News Analysis: "The Belt and Road" helps boost ASEAN infrastructure development

2023-06-18 22:13:00 | Author:Tao Jun, Ky Nam |

China's "the Belt and Road" initiative will lead to the formation of interconnected infrastructure networks in Southeast Asia and south China, helping boost relevant countries' economies as well as narrow their development gaps, according to Vietnamese experts.

"The establishment of Southeast Asian infrastructure networks being connected with China's Guangxi and Yunnan will help speed up the development of many ASEANmembers, including Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand," Truong Minh Huy Vu, Director of the Ho Chi Minh City-based Center for International Studies, told Xinhua on Monday.

When infrastructure networks become more interconnected, running from the Chinese city of Kunming through Laos to the Thai capital of Bangkok, and when the Southeast Asian market is closely linked with South Asian market via Myanmar, they will facilitate the movement of goods among some ASEAN countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, Vu said.

He said that better interconnected roads, rails and seaports will give ports in Thailand great advantage, noting that large volumes of goods from Laos and Cambodia are being exported through Thai ports.

According to Vu, Vietnam should avoid infrastructure lock-in effect. "Vietnam should carefully choose points to connect with the regional infrastructure so that its investment will not become scattered and wasteful," he said, adding that the country should also create welfare and economic benefits in areas along infrastructure networks.

Vu said that China's "the Belt and Road Initiative" in ASEAN member countries with land border to China would create a geo-economic trend which is centripetal to China.

"However, the establishment of the ASEAN Community, especially the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) slated for late 2015 is meeting a lot of obstacles, particularly due to development gaps among ASEAN countries," he added.

Vo Dai Luoc, former director of Vietnam's Institute of World Economics and Politics, told Xinhua that differences in economic development levels among ASEAN countries, like those between Singapore and Greater Mekong Sub-regional members such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar, will challenge the fulfillment of ASEAN commitments and the establishment of a unified market.

Due to the average low economic development level and competitiveness in some ASEAN countries, the regional bloc will take long time to develop a really strong and integrated economy similar to that of the European Union, Luoc said.

He said that in order to narrow development gaps among ASEAN state members, they should strengthen integration for development as well as cooperation with international organizations and the block's non-member countries and partners, including China, theUnited States and South Korea, adding that they should also provide mutual assistance, especially in the form of institution assistance, not in cash.

Luoc and many other Vietnamese scholars said that ASEAN countries should focus on specific priority areas to speed up the narrowing of their development levels. "They should strengthen economic integration by handling domestic regulations and harmonizing regional rules and standards, and intensifying transparency in the region," the experts said.

According to the scholars, ASEAN should accelerate the application of information technology in boosting intra-block trade and investment as well as providing an electronic platform for private sector to facilitate regional business.

"If the private sector would be given a major role in regional economic integration, the development gaps will be narrowed more considerably and quickly," the experts said.

They said that ASEAN should strengthen sub-regional growth triangles and facilitate cross-border trade and investment.

The block should also step up liberalization of services, including financial ones, and capital market integration to offer necessary financial infrastructure for enterprises, especially small- and medium-sized and micro ones, they pointed.

The Southeast Asian countries have envisioned an ASEAN community on three pillars -- the economic community, the security community and the cultural and social community, which will help them to better deal with economic development, environmental protection, disease prevention issues, and enable them to have bigger and more persuasive voice in international forums, an official from Vietnam's Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, who declined to be named, told Xinhua.

To benefit from the AEC, ASEAN members are finalizing their necessary preparations, especially in the fields of human resources enhancement, infrastructure development, goods flow facilitation, connection reinforcement, development gap narrowing and legal corridor perfection.

At a recent talk held by the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in coordination with the United Nations Development Program, ambassadors of ASEAN countries to Vietnam and other diplomats presented their countries' preparations.

Laos has focused on measures on mitigating challenges and narrowing development gaps, while Singapore has highlighted the role of research centers and business communities. Cambodia has centered on improving the role of private sector, while the Philippines and Myanmar have paid greater attention to assisting small and medium sized enterprises.

Thailand has stepped up reforming services, trade and investment, effectively implementing the regional initiative of "ASEAN Single Window" and its national single window system, as well as developing its social security networks.

According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade, Vietnam has fulfilled most of commitments to the ASEAN economic community, ranking second among the ASEAN members, after Singapore. Vietnam has also improved its electronic customs procedures, simplified licensing systems, amended relevant laws and regulations on investment, trade and enterprises, and put forth new policies on realizing its commitments in specific fields including distribution service, banking, insurance, securities and telecommunications.