Improved transport infrastructure has opened access to our remote town and brought development and tourists to the place,” noted a resident in a rural area in the ASEAN region.

“I can now transport my cargoes from point A to point B in the region seamlessly,” noted an entrepreneur whose business transports goods across borders in the ASEAN region.

“I can now work as an ICT expert in any ASEAN country,” said an ICT professional whose ICT skills are now recognised in other ASEAN countries as a result of the mutual recognition arrangement on ICT skill certification.

Travelling to any destination in the ASEAN region is now a breeze,” said an ASEAN national who now does not need to apply for a visa to visit most countries in the region.

These are just some scenarios that can be expected by 2015 when ASEAN achieves its goals of enhancing intra-ASEAN connectivity as envisioned in the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity.

The ASEAN Leaders’ aim to realise an ASEAN Community by 2015 calls for a well-connected region that will build a more competitive and resilient ASEAN when it converges peoples, goods, services, and capitals. A better connected region is key to achieve the ASEAN Community, as it reinforces the centrality of ASEAN, accelerate the community building process and integration efforts, and intensify its relations with external partners.

The Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which was adopted by the ASEAN Leaders at the 17th ASEAN Summit on 28 October, identifies key strategies and actions to enhance the connection of the region in three dimensions: physical, institutional, and people-to-people connectivity. The Master Plan also details the priority projects to be carried out.

Concept and Benefits of ASEAN Connectivity

The concept of ASEAN Connectivity was mooted by the ASEAN Leaders at the 15th ASEAN Summit in October 2009 in Thailand. They observed that ASEAN has great potential to physically anchor itself as the transportation, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), and tourism hub of this region. Enhanced connectivity between ASEAN Member States will encourage competitive growth; facilitate economies of agglomeration and integrated production networks; enhance intra-regional trade; and attract investments.

The improved linkages will promote deeper ties among ASEAN peoples, foster a sense of shared cultural and historical bonds, and as a result, intensify and strengthen ASEAN Community building efforts.

ASEAN Connectivity will also benefit the country when improved domestic linkages generate economic development that is supported by infrastructure and communications networks as well as the movement of people, goods, and services.

The Master Plan was developed by the High Level Task Force on ASEAN Connectivity which comprised nominated experts from the ten ASEAN Member States, and supported by the ASEAN Secretariat. The Master Plan was also developed with the cooperation of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and the World Bank.

Strategies in enhancing physical connectivity include the completion of hard infrastructure projects such as the ASEAN Highway Network and the Singapore Kunming Rail Link. Institutional connectivity, meanwhile, comprises improvements to soft infrastructure such as strengthening institutional arrangements to liberalise the movements of goods, services and skilled professionals across the borders. Strategies to intensify people-to-people interactions will be implemented through culture, education, and tourism initiatives.

To realise the goals of ASEAN Connectivity, a coordinating committee comprising the Permanent Representatives to ASEAN or any other special representatives appointed by ASEAN Member States, will be established to work closely with a dedicated unit to be set up in the ASEAN Secretariat under the leadership of the Secretary-General of ASEAN. The coordinating committee is expected to work closely with the respective National Coordinators, government agencies, and relevant ASEAN sectoral bodies in the implementation of strategies and priorities put forward in the Master Plan.

The participation and support of ASEAN Dialogue Partners, multilateral development banks and the private sector in achieving ASEAN Connectivity is crucial. The Leaders recognised that significant financial resources and human capital will be required to implement the Master Plan. According to a 2009 ADB and Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) paper, “Between 2010 and 2020, Asia needs approximately USD 8 trillion in overall national infrastructure. In addition, Asia needs to spend approximately USD 290 billion on specific regional infrastructure projects in transport and energy that are in the pipeline.” In another working paper, ADBI said that ASEAN countries will require infrastructure investments amounting to USD 596 billion during 2006-2015, with an average investment of USD 60 billion per year.

Please click here for the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity.