The challenges of Asian integration are both shared and differentiated among the countries and institutions of the continent. As the members of ASEAN attempt to make good on their plan for unified growth and an integrated community by 2015, animosities between the SAARC countries continue to undermine initiatives of regional cooperation. Furthermore, managing energy shortages and balancing tenuous relationships between Chinese trade and American security appear to be issues of great concern for members of both associations.
ASEAN: Community 2015?
Progress is certainly underway, as ASEAN Secretary-General H.E. Le Luong Minh sets out to implement the “ASEAN Community 2015” program. Increasingly connected stock exchanges, a shift away from ad hoc bilateral arrangements to unilateral trade agreements between its members, and the establishment of a free-trade area with China are just some of the results of recent efforts to further integrate the region. In addition to strengthening economic alliances, the ASEAN Community will also include an emphasis on cultural connectivity, evidenced by programs such as the ASEAN University Network. The major concern of the ASEAN members lies in producing even growth throughout the region, and the extent to which ASEAN will work together with the Asian Development Bank to achieve this goal may prove to be the pivotal factor.
The Trouble with SAARC…
Internal political strife within and between the members of SAARC continues to prevent substantial advancements in South Asian efforts of regional integration. While India continues to assert itself as a regional economic and military hegemon, Pakistan is likely to continue looking elsewhere in Asia for commercial opportunities and economic partners. In addition to reaching out to its western neighbours in Afghanistan, Kazakstan, and Iran, the Pakistani government has been aggressively pursuing bilateral trade agreements with Indonesia and Malaysia. Ultimately, this trajectory may serve to reduce overall volumes of trade within the association, thus undermining efforts of regional integration.
Common Themes, Shared Challenges
The looming energy crisis facing most Asian countries may indeed pose major challenges in the near future, though it remains uncertain if it will serve to promote or inhibit regional integration. Similarly the continued posturing of North Korea, while taken seriously by its Asian neighbours, doesn’t yet appear to be regarded as a threat to regional security that warrants a formal, collaborative response. The underlying challenge to most regional integration efforts shared by Asian states centres on maintaining a tenuous balance between growing dependency on China for trade while continuing to rely on America for security. Recently demonstrated by the Chinese-Australian decision to drop the US dollar as their bilateral trade currency, China has already proven its ability to influence and expand the region by pulling in countries that have historically been considered on the periphery of Asian integration schemes.