KUALA LUMPUR -- Integration of Southeast Asian economies will fail in the absence of a shared vision, experts warned a business forum in Southeast Asia drawing on recent experience in Europe.
According to Victoria Treadell, the British high commissioner to Malaysia, Southeast Asian nations should learn from the U.K.'s forthcoming exit from the European Union if they want to avoid something similar in their own region.
The U.K. joined Europe's common market in 1973, but the relationship expanded over the years beyond trade to include greater common governance and a single currency for the union's other members, disenchanting many British voters.
Britain voted in favor of Brexit in June, and last month invoked Article 50 to leave the EU in a two-year process. Last week, Prime Minister Theresa May performed a u turn and called a snap election in June. Her government is expected to be returned with a strengthened mandate to handle Brexit negotiations.
"The U.K. will continue to be more outward looking," the envoy told a roundtable forum organized by the CIMB ASEAN Research Institute (CARI) think tank on Thursday. She confirmed that Southeast Asia remains "of economic interest" to the U.K.
At the roundtable -- "Lessons learned from Brexit: risks and opportunities for ASEAN" -- participants discussed the importance of forging ahead with economic integration without being distracted by political issues.
The ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations initiated the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) last year to liberalize the movement of goods, services, and people within a single market.
Munir Majid, CARI's chairman, warned against drawing simple conclusions from Brexit in relation to ASEAN.
Nick White, a partner at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, said ASEAN businesses should evaluate the implications of Brexit carefully because of the differences between British and European law.
Steve Wong of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia called for flexibility. "Brexit poses both challenges and opportunities," he said. "The need today is not for dogmatism but pragmatism, agility, and fleet-footedness."