This second issue of Southeast Asian Social Science Review (SEASSR) focuses on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which established the ASEAN Economic Community in November 2015 in Kuala Lumpur. ASEAN was formally set up in 1967, with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration. It was formed primarily for the purpose of forging economic, cultural and political ties among its members which, today, stands at ten – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam. Fifty years on, the jury is still out on the success and overall significance of ASEAN.
The five papers for this focus issue were originally delivered at the International ASEAN Economic Integration Forum (AEIF) organised in Kuala Lumpur on 14-15 September 2016 by the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, together with the Asian Studies Centre of the St. Anthony’s College, University of Oxford, and the World Trade Institute, University of Bern, Switzerland. The comments below, though not necessarily in order of appearance in the volume, present a picture of ASEAN – albeit a cursory and an incomplete one – which could help stimulate discussion about the challenges ASEAN faces as it attempts to forge economic integration.
The first paper by Haniff Ahamat looks at ASEAN non-tariff barriers. He illustrates that, despite noble ideas of regional economic integration within ASEAN, barriers set up are still high. These ongoing barriers, he believes, have serious repercussions for trade liberalization within ASEAN.
Besides non-tariff barriers, there exist restrictions on competition, and more specifically, the enactment of competition laws within ASEAN member states (AMS) which is the concern of the paper by Angayar Kanni Ramaiah. The compatibility of these national laws with ASEAN guidelines and motivations, and also with those of wider transnational agreements is what is prominent in the discussion here. Ramaiah’s assertion is that convergence, indeed the standardisation of national competition laws, is what is required to enable the emergence and the sustainability of more liberalised markets within ASEAN. To this end, she explores the legal challenges and proposes recommendations as guiding principles.
The paper by Chandran and Nathan moves outside ASEAN’s national borders in looking at the economic agreements in place between India and ASEAN. Looking at two free trade agreements – a bilateral one between Malaysian and India and another between ASEAN and India – the authors first explain what they are; next, they evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of both, concluding with a discussion outlining the possibility that these agreements compete rather than complement.
The fourth ASEAN-focus article in this issue, by Wong Wai Kuen, examines the fast growing area of economic opportunity and benefit in the region, medical tourism. Medical tourism refers to ‘the phenomenon where patients choose to leave their own country to seek consumer-oriented medical care abroad that is of high-quality, shorter patient’s waiting time and at comparatively lower cost.’ Wong examines the development and success of this billion dollar industry in three neighbouring ASEAN countries, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
But, important as these economic and legal issues are for the ASEAN community, the keynote address by Rahman Embong reminds us that a wider understanding, evaluation and possibly critique of the community is required. With an overarching commentary that contextualises ASEAN issues and areas of concern Rahman paints, as it were, the necessary big picture. While recognising the success and sustainability of ASEAN as an economic community, Rahman nonetheless focuses on ASEAN’s potential and its importance as a socio-cultural community that can be peoplecentred. Through looking back at the genesis of ASEAN to its contemporary make-up and roles and stressing the need to go beyond simplistic assertions that economic development inevitably will lead to community development, Rahman provides a doorway – certainly an important one – where ASEAN could move into, one that tries to genuinely develop and advance a People’s ASEAN.
Also in this issue is a fascinating interview with the doyen of critical Malaysian social science, Syed Husin Ali, by the issue’s coeditor, Lai Suat Yan. Syed Husin’s reflections on growing polarisation in Malaysia since as early as the 1960s and the `politics of avoidance’ among university students provide much food for thought. His discussion on philosophy and its virtual absence as an area of study in Malaysian universities provides valuable insight into the possible thinking and strategies of those in power.
Through a wide-ranging interview that spans a period of more than half a century, Syed Husin provides us with a rich tapestry of educational, cultural and political development in Malaysia. There are certainly many lessons that can – and must – be learnt here; lessons about structural inequality, discrimination and, more individually, dignity, humility and personal courage in the face of tyranny.
1. Focus Issue - Editorial-Board - International Advisory Board - Contents. 2. Zaharom Nain, Lai Suat Yan & Faisal Syam Hazis - ASEAN Economic Integration and Its Challenges. 3. Abdul Rahman Embong - Beyond Economic Imperatives. 4. Haniff Ahamat - Reducing Non-Tariff Barriers in a More Integrated ASEAN. 5. Angayar Kanni Ramaiah - An Exploratory Study on Diversity and Convergence Process. 6. Suseela Devi Chandran & K.S. Nathan - MICECA and AIFTA. 7. Wong Wai Khuen - Challenges and Opportunities for Cross-border Medical Tourism Development. 8. Lai Suat Yan - Pioneering Social Scientist and Public Intellectual in Malaya/Malaysia. 9. Michael Burawoy - The Public University. 10. Afiq Nazrin Nor Rizlan - Memoir dan Biografi Sebagai Sumber Membangun Historiografi Baru. 11. Susmihara - Pemikiran Islam Kontemporari di Indonesia. 12. Lilia Halim - Book Review / Ulasan Buku - Cleverlands: The Secrets Behind the Success of the World’s Education Superpowers. 13. Contributors. 14. Guide to Contributors. 15. Order Form.