June 24, 2016 10:00 pm JST
Interview

Brexit will not hinder ASEAN integration, Surin Pitsuwan says

Former ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan

BANGKOK -- Britain's vote to leave the European Union will not discourage the Association of Southeast Asian Nations from pushing ahead with its own economic integration project, the bloc's former chief said on Friday.

In an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review, former ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the association can learn from the EU's experience.

Q: How will the Brexit affect ASEAN?

A: I think the EU is affected, and the EU is one of our largest investors in ASEAN. For a long time it was the No. 1 investor. So the uncertainty and the transformation process over the next two years is going to be a very, very difficult period for us to follow.

Q: Do you think this will undermine ASEAN integration?

A: I don't think so, because ASEAN [integration] has not been on the same level of intensity.

We go very incrementally and step by step. We did not go for full integration -- making the entire ASEAN one economic or political unit. In that sense, we have room for adjustment. And I have always said, the EU has been our inspiration but not our model.

The EU has more commonality, but as you can see, sentiments are very strong, and this will probably set off other demands for referendums -- there will be others. I heard something from the Netherlands.

I think [a factor] for all of us to monitor very carefully is this nationalistic sentiment -- or should I say rise of the right, the right wing. The rise of the right in Europe is going to have an impact on the entire European landscape.

And we in Southeast Asia, we have [never] been more important to the world, and relatively speaking now even more [given the] unclear situation in Europe.

I think the focus could be on us [in Asia]. Japan's currency has already [strengthened] because the world believes that there is some security here, there is some certainty here, there is some continuity here.

Q: Is there a clear vision for how people can benefit from regional integration? What about those who feel left out?

A: ASEAN integration will have to benefit [citizens], will have to be inclusive. That's one of the objectives of ASEAN economic integration: to be competitive, ... to be equitable and to be able to interact with the world.

So one of the objectives of ASEAN economic integration is to be equitable. I think a good lesson for us [is to be conscious of] the gap between rich and poor, those who benefit and those who [feel] left out in the market. Otherwise, this project is also going to have problems.

Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Hiroshi Kotani

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