Total integration is sometimes hindered by Asian norms and a preference for informality, related aversion to institutionalism of co-operation and intensive consultations leading to consensus. Some argue that both the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) and Asean Plus

Three have been incapacitated, mainly due to Asean member states being insufficiently economically interdependent and too diverse, both economically and politically. The Asian Development Bank maintains that the key problem is economic diversity, which is a structural weakness of Asean, handicapping regional integration.


The prospects for Asia regionalism remain promising, though slowly evolving, in three areas. Asean remains a weak military power since it opposes any form of multilateral military co-operation, preferring bilateral security co-operation. The socio-cultural community area has shown least progress in concrete terms regarding social challenges in urbanisation, human rights, migrant workers rights and poverty. Asia is strongest in economic co-operation, having set a target of being an Asean economic community by 2015 and pushing ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Key policy implication lies in overcoming economic challenges of economic diversity, regional public goods, managing spillovers among economies, exercising Asia’s influence in global economic forums, liberalising trade and investment and helping to improve national policies in which the region has a vital stake.

Slow but steady, progressive co-operation is the Asian way of integration.

Lawrence Yeo is CEO of AsiaBIZ Strategy, a Singapore-based consultancy that provides Asia market research and investment/trade promotion services.