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Kommersant, 21.11.07

South-Eastern Asia unites against China and India

By Alexander Gabuev

ASEAN countries build up a global unit
ASEAN summit, which was held in Singapore yesterday, ended with the signing of the first charter in the history of the organization. According to this document, by 2015 ASEAN has to become a powerful economic and political unit, something like the European Union. Most members do not keep back the truth that they have to be united because of the fear of China and India.
This 13th ASEAN summit coincided with the 40th anniversary of this big regional organization of South-Eastern Asia. The population of the countries that are its members (they are Brunei, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines) is more than 500 mln people, and their GDP is getting closer to $1 trln. The major aim of this document is creating by 2015 an effective economic unit resembling the EU by means of lifting inner restrictions on traffic of goods, work force, and money. Besides, ASEAN will create a transparent mechanism that will facilitate the in-flow of foreign investments. “This is the only way ASEAN can become competitive” – states the document. The charter also points out the aim at “supporting democracy, supremacy of law and human rights” – for this purpose a special bureau of human rights will be formed. Thus, on the one hand as it appears to onlookers, most items of the charter reveal the wish to become closer to the West. However, all attributes of democracy are devoid of real power, and more likely, that they are seen by the ASEAN as a means of attracting foreign investors. For instance, the Human Rights Bureau will have only observation functions and will not be able to introduce sanctions against the regimes violating the rights of their citizens.

The real incentive for the unification of ASEAN though – as many participants of the forum admitted yesterday – is the fear of the growing economic expansion of the new Asian economic giants – China and India. “We have five more years to be able not to lag behind China and India. “The adoption of the charter should guarantee that ASEAN will be able to use this time properly” – said Robert Yap, Chairman of Business Advisory Council. However, China can take advantage of the integration processes within ASEAN: although they will complicate matters for companies of continental China, at the same time they will to a considerable extent reinforce the position of the huge Chinese expatriate community in SEA which now occupies the key posts in economics of the most developed ASEAN countries. It is not by chance that Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Wen Jiabao, who was present at the summit yesterday, welcomed the adoption of the charter and had a mysterious smile on his face.