ASEAN Launches Plan to Bridge Development Gap in Region

July 31, 2002 - 0:0
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) launched a plan Tuesday to bridge the development gap between its more prosperous states and newer members Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Called the "Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) work plan," it is a six-year program for assisting the four ASEAN states in infrastructure, information and communications technology, human resources development and regional economic development.

"This is part of ASEAN's ongoing efforts to bridge the development gap within ASEAN as well as between ASEAN and other regions of the world," a statement issued at the end of annual ASEAN foreign ministers' talks said. It explained that "integration in ASEAN means not just market integration but also the integration of the newer members into the ASEAN mainstream and in the process narrow the development gap between them."

Under the plan, the six senior ASEAN states Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand would help the four other members in training, supply of equipment, financing and provision of consultants, among other areas.

The move was to reinforce ASEAN's principle of self-help and demonstrate the grouping's seriousness and political commitment, the statement said.

The ASEAN secretariat has established a dedicated IAI unit to serve as a focal point in coordinating cooperation under the plan.

The lesser developed ASEAN states have expressed fears about a new formula within ASEAN allowing senior members to proceed with regional economic projects without their participation, ASEAN AFP reported.

The ministers from the four countries cautioned that the formula could create a "two-tiered" ASEAN.

A joint communique issued at the end of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Conference Tuesday addressed the concerns in relation to a planned ASEAN-China free trade area, saying it would provide "special and differential treatment and flexibility" to the new members.

ASEAN membership ranges from affluent Singapore to impoverished Laos and Cambodia.