Monday, August 19, 2019

Asean must learn lessons from Brexit

Feb 03. 2019
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Re: “Thailand faces tough job as Asean chair amid trade conflicts, forum hears”, The Nation, February 1.

While the domestic concern of Thais is the upcoming general election on March 24, broadly speaking it is a relatively small geopolitical event. We must not lose sight of the bigger picture at work: The trade war and battle for supremacy between the US and China, and its effects on Thailand and the Asean region. Look no further than the newly elected Malaysian government cancelling the China-backed rail and pipeline projects, endorsed by the previous Najib-led government. China and the US will each put pressure on Mahathir’s government with different interests in mind.

In December 2018, Abhisit Vejjajiva told the Nikkei Asian Review that Asean nations, under the chairmanship of Thailand, should negotiate with China and its Belt and Road Initiative as a bloc rather than individually at the behest of China. Moreover, he added that multinational technology corporations’ advertising revenue must be taxed accordingly with resulting revenue going to the region. I agree with both points and would add that it will be a long way before Asean can reap the kind of benefits enjoyed by the EU, while minimising its costs to avoid Brexit-like scenarios.

Perhaps by 2050, Asean will have adopted a single digital currency, become cashless, and be issuing E-Asean passports for travel across the globe. Politically speaking, by 2050, today’s generation of politicians will have either retired or expired, leaving room for compromise and mutual cooperation within each nation and between Asean nations. Asean must learn from Brexit today to avoid “Singxit” or “Thaixit” in 30 years’ time should we merge fully as an economic bloc. 

Last but not least is the challenge of striking a balance between the non-interference principle versus countries ceding some autonomy for Asean’s collective interest. This will be a hard nut to crack, partly due to Asian values. When there is domestic violence in our neighbourhood, most of us Thais will treat it as the neighbour’s private matter. So when there is a genocide in a neighbouring country, Thais will likewise write it off as the neighbour’s private matter. 

That said, success in the climate, economic and food security spheres in the future will depend heavily on global cooperation.

Edward Kitlertsirivatana

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