How Thailand’s ongoing political crisis may impact the AEC
While the Asean Economic Community (AEC) is not due to come into being until 31 December 2015, the long-running and seemingly never-ending political impasse in Thailand is cause for concern among regional leaders.
While the implementation of the AEC is still 20 months away, and, as Harold Wilson famously said, ‘a week is a long time in politics’, the reality is that Thailand’s political malaise has been a work in not much progress since the coup of September 2006.
Yes, there have been stable periods since the coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, but every time a move has been made that appears aimed at bringing the former premier back to Thailand, absolved of all charges against him, the political landscape goes into meltdown.
In early April a discussion took place between a number of reporters for regional publications, held in Bangkok, and Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong. Among other issues it covered the current situation in Thailand and its potential fallout for Asean and the AEC.
The Nation asked Mr Lee how worried he was, in an Asean context, about the political turmoil in Thailand. “Well, we are concerned about it,” replied Lee. “because Thailand is a very important member of Asean, and if Thailand is preoccupied with domestic
difficulties, you will not be able to contribute your full weight to Asean endeavours and deliberations. And we see this as a very difficult problem which Thailand, the Thai people and Thai society will have to solve. It is not easy to do; it is a very deep problem. I don’t think there is very much which outsiders will be able to contribute to that, even well-meaning outsiders within Asean.”
When asked if the domestic issues had impacted Asean, Lee noted, “If you had not had these difficulties, you would have made many more contributions to what we have been working on.”
The Jakarta Post correspondent noted, “Indonesia is one of the least-ready countries
for the Asean Economic Community, which is already postponed from early 2015 to end of 2015. And it is possible that the new government will demand another extension. Is another extension possible in your view?”
Lee replied, “In the Asean context, we have set the end of 2015 as our deadline for
our Asean Community…But I expect that we will get most of the pieces done; probably another 10, 15 per cent which we would like done but which we would have to continue to work on beyond 2015 and into 2016. But that’s the way Asean is. It’s a work in progress, and when you have done some job, well, new possibilities arise and new problems need to be solved.”