Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Asian Leaders Ponder Common Currency

By Karen Percy
ABC News
Monday, October 26, 2009

It may never happen but the idea of having one Asian currency is being floated as part of a greater Asia Pacific community.

As leaders got together in Thailand to discuss regional issues, the idea of combining the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and APEC was again talked about.

The idea is to bring more countries together to cooperate on issues of regional security and trade, but it is still a long way off.

ASEAN and its partners are promising to work closely together on economic integration, climate change and disaster management.

And they discussed the long-term future of the group and the East-Asia summit forum as Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd outlined his ideas for creating a bigger and bolder grouping.

His idea is to meld the APEC and ASEAN groups to create a far-reaching alliance that would have security issues at its heart.

"It reflects the fact that in this dynamic region, which is so much the centre of global economic activity in the 21st century, but with still genuine and continuing security challenges in the 21st century that we must always work to improve our regional coordination and cooperation systems and institutions into the future," he said.

Japan has floated a similar proposal, going even further - pitching for a common currency amongst East Asian nations.

Thailand's Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, ASEAN 's current president, has reinforced his colleagues' desire to build on the ASEAN framework.

"We continue to practice open regionalism and we know that with the evolving circumstances and environment of our times, our cooperation and arrangements too must evolve and we have had good responses from our dialogue partners," he said.

"I am confident that in doing so we will preserve ASEAN centrality and make vital contributions, not just to our own region but to the Asia-Pacific region and to the whole world."

ASEAN charters 'hollow'

Despite adopting a charter in the past year aimed at ending the perception of ASEAN as a country club and committing the 10 members to a more rules-based system, ASEAN is still seen as being weak and ineffective.

A case in point is the region's first human rights body, which was formally established during this weekend but it is going to be an instrument of the 10 governments, many of which are accused of abuses.

The leaders talk up their aims to be there for the people, yet input from outsiders, whether it is ordinary citizens or non-governmental organisations, into how ASEAN should grow has been poorly received, as seen in Friday's people's meeting where a number of NGOs were turned away from their own discussions.

Political commentator Thitinan Pongsudhirak says there are worries now about what happens next year when Vietnam assumes ASEAN's presidency.

"Vietnam is not going to be very receptive to civil society activism, human rights organisations and so on and this is going to cast a cloud over ASEAN because ASEAN has come out with this ASEAN charter," he said.

"Human rights provisions, the fundamental freedoms in the ASEAN charter will come under pressure during Vietnam's chairmanship.

"If Vietnam does not allow some opening, some abidance of this human rights and fundamental freedoms in the ASEAN charter, the ASEAN charter will be hollow. It will look like a joke. It will be bankrupt."

One thing will not be at issue in Vietnam and that is security. While Thailand has had to contend with threats of protests and a disruption to one summit, there is no chance that Vietnam's meetings will be disrupted by protesters or anything else for that matter.

For further reading:
"Asian Community: It’s time to act on currency plan", New Straits Times, October 27, 2009
"Plans of Asia-Pacific Integration through Single Currency", Jose Roy, October 27, 2009
"The Dethroning of the U.S. Dollar Will Happen Sooner Than You Think", Keith Fitz-Gerald, October 27, 2009

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