Thursday, July 28, 2016

ASEAN - Lessons from the Middle East for Asean

I refer to the letter “Time for dialogue to take centrestage in Middle East” (July 20). It is indeed a waste that once-thriving civilisations that hail from the region, such as the Mesopotamia and Ottoman, have all but disappeared.

Many relics have been destroyed in the war-ravaged region. It will be a long time before its past glory is restored. The region has been blessed with oil. Perhaps that has been its greatest curse.

The clamour for the fossil resource beneath its sands assures its relevance to world geopolitics. Too many powers have cast their eyes over the resource and have come and gone, miring the region in sectarian conflicts.

If only all parties could put aside their differences and see that only with peace will the Middle East restore its glory. However well endowed a country is, no resource is infinite.

While oil still gushes from their wells, countries there should use this scarce resource, perhaps collectively, as a means to a better end. Disunity only plays to external parties’ interests. No country should be a pawn on someone’s chessboard.

It is senseless that while the region feeds the world with oil, its other chief exports are refugees escaping their homelands. Perhaps we could draw lessons from the region.

Until recently, the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) had been a successful bloc. The region has attracted interest from near and far.

As the South China Sea is believed to be rich in natural gas and oil, the clamour for these resources will surely come, under whatever pretext.

Countries must beware of falling into the same trap of looking after their own interests for short-term gains and disregarding the region’s interests.

The Asean Economic Community has barely taken off; its 625 million inhabitants have a good chance of improving their lot. With economic prosperity, the region will thrive. Asia is also rising. Asean and the powers in Asia make up half of the world’s population. This represents a relatively untapped market for goods and services. It is all too enticing.

All parties should thus be circumspect when facing disputes among countries. Mistrust breeds misunderstanding. Through dialogues and exchanges, we could understand one another better. It is time to shed our sleepy backwater past.

United, we could avert the fate of the Middle East from befalling us. We are capable of charting our collective destiny. It would be silly of us to be divided and ruled again.

Lee Teck Chuan

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

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