Last August, ASEAN turned 50 years old. It will have much to celebrate since its launch in Bangkok by the five founding members, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Their goal was to become an integrated socio-economic grouping that would transform Southeast Asian into a peaceful and prosperous region. With the eventual addition of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, it now has a combined GDP of US$2.4 trillion and is the third fastest-growing Asian economy after China and India.
For all its achievements, however, the peoples of the member countries still don’t really know each other, let alone understand their different needs and how they can work together to achieve their goals. Yes, government-to-government action has led to the formation of the ASEAN Charter, a legal framework laying the foundations for a regional community, as well as the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), under which there is meant to be a freer movement of goods, services, skilled labor and capital. There have also been groundbreaking agreements in the tourism and other sectors. But given the social and economic diversity of the member states, progress has been slow and full integration remains a work in progress. The human rights component of the charter, for example, is not being implemented equally.
If ASEAN’s goals are to be effectively and timely achieved, there is a critical need for closer people-to-people interaction. Thanks to budget airlines and increasing access to information technology, Southeast Asians are slowly getting to know each other’s culture, traditions and national character. But there are big gaps. While Singapore has the fourth-highest smartphone penetration in the world, with 75 percent of its population online, only one percent of Myanmar’s population has access to the Internet. Indonesia, with the world’s fourth-largest population, has 282 million mobile telephone subscriptions.
This makes Asia Views’ mission to bring the peoples of ASEAN closer to understanding each other a lot easier. As an online media, we hope to make the different views and voices around the region easier to access and to read. We will regularly present editorials, opinions and commentaries from various media in the region, in support of the effort to bring people to a closer understanding of each other.