Last week I taught at Universitas Pelita Harapan in Jakarta, with a good bunch of students and the opportunity to meet up with old friends at the ASEAN Secretariat. This week’s post thus provides an update on ASEAN developments that occurred over the past week:
- Thai junta announces ASEAN Community center – the Thai military government announced that it had set up an ASEAN Community center to deal with all three pillars of ASEAN integration, including the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The deputy head of the junta will serve as its chair. This is a positive development, as many AEC related tasks in Thailand had been stalled during the Yingluck caretaker government, a delay which had continued after the Thai military takeover. As the delay had affected AEC progress at the regional level by preventing ASEAN consensus on many issues, hopefully the new panel will spur the Thai government to resume its AEC work.
- EU suspends FTA talks with Thailand – another fallout from the Thai military takeover is the suspension of EU-Thailand FTA talks. This was inevitable given EU political norms and the lack of a Thai parliament to review any draft FTA text. Singapore remains the only ASEAN member to have an FTA with the EU.
- AEC becomes political issue in Indonesian presidential race – the AEC became a political issue in the Indonesian presidential race as Jakarta mayor Joko Widodo suggested erecting non-tariff barriers to imported goods and limiting access to foreign investors. Of course, such proposals go against Indonesia’s AEC commitments to open market access for goods and investment. However, it is better to discuss such issues now, before the election, rather than be surprised after the election. This episode also underlines the need for strengthening the ASEAN institutions -- a stronger ASEAN Secretariat could both serve as the bulwark against such new trade and investment barriers and as a useful foil for domestic politicians who want to blame “ASEAN” when, inevitably, such proposed barriers are not taken up.
- ASEAN to decide on World Cup bid by end of year -- Malaysia’s youth and sports minister announced that ASEAN ministers would decide on whether to go forward with a joint ASEAN bid to host the 2034 football World Cup. The minister explained that the football governing body only allows a maximum of 3-4 countries to host jointly, so the ASEAN member states need to agree on which countries will formally serve as joint hosts. Again, I hope this proceeds because a joint World Cup bid would be a major deliverable for ASEAN, one which the general population in this football-mad region would appreciate.