The ASEAN Community will officially take shape with three pillars in 2015: the Political-Security Community, the Economic Community and the Socio-Cultural Community. These pillars will be a milestone of regional cooperation in Southeast Asia. Importantly, Thailand, a one of ASEAN founders, has to prepare a strong foundation of three pillars for this regional grouping in term of institutions, rules, ideas, and so on.
In the regional level, ASEAN was proclaimed a Community through a Declaration signed by ASEAN Leaders at their 27th Summit in Kuala Lumpur on 22 November 2015. This is a historic development and important milestone in the evolvement of ASEAN since its founding in 1967. An ASEAN Community is the realization of the vision articulated eight years ago by ASEAN Leaders for the regional organization to achieve community status by 2015. The guiding document was the 'Roadmap for an ASEAN Community: 2009-2015' endorsed by ASEAN Leaders at their 14th ASEAN Summit in Cha-am, Thailand.
This recent issue is “ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together”, which was simultaneously endorsed by the Leaders at their 27th Summit, charts the path for ASEAN Community building over the next ten years. It is a forward looking roadmap that articulates ASEAN goals and aspirations to realize further consolidation, integration and stronger cohesiveness as a Community. ASEAN is working towards a Community that is 'politically cohesive, economically integrated, and socially responsible'. The ASEAN 2025 Document is the outcome of a year of planning and intense discussions, and reflects the determination of Member States to forge ahead with the next phase of ASEAN's evolvement.
Turning to consider Thailand, Kriengsak Chareonwongsak, a well-known Thai scholar and politician, commented that Thailand has more advantages than other ASEAN member states in several points:
1) Geographic location Thailand is located in the center of the region, with most of its borders connected to neighboring ASEAN countries.
2) Development level Thailand has a higher development level than most countries in the region with its basic universal education, big pool of skilled workers and highly qualified personnel, its thorough high quality public health, and developed infrastructure, especially roads. Moreover, Thai law, institutions and other facilities are reasonably well developed. Thailand’s baht currency is accepted by our neighbors in border trade transactions.
3) Size of the domestic market and land area Thailand’s economy is the second largest in ASEAN, after Indonesia. Thailand’s large population size is approximately equal to each population of Myanmar and Vietnam, though the income level and purchasing power of Thai people is higher than their neighboring countries.
4) Economic relations with ASEAN Thailand's trade with ASEAN was about US $7.5 billion in 2010 or 15% of the total intra-ASEAN trade value, ranking third after Singapore and Malaysia. In addition, Thailand has an Asian trade surplus of US $1.36 billion, ranked second after Singapore and was the only country from three with a trade surplus to ASEAN.
5) Association with the global economy The Thai economy is very highly linked to international trade and foreign investment. Thailand’s degree of openness was 129% of GDP in 2005 and the expansion of Thailand’s economy always depends on foreign investment. Thailand is therefore more well-equipped and experienced in trade and attracting foreign investors than its neighboring countries.
However, Thailand also has a lot of weaknesses, including lack of understanding and awareness, unfamiliar with neighbors because of incompetent in English, some rules making an inconvenience in business, higher business costs due to higher wage, and the most important condition as political and administrative problems. These following points, therefore, Thailand should prepare to engage with regional cooperation with ASEAN community in next 10 years.
1. Preparation for ASEAN Political-Security Pillar 2025
a) A rules-based, people-oriented, people-centered ASEAN in a region of peace, stability and prosperity;
b) A consolidated ASEAN Community;
c) A dynamic, resilient and harmonious community able to effectively respond to social and economic vulnerabilities and other non-traditional security threats;
d) A Community that can respond effectively to challenges affecting ASEAN from within and beyond the region;
e) A Community that steadfastly maintains ASEAN centrality in regional mechanisms;
f) Strengthened ASEAN unity and cohesiveness to protect its leading and central role in dealing with matters of common concern;
g) Enhanced dialogue and cooperation with ASEAN external partners for mutual benefit and interest.
2. Preparation for ASEAN Economic Pillar 2025
a) A well-integrated and connected economy within the global economic system;
b) A business-friendly, trade-facilitative, market driven and predictable environment which inspires investor confidence;
c) A region with a key role in global value chains and increasing participation in high value added and knowledge-based activities;
d) A competitive and dynamic region that inspires innovation and where businesses of all sizes thrive, and where consumers' rights are protected;
e) A community where the benefits from economic integration are equitably shared among and within ASEAN Member States, including with micro, small and medium enterprises, youth, and women entrepreneurs;
f) A connected region where improvements in transport linkages and infrastructure help peoples and businesses move efficiently and work more productively across borders, expand market reach and strategically source goods and services.
3. Preparation for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Pillar 2025
a) An inclusive Community that is people-oriented, people-centered and promotes a high quality of life and equitable access to opportunities for all, and engages relevant stakeholders in ASEAN processes;
b) A sustainable Community that promotes social development and environmental protection through effective mechanisms to meet current and future needs of the peoples;
c) A resilient Community with enhanced capacity to continuously respond and adapt to current challenges and emerging threats;
d) A dynamic, open, creative and adaptive Community with an ASEAN identity reflecting the region's collective personality, norms, values and beliefs as well as aspirations as one ASEAN Community.