and production base. The goal is to create a region with free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labor and the flow of capital a dynamic unite family.
Will the union benefit the majority of people living in the ASEAN region?
We brought together leaders in their fields from across the region for the “ASEAN on the move” debate, a collaboration of Asia Calling and the ASEAN Foundation.
Representing ASEAN, Danny Lee, the Director for Community Affairs Development at the ASEAN Secretariat; and Septania Kadir, the head of programs at the ASEAN Foundation.
There’s also migrant workers activist Irene Fernandez, the executive director of Tenaganita; and another human rights activist Debbie Stothard who co-founded the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma and is its coordinator. Last but not least, multi-media regional businessman Ardian Elkana also joined the discussion.
Here’s the excerpt of our debate. Moderator Rebecca Henschke started by asking Danny Lee from ASEAN secretariat about the opportunities of the new united family of ASEAN.
“If we look at the growth of economy in ASEAN in the past few years, the influence of FDI, I think that answers a lot of questions. So you feel safe in a community of families. When we talk about the economic community, there will be specific opportunities. And with opportunities, comes challenges.”
According to Septania Kadir, head of programs at the ASEAN Foundation, the goal of the ASEAN community is to fulfill the dream of its founding fathers.
“When we talk about ASEAN we need to first look at the very basic issue of ASEAN… it’s the people. Because we’re establishing the ASEAN community and that begins with the people. I think the most important part in establishing an ASEAN community is to get the people way up to the grass root to understand about ASEAN. And I think this is what we have not done too much. There should be a mutual understanding that we need to develop.”
But why would someone care about ASEAN?
“Because this has been the dream of our founding fathers of ASEAN in 1967, where people will be closer to each other, understand each other. European always say that “I’m European” to refer to EU, then one day we will say “I’m an ASEANER”, that’s what we want to hear in the near future.”
Ardian Elkana is a regional multimedia businessman, also the head of the permanent committee for multimedia, animation and gaming of Indonesian chamber of commerce and industry.
I asked him what does he want to see from a united ASEAN family?
“First of all, my business is a borderless business. Multimedia by nature is borderless. So as far as business goes, I don’t know how much this policy will affect the business. It does however may affect the movement of workers. It could be easier. I don’t know the exact policy yet. But I think for workers in Indonesia, people will be easier to move around.”
The movement of people is a big concern for Irene Fernandez from Tenaganita, particularly in the area of domestic and construction workers.
So I asked her how do you view this united ASEAN family? Will there be better rights for the people you’re looking after?
“If you look at migrant workers, who are moving by millions within ASEAN region, they are one of the most exploited forms of labor that you have in the ASEAN region. … CUT TO… How can we claim to be people-oriented if we can’t even provide or come to an understanding of basic labor rights, like a day off, or to recognize domestic workers’ work. A people-oriented ASEAN becomes a big question.”
Debbie Stothard is co-founded the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma. She explains why there’s was a need to create this alternative forum for the region.
“For many people in ASEAN, they saw ASEAN government as not only oppressing their own citizens, but assisting other ASEAN governments to oppress their other citizens. So when Danny talks about an ASEAN where people feel safe to be in ASEAN, this is something that’s quite important. We still don’t feel safe. If you’re a Muslim or Rohingya in Burma, you’re not safe. If you’re an atheist in Indonesia, you are not safe. If you are a blogger in Vietnam, you are not safe. If you are a farmer in Cambodia, you are not safe. If you’re a refugee or an undocumented migrant, in any part of ASEAN, you are definitely not safe.”
Danny Lee from the ASEAN Secretariat response that the majority people do feel safe in the region.
“We talk about safety… do I feel safe in ASEAN? If we look at the more than 600 million people within ASEAN itself, if we don’t feel safe travelling in each other countries will not have been increasing. I do acknowledge that certain member groups of people may not be welcome in certain member states. But if I want to put across the border saying that you don’t feel safe in ASEAN, I beg to differ. I feel very safe in Indonesia, I feel very safe in Cambodia, in fact in any of the countries that I travel to.”
Debbie Stothard says it’s important to continue the integration process.
She adds that civil societies have been for a long time working closely together on regional issues…and ASEAN governments needs to let the integration happen.
“We need commitment to rule of law… laws that benefit people, that are fair, that are consistent with human rights principles.”