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ASEAN integration unlikely by 2015

120917_08
US ambassador to ASEAN David Cardin speaks at an AmCham breakfast at the Hotel Intercontinental on Friday. Photograph: Stuart Alan Becker/Phnom Penh Post

THE US ambassador to ASEAN says the plan to have the 10-nation regional grouping economically integrated will not be complete by 2015, but says he is not worried about it.

“It’s not going to happen by 2015,” David Cardin said, adding: “I’m not too fussed by the fact that it is not going to happen by 2015.

“I don’t think you can have economic integration without legal integration.”

Speaking to an AmCham audience on Friday morning at Phnom Penh’s Hotel Intercontinental, US ambassador to ASEAN David Cardin gave his opinion that the idea of superpower rivalry between the US and China was false.

“I believe deeply that the narrative of superpower rivalry in the region is false; it is not real, it is a construct.

“There is competition in this region as there will always be competition for business influence. There is no desire to contain China and to be in a rivalry with China. It is the opposite. The global economic community demands that we are all in this together. The superpower rivalry is, in my view. not true.”

Regarding the diplomatic consequences of Cambodia’s removal of the South China Sea conversation from the agenda during earlier meetings in this year of Cambodia’s ASEAN chairmanship, Cardin said the ASEAN nations had not been dealing with issues such as the South China Sea until recently.

“This was not a happy event. The ASEAN nations issued a six-principled statement. We have been very clear that the ASEAN nations need to move forward with China to resolve this question,” he said.

“ASEAN wasn’t grappling with those heavy questions until of late.

“All credit to them for trying to deal with those questions. I think it shows a maturing situation. It is important to note that they are dealing with some difficult things. Some of the ASEAN nations are involved in these issues not because they are claimants, but because they are stakeholders in the security and prosperity in the region.”

Cardin said his agenda was to foster and promote economic integration in ASEAN, and the ASEAN countries would be the primary beneficiaries.

“It is clearly the case that the ASEAN nations themselves will reap the principal prosperity that will result from the integration. We are dogged in our desire to establish a rules-based system, but it is not containment,” he said.

With regard to recent events in Myanmar, Cardin said he was encouraged.

“I’m very encouraged with what’s happening politically. They won’t move in a smooth line, but I do believe it is going to move forward,” he said.

“It is not ultimately clear what’s going to be happening with investor relations.” He said only six per cent of Myanmar’s people had electricity.

Cardin said, however, the ASEAN regional grouping was moving in the right direction and the necessary conversations were taking place.

“There’s a rise in protectionism in the region, and real concern about whether the ASEANs are going to put into effect what they agreed to put into effect. If they are going to have the free flow of labour, they’ll have to have protections to protect the abuse of labour.”

Cardin, who is based at the US embassy in Jakarta and frequently travels around the region, said he was very concerned that investments needed to be made in education and people empowerment in the ASEAN region.

“If they are not made, I am concerned what kind of sustainability the region will have,” he said.

“At the end of the day, if this region doesn’t figure out that it has to be resilient, it won’t have the results it could have. I think we have no choice but to be fully engaged in this region.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at stuart.becker@gmail.com

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