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Resist Nationalist Pressures, ASEAN

Subject: Resist Nationalist Pressures, ASEAN Chief Urges (International

Herald Tribune)
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Paris, Thursday, May 27, 1999
Resist Nationalist Pressures, ASEAN Chief Urges 

By Michael Richardson International Herald Tribune
SINGAPORE - In an unusually blunt warning, the secretary-general of the
Association of South East Asian Nations has said that members of the group
must resist the temptation to turn away from regionalism at a time of
economic and political stress in Southeast Asia.
The official, Rodolfo Severino, instead urged intensified efforts to hasten
integration, including moves by members of ASEAN to coordinate their
economic and industrial policies more closely. 

''ASEAN member countries must resist the temptation to give priority to
reaching out to the mighty powers and the big markets as a substitute for
ASEAN and regionalism,'' Mr. Severino said in a speech this week in Singapore.

Noting that ASEAN provided its members - most of them small or medium-sized
countries - with collective-bargaining power, Mr. Severino said there would
be only two alternatives if regionalism in Southeast Asia broke down.

''One would be the domination by more powerful states and mighty
corporations,'' Mr. Severino said at the Institute of Defense and Strategic
Studies in Singapore. The other alternative, he said, would be the rise of
''narrow nationalisms'' in a fragmented region. 

Mr. Severino's warning followed a rise in bilateral disputes between ASEAN
members over issues of sovereignty, human rights, pollution and the pace of
economic integration since the previous high growth rates of the region were
hit by the financial and economic crisis that spread from Thailand in July

In the latest instance of what some see as a retreat from regionalism amid
mounting pressure to protect domestic markets, Philippine officials said
this week they would reject calls by ASEAN to abolish tariffs on 60 percent
of the country's imports by next year as part of the group's commitment to a
free-trade area.

Edsel Custodio, assistant trade secretary of the Philippines, said his
government was concerned that Manila would lose 3 billion pesos ($80
million) in annual revenue if the proposal were implemented.

Mr. Severino rejected forecasts of doom for ASEAN, saying the group had
actually deepened and accelerated the move toward regional integration since

the onset of the economic crisis.

''The idea is to create, within a fairly short time, a zero-tariff market of
half a billion people with a regional GDP today of $700 billion,'' he said. 

''As with goods, so will it be with services. Rather than unraveling the
fabric of ASEAN cooperation, the region's economic troubles have in fact
pushed ASEAN to cooperate much more closely in dealing directly with the
financial and economic weaknesses that the troubles have exposed.''

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.