Anthropologists such as Cohen (1985) posited that the general defined term of a ‘community’ encompasses the broad ideas of a social unit of any size that is formed based on shared common values allowing membership and unity. He went on to mention further that ‘community’ acts as an “aggregating device” that supports the existence of diversity whilst at the same time, displaying commonality.
In this respect, the European Union is a prime example of Cohen’s concept as encased within the Union’s motto of “Unity in diversity”. Drawing upon some similarities with its European counterpart’s pursuit for integration through its single market policies, the ASEAN Community 2015 (AC15) endeavours to bring greater singularity in trade policies under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by eliminating tariffs on most goods by end-2015. However, the AC15 does not just narrowly define its efforts within the economic realm, an undertaking conceived 7 years ago, which sets the tone for AC15. Rather, a holistic approach that includes policies promoting inter and intra-regional cooperation, on various matters for the improvement of institutional and physical developments amongst the member nations and citizens as part of the masterplan to bring ASEAN towards greater integration on various fronts. Aside from regional efforts to bring AC15 into fruition, national efforts were particularly brought to the fore, bringing AC15 further.
Singapore, for instance, was involved in a dialogue partnership with Canada to coordinate relations for ASEAN from July 2012 to July 2015. Additionally, the city-state is a contributing member on ASEAN-led platforms such as ASEAN Plus Three, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (MFA Singapore, 2015). Such initiatives are made for greater coordination and stability, which is afforded through predictability in interactions amongst member-states via multilateral dialogues.
Furthermore, national efforts were also made on the ground in Singapore, which includes the Singapore and the ASEAN Economic Community dialogue that was organised by Singapore Institute of International Affairs in August 2014. This focus dialogue leverages on the then-impending SG50 celebrations to commemorate the Republic’s 50 years of independence through its Future 50 series – an initiative to explore Singapore’s role and Asia’s in the next 50 years. The dialogue involved business leaders and professionals in Singapore to discuss matters on ASEAN integration and Singapore’s relations with its neighbours (SIIA, 2015). In addition, the ASEAN Conference 2015 held by the Singapore Business Federation with the participation of strategic partners from both Malaysia and Indonesia was held to address matters that include, inter alia, key macroeconomic concerns and policy updates of AC15 (SBF, 2015). Slightly differing from the former, ASEAN Conference 2015 extends the scope of involvement with the participation from both public and private sectors.
Nonetheless, these discussions bring together local ASEAN residents and crucial stakeholders from various fields through providing platforms where their valued input can be gathered on the national-level. Hence, such ground-up initiatives allow greater cooperation and stewardship from the people who form the core of the ASEAN community. Despite the diverse nature of its member-states, endeavours displayed by the regional bloc’s members and its local communities for ASEAN Community-Building furthers the progress for increasing integration, to culminate a brilliant end to the year for the region with AC15 – and, a promising dawn for the future of ASEAN and its citizens.
Cohen, A.P., 1985. The Symbolic Construction of Community. Routledge.
MFA Singapore, 2015. ASEAN Overview. [Online] Government of Singapore Available at: http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/international_organisation_initiatives/asean.html [Accessed 16 Oct 2015].
SIIA, 2015. Singapore and the ASEAN Economic Community. [Online] Singapore Institute of International Affairs Available at: http://www.future50.sg/singapore-and-the-aec/ [Accessed 16 Oct 2015].
SBF, 2015. ASEAN Conference 2015. [Online] Singapore Business Federation Available at: http://www.sbf.org.sg/asean-conference-2015 [Accessed 16 Oct 2015].
By Solyh Ahmad, ASEAN Correspondent from Singapore