The end of the Cold War presented both opportunities and challenges for Southeast Asia.

Regional states have opportunities for moving away from a way of life dominated by conflict and tension, for investing greater resources in the task of economic and social development, for extending the scope and the variety of collaboration with friends and neighbours, and for enhancing regional co-operation in pursuit of lasting peace and shared prosperity.

In the last few years the region as a whole has taken up some of the opportunities offered by changed global and regional environments. Most of the region’s economies remain on the fast forward track, enhancing Southeast Asia’s position as one of the most dynamic epicentres of economic activities and growth in the world. Regional co-operation has been widened, with the inclusion of Vietnam in ASEAN, the impending membership of Cambodia and Laos in 1997, and with the prospect of Myanmar joining the association by the year 2000. Regional co-operation has also been deepened with the acceleration of the AFTA process and provisions for Vietnam’s integration with this process. The region’s role as a diplomatic actor of growing influence has been sustained and enhanced through ASEAN’s organisation of ARF, active involvement in APEC, and initiation of ASEM.

At the same time regional states also have to face a number of challenges. The first is uncertainty caused by changing relationships among major powers, the rise of new regional powers in Asia, and conflicts in the global economic system. The second is the emergence of new potential sources of conflict and tension, ranging from arm build-ups and access to natural resources, to illicit flows of people, goods and drugs across national boundaries. The third is what may be collectively termed the "challenge of success".

The expansion of ASEAN membership, actual and prospective, has raised certain question regarding the association’s immediate and long-term future. One is how ASEAN can simultaneously widen and deepen regional co-operation with a satisfactory degree of success in both endeavours. Another is how ASEAN can expand its ranks and enhance a sense of regional identity among members old and new alike, And the last is how, on the one hand, the more economically and technologically advanced ASEAN countries can be encouraged to make further progress in economic and technological development as the logic of national interest and global competition dictate that they must and how, on the other hand, their dynamism can be harnessed to the cause of regionalism, to help ensure that the gaps between them and their less advanced neighbours do not widen, and that their success do not jeopardise the prospects for achieving similar advancement in the years ahead.

Coping with these challenges will not be easy. In particularly, ASEAN’s attempt to address this "challenge of success" may ultimately be an exercise in squaring a circle, in reconciling the irreconcilable. Enormous political will is needed on the part of individual governments and leaders. Also needed are vision and clear thinking concerning what needs to be done.

Given the scope and the complexity of the challenges, the task of conceptualising, suggesting, and planning should not be done only by political leadership and bureaucracies. It should also involve the participation of concerned Southeast Asians from different walks of life, who can be brought together by a sense of shared responsibility and can make contributions based upon their respective knowledge, expertise and experience.

It was out of concern for the future of Southeast Asia and in the spirit of shared responsibility toward the region that this project was launched.

Following the widely received report of the ASEAN-Vietnam Study Group, entitled "Shared Destiny: Southeast Asia in the 21st Century," completed and published in 1993, an initiative was made in early 1996 to promote further the cause of regionalism in Southeast Asia by convening a group of twenty five Southeast Asia citizens to examine ways and means of enhancing peace and prosperity in the region. Comprised of men and women from variety of backgrounds and experiences, with variety of achievements and knowledge, who have come together as private individuals and not as representatives of governments or institutions, this group of Southeast Asians is firmly committed to ASEAN as the framework, mechanism and inspiration for promoting Southeast Asian regionalism. It resolutely supports the course of the organisation’s expansion to include all countries of the region by the year 2000. Named the "Study Group on Cambodia’s and Laos’", or "SGCL", for short, the group focuses on the question of Cambodia’s and Laos’ future as new members of ASEAN from 1997 onwards.

For different reasons, Cambodia and Laos have for long remained outside the mainstream of global and regional development processes. The SGCL, wishing to see the process of ASEAN’s expansion evolve in a manner beneficial to all the states and the peoples of the region, aims to find and suggest ways and means of enhancing the two countries’ potentials through co-operation with the present ASEAN members and of preparing them for full and active participation in the activities of ASEAN. At their meetings the SGCL members sought, firstly, to identify the problems and challenges which are obstacles to the promotion of regional co-operation in general and to integration of Cambodia and Laos as full partners in ASEAN in particular, and secondly, to study policy options for managing, alleviating, or resolving these problems and challenges over both the short and long terms.

The SGCL worked on the basis of a number of assumptions, which should be clearly articulated, as follows.

The first is that all recommendations regarding ways and means of enhancing Cambodia and Laos’ potentials through co-operation with ASEAN and of preparing them for full participation in the association, while formulated on the strength of the Study Group’s collective wisdom and consensus, should primarily reflect the two countries’ visions and aspirations, concerns and priorities, for this is the most appropriate, perhaps even the only, way to ensure that they can fully contribute to and benefit from the process of expanding and deepening regional co-operation.

The second is that, as in the case of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos have the capacity to make significant contributions to the cause of ASEAN regionalism, their present constraints and low levels of economic development notwithstanding, that although the two countries are undergoing difficult times, the regions’ life, both in the short term and over the longer term, will be enriched by their full participation therein.

The third assumptions is that, as in the case of Vietnam, the direction and pace of Cambodia’s and Laos’ future political, social and economic development are of crucial relevance to the cause of ASEAN regionalism and to efforts to address the challenges which lie ahead for the region. While ASEAN’s principle of non-intervention should continue to be upheld, the present ASEAN members should not remain "disinterested" parties but should consider the possibility of playing "proactive" roles in the two counteries’ development processes.

The theme underlying these assumptions can be called the "dictate of partnership". The SGCL believes that regionalism means partnership and that partnership requires, first of all, a sense of shared responsibility among members of a given group, a sense of commitment of the strong to task of assisting the less strong who wish to receive help in a constructive manner. Secondly, it also requires the enhancement of all members’ individual capacities to contribute to the collective cause, irrespective of their relative strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages.

This report is divided into three interrelated parts. Part One contains the SGCL’s vision of the Southeast Asia; this is intended to spell out the Study Group’s ideas and perspectives, regarding not only the future of the region and the general direction in which it should develop, but also Cambodia’s 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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