Blue Book Explores ASEAN Future

Co-published report focuses on ASEAN development initiatives in the short to medium term

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By Pan Yingqiu

Dec. 31, 2016 marked the first anniversary of the establishment of the ASEAN Community, a significant milestone for the region in its efforts to further integrate. The year 2017, meanwhile, is arguably even more significant, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of ASEAN itself.

On Jan. 30, 2017, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University and the Social Sciences Academic Press  jointly released the Southeast Asia Blue Book Report on the Development of Southeast Asia (“the Blue Book” for short) in Beijing. They also organized a seminar covering the situation in Southeast Asia, at which it was concluded that ASEAN will remain a hotspot in global politics while competitiveness in the region is likely to intensify.

The Blue Book is one of the Serial Reports on Developments in Philosophy and Social Sciences, a project organized by China’s Ministry of Education. It reviews developments in politics, economics and foreign relations of ASEAN community members over the past year, analyzes the trend of development of the region in the short to medium term, and makes predictions about the impact of ASEAN on world geopolitics and economics in the future.

The Blue Book points out that current global and regional economic integration is accelerating change in world geopolitics and economics. Regional economic integration has become an important means of strategic cooperation and competition among big powers. In recent years, the United States, the EU, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia have successively established free trade areas with ASEAN and its member states, trying to lead the process of the region’s economic integration. Regional economic integration has gone beyond pure economic scope and gained strategic significance in geopolitics and diplomacy. Therefore, with the correlation of the economic strengths of the major powers in the Asia-Pacific region, regional economic integration dominated by big powers and regional blocs will further speed up, which is likely to push forward geopolitical and economic changes and power shifts, resulting in the intensification of power games in the region.

Meanwhile, the Blue Book analyzes changes in U.S.-ASEAN relations in recent years, especially the U.S.-ASEAN strategic partnership upgraded in 2015, the initiative for closer United States engagement with ASEAN in 2016, as well as the orientation of the Asia-Pacific policy of the new United States administration. The report also analyzes the cooperation agreements that Japan has reached with ASEAN countries as a result of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s intensive visits, as well as Japan’s intention to lobby ASEAN for solidarity against China on the East China Sea and South China Sea.

On behalf of the authors of the Blue Book, Professor Wang Qin, director of Xiamen University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, presented the main points of the report and put forward some suggestions. He believes that with the rapid development of the ASEAN economy and the acceleration of its economic integration, the status and role of ASEAN in both global and regional economics will be further enhanced. ASEAN will continue to play an important role in global value chains and regional production networks. The regional integration led by ASEAN will also have an important impact on the economic integration of the Asia-Pacific region. However, with the differences of ASEAN member states in political systems, stages of development, ideology and the imperfect nature of internal cooperation and coordination mechanisms, the actual effect of regional institutional arrangements will be significantly restricted.

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According to the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 (MPAC 2025) and the ASEAN Community Blueprint 2025, ASEAN Community building will be based on three pillars, namely political security cooperation, regional economic integration and social and cultural inclusiveness. ASEAN has formulated the vision, objectives and initiatives for the development of the three branches of the Community over the course of the next 10 years. The objective of the ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC) is to build an institutionalized community with common values and norms that puts people first, further upgrading political and security cooperation among ASEAN members. The objective of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is to establish and perfect a single market for the relative free movement of goods, services, investment and skilled labor. The objective of the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) is to achieve a people-oriented, environmentally friendly community for sustainable development.

Southeast Asia is one of the most important neighboring regions of China. It’s also a priority region in the development of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. According to the ASEAN Community Blueprint 2025, there’s a lot in common between the ASEAN Community and the Belt and Road Initiative. Both require mutual political trust, economic integration and cultural inclusiveness. In implementation, the two have a lot of similarities in strategic planning, key cooperation areas, production capacity cooperation and people-to-people exchanges, which paves the road for their strategic integration and cooperation.

Focusing on the developments in Southeast Asia over the course of the year, the Blue Book follows the trend of development of the countries in the region in politics, economics and foreign relations, and conducts analysis of the region in the short to medium term, providing guidance for China’s decision-making in diplomacy and strategy.

The Blue Book consists of five chapters: Overview, Region, Member States, Focus and Appendices. Chapter One is an overview of the history and development of the ASEAN Community, and an analysis of the ASEAN Community Blueprint 2025, exploring the impact of the Community on global geopolitics and economic development. Chapter Two elaborates on the hotspot and edgy issues in the region’s economy, politics, society and foreign relations. Chapter Three makes predictions about the politics, economics and foreign relations of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam in the short term. Chapter Four focuses on the experiences and lessons of regional countries in overcoming “the middle and low income trap”. Chapter Five is a collection of documents, including MPAC 2025 (Chinese translation), The Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (20162020), Chronology of Southeast Asia in 2015 and Southeast Asia Development Statistics.

With the rise of the ASEAN economy and the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, ASEAN’s status and role in the Initiative will be further upgraded. The ASEAN Community and the Initiative can gradually synergize their strategies. ASEAN’s importance in international production capacity cooperation proposed by the Initiative will become increasingly apparent. In the interconnectivity sponsored by the Initiative, ASEAN will also have an important part to play

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