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Interview: ASEAN makes slow progress towards people-oriented institution -- analyst

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) made a "slow progress" in ironing out issues that are impeding its efforts for the bloc to become a single, integrated community and to shift from a government oriented to a people oriented institution.

The bloc targeted to form the ASEAN Economic Community, or an integrated single market, for all 10 member states by 2015.

International affairs analyst Chandra Muzaffar told Xinhua in an interview recently that although governments made progress for integration with intra-regional trade figures rising significantly over the decade on reduced trade barriers, there is a lack of interaction and a sense of belonging to a larger community among people in the region.

"We see very different political systems within the bloc-it has active monarchy, an authoritarian political system, democratic political system making it difficult to evolve into a more meaningful identity," said Chandra, a professor of Global Studies at the Science University of Malaysia.

"It also has different levels of development. You have Singapore and Brunei which scored very high in development index in the United Nations Development Program scale and countries like Laos and Myanmar which scored quite poorly."

"We have made proposals in the past that there must be means to overcome this gap like infrastructure programs for the entire ASEAN region financed by the richer ASEAN countries or the Asian Development Bank but not much has been done in closing the gap," he added.

He suggests ASEAN to cooperate more in areas like transport, education and tourism.

For starters, it could develop a common ASEAN shipping line and airlines for commercial and travel purposes, opening up universities and colleges to students from ASEAN member countries to allow greater exchanges in scientific knowledge.

China and several governments in Southeast Asia were working to construct a trans-Asia railway network that would cover 114,000 kilometers, connecting 28 countries.

But efforts for a new economic corridor were reportedly hampered by the less advanced infrastructure in some of the countries in the region.

"The level of exchanges and cooperation is still very low. ASEAN remains a government institution and it's not going to sustain in a long run," Chandra said.

"They should build trust among themselves," he added.

The bloc comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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