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True connectivity will help Asean move forward, develop further, Abhisit says

Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday called on Asean to focus on the issue of connectivity, as he said it was important for the region's development.

"We [Asean] have been criticised for moving too slowly, and though there is no proof, this simplistic criticism overlooks the challenges that the region is required to overcome," he said.

Abhisit was speaking at the "Moving Forward in Building the Asean Community" seminar held by Chulalongkorn University yesterday.

In his address, the former PM emphasised not just future plans for the integration of the community, but also challenges that Asean countries will probably face ahead of the amalgamation.

"When you put the 10 nations together, the size of the economy becomes US$2.5 trillion - a size that is comparable to India and Russia," he said.

In his address, Abhisit said it was time to build a single community consisting of the three pillars of security and political, economic, and socio-cultural dimensions.

"In 14 months, the countries will have to put into effect legislation as well as implement related taxes and tariffs that will create a single community," he said, adding that the value of a successful community comes through a sense of belonging and connectivity.

"We have come a long way in showing our potential," he said, citing projects such as the Thai railway connecting southern China and Singapore.

As for possible tensions with big powers outside the region, citing the South China Sea dispute, Abhisit said Asean leaders should not get caught up in these disputes as they might end up getting in the way of regional development.

"There is work still to be done," he said, adding that the integration would also ensure reduced gaps in income, infrastructure and education.

He said that once there is a sense of belonging and connectivity, only then would a true community emerge for the benefit of the people.

Narongchai Akrasanee, former commerce minister and now economic adviser to the military's ruling National Council for Peace and Order, said domestic politics and a strong government were key factors to move Thailand towards the Asean Community integration set for next year.

He pointed out that several major international trade agreements had been successfully signed by Thai governments created after coups d'etat in the past.

Elected governments usually struggled to have bills passed by Parliament and also encountered political protests, he said, citing the 2010 Asean summit in Pattaya, which was disrupted by red-shirt protesters and finally had to be called off.

"I feel sorry for Abhisit [who was PM in 2010]. Thai politics did not let him do anything," he said.

Narongchai, who is also a member of the new National Legislative Assembly, said the unelected body was determined to push through some 100 bills to help move the country forward.

"Under the current [junta] regime we will sign all the agreements. My conclusion is that next year would be a good year for us to move towards the Asean Community," he said, adding that he believes Thailand now had all preparations in place for the integration.


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