There are a number of problems and challenges which are or may prove to be obstacles to the realisation of the vision, with respect to ASEAN regional co-operation in general and to the integration of Cambodia and Laos as full partners in regional co-operation in particular.
As has been mentioned before, these problems and challenges assume many dimensions. At the international level, changing relationships among major actors can cause varying degrees of uncertainty especially where the balance of power and presence among them in the Asia-Pacific region is concerned. So can the prevailing trends in the global economic system. Which may lead to more trade and trade-related conflicts and tensions.
At the regional level, new sources of conflict are emerging, and bilateral issues are likely to continue to have an important bearing upon the pace and direction of regional co-operation. Furthermore, as ASEAN strives to becomes a truly regional association, its instructional constraints and shortcomings are likely to be more evident, necessitating fundamental new assessment of its organisational structures and processes.
But, where Cambodia and Laos are concerned, in the immediate and the medium term the key obstacles are the low levels of social, economic, human resources and infrastructural development of the two countries, together with a number of institutional and legal constraint. These severely limit both their capacity to reduce poverty and to achieve higher rates of sustainable economic growth with equity, and their ability to contribute to the benefit from the processes of regional co-operation.
For Cambodia, the political, economic, social and human legacies of wars continue to hamper the process of national reconciliation and reconstruction, while Laos the burden geographical disadvantages is likely to weigh heavily upon her efforts to realise her national aspirations.
In addition to these concrete problems, there is also what can be called the "challenge of expectations".
Both Cambodia and Laos see their future well-being and that ASEAN as complementary. They expect their membership in ASEAN to bring more opportunities for co-operation, thus contributing not only to their economic development but also to regional advancement and resilience.
Cambodia and Laos, partners-to-be of ASEAN, see the Association as having created, and continuing to create, the conditions for peace and stability in the region which they acknowledge as important prerequisites for economic development. They also expect ASEAN to play an active role in helping them to overcome their economic backwardness. As members of ASEAN, Cambodia and Laos envision that they will be able to actively participate in various co-operative endeavours of ASEAN, as well as in the extensive international linkages that ASEAN has fostered through the years so that they can overcome their economic backwardness.
As countries which are lagging behind in almost every sector of life compared to their neighbours in ASEAN, Cambodia and Laos hope that ASEAN will accord them special consideration to ease and facilitate their integration into the regional process. In particular, Cambodia and Laos hope that ASEAN will recognise that both countries urgently need assistance to overcome a number of specific technical problems.
While they share many similar characteristics and needs, Cambodia and Laos also have different aspirations concerning their membership in ASEAN.
For Cambodia, the most immediate needs are to restores internal peace and stability and rehabilitate an economy ravaged by long wars and frequent natural calamities such as flood and drought. Cambodia gives priority to establishing good relations with her immediate neighbours as this will assist in the countrys internal political consolidation. She also hopes that intra-ASEAN economic co-operation will lead t greater product specialisation among member states, thus giving opportunity to Cambodia to capitalise on its traditional comparative advantages.
For Laos, membership in ASEAN offers the hope of overcoming problems due to its land-locked position. There are considerable communication and transportation difficulties not only between Laos and the outside world but within the country itself. Its geography also seemed to foreclose the possibility of the country receiving benefits from future development of maritime resources in the South China Sea.
Moreover, ASEAN membership also presents an opportunity to reinvigorate ways of thinking and doing things. Laos now hopes o turn her geographical handicap into a strategic advantage by becoming the "land bridge" between Southeast Asia and China, by transforming herself into a communicational and economic link between two of the fastest growing areas in the world, and thereby accelerating the process of her own economic and social development.
Recognising their weaknesses and their urgent need for assistance, both countries have emphasised that they will not, and do not want to, be a burden to ASEAN. Cambodia and Laos fully and firmly expect to contribute to the future growth of ASEAN as much as they will benefit from membership in ASEAN. For both countries, membership in ASEAN and AFTA will contribute to national and regional resilience.
[This report is divided into three interrelated parts. Part One contains the SGCLs vision of the Southeast Asia; this is intended to spell out the Study Groups ideas and perspectives, regarding not only the future of the region and the general direction in which it should develop, but also Cambodias and Laos "places" in this Southeast Asian of the future. Part Two identifies the problems and challenges, which are or may be obstacles to the realisation of this vision, especially with respect to the integration of Cambodia and Laos as full partner in regional co-operation. Part Three puts forward various policy options for managing, alleviating, or resolving these problems and challenges in the immediate, the medium and long term.]
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