Does Asean matter?
Jury still out on organisation looking to be the EU of Asia.
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2007 17:15 GMT

Asean leaders have gathered in Cebu, The
Philippines, for the 12th annual summit
As Southeast Asian leaders discuss further regional co-operation at the twelfth annual summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), Al Jazeera's Veronica Pedrosa asks if the organisation can really matter.

Asean is all about getting its slice of the market.

Southeast Asia has bounced back and people in these parts are once again talking about an Asian renaissance.

Mohamed Jawhar Hassan, chairman of the Kuala Lumpur-based Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, says Asean is seen as important to the people of the region for two reasons.
"Asean has brought peace to the people of Southeast Asia, that is first, most important. Second, Asean is also driving intiatives to close the development gap between the more developed countries of Asean and the less developed countries," he said.

"Asean is beginning to take steps towards economic integration in a situation that could be compared with that of the European Union in the 1960s."

At the 12th annual Asean summit in the central Philippines town of Cebu this week, leaders will be presented with a blueprint for a charter and that could make a real difference to the structure and function of the organisation.

Asean facts

Asean has 10 members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.)

Asean's population of 558 million is greater than that of the EU, and also that of the three countries that make up Nafta - the US, Canada and Mexico.

The countries have a combined gross domestic product is $884.35bn, with a per capita income of $1,582.

Total trade was $1.22 trillion, greater than Japan's.

Rules that are enforced in the charter could include legislation on human rights, good governance and the environment.

Although it will take years to complete the charter, the process is under way and the idea is that Asean is ready to try reach a new level by becoming a proper legal body and members will be forced to abide by its rules.

The charter will spell out the responsibilities of Asean's members and for this reason many people hope it will cover issues like good governance, the environment and human rights. But their hopes could easily be dashed by political currents in various member states.

Asean could do a lot to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people in this region and beyond. But in order to do this, it has got to make itself a strong and relevant organisation.
Its supporters say Asean is a successful experiment in narrowing the gap between rich and poor. But this is a case that's far from proven and the decisions that Southeast Asian leaders make this week will ultimately decide who really benefits from globalisation in this region.

Those leaders represent 3,205 million people, at least 580 million of whom live on less than one dollar a day
The Cebu meeting also includes summits with China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India.

"Click here for more on the Asean summit"

Those countries make up three billion people, or around 40 per cent of the world's population, yet it is Asean that is taking the lead in regional development.

That could be ascribed to the fact that none of its member states will tolerate anyone else in the driver's seat.

This forum is a key piece of regional architecture but for most of the people it's designed to serve, Asean has yet to prove itself.

Al Jazeera
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