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Integration alone is no panacea to development

Comments on Wing Thye Woo "ASEAN integration can keep region above US–China fray", 6/04/2016

While this post is undoubtedly very constructive in its intent and analysis, there are a number of points I would like to make.

Firstly, the likelihood, between the US and China, of a US-Soviet style cold war as we saw in the past in the foreseeable future up to two decades away is extremely unlikely. To the most, the two world powers may get into a mild cool war as opposed to a cold war. Any suggestions of such a cold war is either too much a concern bordered on paranoid, or exaggeration.

Secondly, ASEAN as a regional organisation is very useful and constructive to both its own members as well as to regional peace, stability and cooperation. Its integration process will undoubtedly strength its regional role and influences. However, one must realise the enormous difficulties of the task to develop the economies of any regional bodies. It is no less in the degree of difficulties in develop any single country. The author has mentioned some of the more advanced ASEAN members have unfortunately fallen into the so called middle income trap. If they have had difficulties in managing their own individual countries to overcome that trap and to advance to the rank high income countries, then it is not too had for one to see the difficulties ahead for ASEAN, as a group or whole, to achieve faster development. While one may argue the positive effects of integration in terms of trade, investment and resources movement with a more integrated region, the task to coordinate common policies and actions are not insignificant and are not easily delivered.

Then one has to realise that while a more integrated ASEAN may provide some boosts to its members in terms of development, each member would also need to take all opportunities that may be available to them and many of those opportunities may lie outside ASEAN itself. That may result in some natural differences in each member's priority in the real term. After all we have seen and are still seeing the case where the UK is debating and having a referendum on whether it should stay in or out of the EU, not along for its to abandon its own currency to join the Euro. This interesting example may serve as a does of sobering medicine for those who may argue for the positive effects of 'integration' without analysis its costs.

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