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‘The long road to becoming one entity is coming to an end’

May 03,2015 - Last updated at May 03,2015

The 26th ASEAN Summit, held in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi, which concluded on April 27, 2015, adopted the following documents: The Kuala Lumpur Declaration on a People Oriented, People-Centred ASEAN; The Langkawi Declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates; The Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Institutionalising the Resilience of ASEAN and its Communities and Peoples to Disasters and Climate Change.

These documents outline the collective agreement and commitment of ASEAN leaders to continue taking steps towards bringing about the establishment of an ASEAN community by the end of this year.

ASEAN, the acronym, stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a grouping made up of 10 nations from the Southeast Asian region.

At the opening ceremony of the summit, Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak stated in his speech that “ASEAN is a political and economic organisation, and one that is playing an increasingly important role both regionally and globally.”

ASEAN was formed on August 8, 1967, at the height of the Cold War era in the region. Over the last 47 years, it has grown from the original five members to ten now.

It is a very diverse group in many ways: languages spoken, historical backdrop, religious and cultural practices, written scriptures and physical appearances, to name a few.

While it remains diverse, it continues to gain strength from this diversity.

This diversity was the pick of sceptics during its early years when ASEAN was not yet taken seriously and was merely regarded as another “talk shop” by many, including some who are now ASEAN’s dialogue partners.

Despite the challenges, ASEAN presses ahead, has adopted a non-interference policy, managed to stand the test of time and to remain a peaceful region.

There has not been a single conflict in the region involving its members since the formation of ASEAN, and the group continues to notch milestone after milestone in its rich and colourful existence.

This year, the group will celebrate another major milestone. By the end of December, ASEAN will become a single community built on three main pillars: political-security, socio-cultural and economic.

A Roadmap for an ASEAN Community was framed in 2009 comprising the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) blueprints.

Each pillar has a council that oversees its progress and reports to the leaders during the summit.

There is also an Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Strategic Framework and IAI Work Plan II (2009-2015), as well as the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, all contributing to establishing the ASEAN Community by the end of this year.

With this achievement, ASEAN can boast a population of over 600 million made up mostly of “young, talented and increasingly skilled” people with a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion.

With the growth of international trade in the last 10 years, which ASEAN members are actively part of, ASEAN has now emerged as “the 4th largest exporting bloc globally”.

OECD predicted that the group will witness an overall annual growth of 5.6 per cent in the next four years. This will set in motion, barring any other circumstances, the trajectory that will make ASEAN the world’s 4th largest economy by 2050.

Under its rotational system of chairmanship, Malaysia has the honour to be the chair of ASEAN during this significant year.

The successful hosting of the 26th summit serves as a testament of Malaysia’s commitment to carry out the responsibility that comes with the chairmanship, just like all past chairs.

The theme of Malaysia’s chairmanship is “Our people, our community, our vision”, which underscores the goal of attaining an ASEAN that is people-centred, with good governance, higher standards of living, sustainable development, empowerment of women and greater opportunity for all.

Many programmes have been drafted under this theme; some were launched and realised during the 26th summit. They include the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, 1ASEAN Entrepreneurship Summit, the ASEAN SME Showcase and Conference and the ASEAN Young Leaders’ Summit.

There were also leaders’ interfacing sessions with different segments of the society, namely youth, civil society organisations, business groups and parliamentarians.

Other initiatives being pursued include ASEAN Common time zone, MTCP-ASEAN Masters scholarship programme and ASEAN Peoples’ Awards.

In Jordan, ASEAN is represented by five of its 10 members: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

As mandated by the ASEAN Secretariat based in Jakarta, the five members formed the Asean Committee in Amman (ACA); it is the case in all capitals of the world where more than one ASEAN member are represented.

ACA conducts activities aimed at promoting and disseminating information about ASEAN to the general public, as well as seeking to enhance trade between the host country and ASEAN members.

Malaysia will host the 27th summit in November 2015 as well.

The long road to becoming one entity is coming to an end. The dream of the founding fathers of ASEAN is getting closer to realisation and the ACA will join in the celebration in its own way, here in Amman.

The writer is ambassador of Malaysia to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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