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ASEAN Plans Economic Community

October 08, 2003|From Associated Press

Ten Southeast Asian nations signed an ambitious accord Tuesday to establish a Europe-like economic community by 2020 in a region where democracies neighbor dictatorships and developed economies abut financial disarray.

But the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations emphasized that the agreement was limited to economic relations. It would not create a political union such as Western Europe's or a military alliance akin to NATO, although it calls for a regional security community to combat terrorism.

"We have witnessed a watershed in the history of ASEAN," Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri said. "That will make it possible for our children and their children to live in a state of enduring peace, stability and shared prosperity."

The Southeast Asian leaders chose Bali as a symbolic venue for their two-day summit that opened Tuesday. Terrorists blew up two nightclubs on this island a year ago, killing 202 people.

ASEAN, which has been criticized for doing little, on Tuesday made some of its most far-reaching commitments -- ones that some believe will be nearly impossible to carry out.

The accord sets deadlines for lowering tariffs and travel restrictions in the ASEAN region, which encompasses 500 million people and trade totaling $720 billion a year. It aims to create by 2020 the ASEAN Economic Community, modeled on European economic integration of the 1960s and '70s -- before the advent of the European Union.

ASEAN includes the fledgling democracies of Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia; the limited democracies of Malaysia and Singapore; the communist regimes of Laos and Vietnam; an absolute monarchy in Brunei; and a military dictatorship in Myanmar.

Despite those differences, Southeast Asian countries want to band together to counter the burgeoning economic might of India and China, which are siphoning off investment and trade considered essential for Southeast Asia's development.

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