Asean priorities for the year

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GIL H. A. SANTOS

TODAY’S column is not for the national leaders of the Asean member nations because it is presumed that they have their national and external affairs priorities (for fast regional economic integration) in the face of the current Asia-Pacific and world challenges this year.

I am suggesting priorities for the students of foreign relations—to the heirs of national political/economic leaderships—and ordinary daily followers of geopolitical and economic developments in Southeast Asia to know and support their own governments, to attain a smoother and fast economic unity of the Asean.

A small easing of the Northeast Asian tension was attained last week when North and South Korean delegates met in the Demilitarized Zone’s Peace House in Panmunjom. They agreed that the Pyongyang regime would send its athletes to compete in next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

While South Korean President Moon Jae-in immediately announced that he was willing to personally meet North Korea’s dictator Kim Jung-un to talk peace and reunification, as a follow-up to that meeting, the US and its allies agreed that last week’s event meant nothing much.


Most of the world want the Pyongyang leadership to actually obey the Security Council’s demand that it stops its nuclear tests and development of a hydrogen bomb—in addition to reducing its military buildup and follow international agreements.

Published newspaper reports indicated US intelligence underestimated and misjudged the North Korean test launches before President Donald Trump was elected last year. In fact, these reports said, Kim’s nuclear weapons can now actually hit the US western region and soon –unless stopped—Washington too. And Kim’s bomb is 15 times more powerful and devastating than the atom bombs that the US dropped on Hirosihima and Nagasaki that ended the last world war.

Thus, these suggestions for Asean’s development priorities, which should be done simultaneously and as soon as possible to beat the clock:

1. Increase agricultural production—including fish culture and other marine resources—and industrialization because the region has these abundant resources common to all, given the tropical geography, the Pacific Ocean, the inland seas of the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos, and the South China Sea. Thailand and Vietnam are world’s leading rice producers. The region’s Coral Triangle accounts for more than 20 percent of the world’s biodiversity, and still counting, though its geography is merely three percent of the globe’s total area.

Philippine agricultural expert and professor Dr. Rolando Dy said that in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, where farm productivity is high, rural poverty is low.

This is a massive job as it involves teaching the rural farmer the basics of scientific agricultural and fisheries production, accounting and cash flow management, marketing and pricing—the total management of cooperatives or small family businesses.

2. More quality research and innovations for more modern production devices to increase food supplies. Wanted more engineers and inventors to address this challenge. This entails protection of intellectual properties or patents which can be tough for the first timers—but must be undertaken.

The agricultural and fisheries schools of the region can coordinate closer and engage in more exchanges of students and teachers with governments’ support. (The Asean Center for Biodiversity in the Philippines can spearhead this move).

3. Speed up the infrastructure buildup in each member country. Take advantage of the Asian Development Bank to speed up processing of loans for infrastructure construction. This should augment Beijing’s offers for its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to finance the Asean rail network connecting Beijing to all Asean member countries.

One infrastructure construction anywhere, anytime, generate an employment multiplier effect rate of at least 1-to-50, and fuels economic progress as the consumer spending naturally follows—as the number of employed goes up.

4. Increase the accessibility of financing and credit facilities for the medium and small enterprises, while intensifying accounting management systems education among the micro-small and medium industry startups to boost inclusive economic growth nationally.

Hopefully, this will usher in compliance to international manufacturing and product standards by the Aseam members and improve the region’s collective export-based sector for global competitiveness. It can lead to the realization of economic savants’ predictions that Asean will be the fastest growing region in the next two decades as its 650 million population increases.

5. Organize the millennials towards a unified economic and geopolitical Asean, and prepare them for their takeover of the national leaderships (in the next 20 to 30 years)—with a concept of an “Asean citizen” for a firmer and faster three-pillar integration: socio-cultural, economic and political/security bases.

Their supply demands and expenditures as consumers will greatly change marketing trends worldwide.

6. Speed up the Asean communications interconnectivity to facilitate better and faster information exchanges and market information deliveries. Encourage the construction of a common Asean communications satellite system with fewer relay stations in areas easily controlled by international or homegrown terrorists.

By locating the relay stations in areas effectively controlled by the government military or police forces will drastically and greatly minimize the terrorists’ or rebels’ chances of extracting “insurance money” from government or private telecom firms.

Press reports in the Philippines last week showed rebel groups milking the two private telecom firms with foreign investors to finance their guerrilla activities all year because it is cheaper to pay extortion money than to hire their own security forces or outsource it. Nevertheless, they made sufficient profits in 2016 for their shareholders.

7. Intensify the anti-terrorists war—which should be easier to achieve when employment increases and economic progress are attained—with the carrot-and-stick rule. Once the terrorist or rebel groups start earning wages for decent living—and realize it—they forget their inclinations toward violence and hostage-taking adventures.

8. Boost institutional reforms, the anti-corruption and anti-illegal drugs wars. This will most likely be the toughest of the priorities to undertake due to the entrenched positions of corrupt politicians currently in their comfortable power positions in all the Asean countries.

These suggested Asean development priorities must be done simultaneously—as much as possible. It is not a walk in the park.

And it takes generations to change corrupt mindsets, history tells us. How many centuries did it take China to get rid of their corrupt and oppressive monarchs and attain their present position as the world’s No. 2 economic power?

It took more than three centuries before the British monarchy reformed—after royal heads rolled too. It has been 72 years since the decolonization frenzy started in 1945 but corruption still exists in the former colonies in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Change in Asean will be a long and dragged-out experience. Strategic planning or mapping out the future takes time. This is precisely the reason we need to start communicating the priorities with the millennials this year—today.

Comments and reactions to gilsmanilatimes@yahoo.com

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