NEW DYNAMICS OF ECONOMIC GROWTH
Over the past five decades, the 11 countries that constitute Southeast Asia have undergone a remark-able economic transformation. Countries which were once dismally poor now lead the world in eco-nomic growth. The economic dynamism in this region of the world have made social, economic and political change the most relevant issues as it enters the 21st Century which many now regard as the ‘Asian Century’.
When the Cold War ended abruptly in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reinvention of China from a centrally-planned hard-line communist state to more a socialist-oriented market economy, the United States grappled with its new role and responsibility as the world’s only global superpower. While in some dimensions this “unipolar” role continues into the 21st century, the world’s attention is now increasingly focused on opportunities for newer forms of cooperation and new regional or international arrangements. Nowhere is this growing shift more evident than in Southeast Asia, a nearby neighborhood for New Zealand.
Take for example the experience of our closest neighbour across the ditch – Australia. Its consistently strong economic growth in recent years has been to a large extent based on exports of raw materials to China and the opening of other lucrative bilateral trade arrangements with Southeast Asian counties. One result of this change is that it has produced a reticence on Australia’s part to adopt policies that could alienate relations with those countries. It has even led to some discussion as whether the Aus-tralia-New Zealand-United States alliance could drag it into potential future conflict over Taiwan. Aus-tralia clearly does not want to be forced to choose between its important security alliance with the United States and its rapidly growing and lucrative trade with China and its Southeast Asian neighbours.
WHERE EAST MEETS WEST
China now interfaces closely with all countries of the Southeast Asian re-gion as a group rather than just a set of maintaining bilateral relations. It has been able to turn this difference to its advantage as well. It dispenses aid and investment to these coun-tries that have led to stronger rela-tionships and development of coop-erative paths without threatening their basic sovereignty. Much of this new outlook towards Southeast Asia has been to China’s benefit – a trend which has not gone unnoticed by In-dia, which has embarked upon its own road-building venture, reaching into Southeast Asia from Burma.
Historically a crossroads for great power competition, the sub-region of Southeast Asia still reflects an an-cient balance of cultural and econo-mic influence from China, India, and the Middle East before the advent of European colonization. Even so, as in other regions of the world, globaliza-tion has had a profound impact on Southeast Asia in some unique ways. It has become a hub where the East meets West in the Pacific.
Any traditional analysis of power dy-namics in Southeast Asia (and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole) is like-ly to miss out on some of the significant shifts happening in this neighbouring sub-region of Asia. For one, as security frameworks are evolving they do so more slowly than economic ones which tend to respond more rapidly to globalization. There is also a growing emphasis on markets as a defining ele-ment for relations with non-Southeast Asian countries and one that sees it as an arena for spurring more regional integration and cooperation. When defined in these terms, the Southeast Asian nations today increasingly view their relations as not being ideological matters between rival nation-states but rather one involving the opening up of markets and opportunities that lead to properity and greater security in the region.
As it reaches out to the broader Asia-Pacific region in efforts to strengthen its own internal mechanisms, the ASEAN – which cons-titute all Southeast Asian states as members except Timor-Leste, continues to move forward with continual institutional develop-ment. The raison d’être for ASEAN which is – managing Southeast Asia’s diversity for peace rather than conflict, has been fulfilled in that regard. No major and sustained conflict has erupted between any of its member states, despite the existence of low-level, bila-teral tensions over historic territorial claims and natural resource management.
ASEAN’s agenda these days is to mould itself as an economic union and to present a common front in the international community. This explains much why the “ASEAN Way” – noninterference in the internal affairs of its member states and decision-making by consensus, have endured as it moves toward its fifth decade of existence.
Given all this, the new dynamic in Southeast Asia present new opportunities for New Zealand to strengthen its relations with each of the individual countries of Southeast Asia. That starts by actively engaging and supporting its growing Southeast Asian migrant communities at home. Doing so would be the equivalent of making an investment which is eventually justified with exponential returns.
LOCUS FOR ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT
The Society for Southeast Asian Communities, Inc. (also known as SSEAC), started through an informal meeting of a few people (Victor Diem, Matilde Tayawa, Tien Vu, Lonie Martin & Farib Sos) from the Vietnamese, Filipino and Cambodian communities, which was facilitated by Murali Kumar of the Ministry of Social Development. This meeting was brought about by Murali’s work at the Ministry of Social Development on capacity-building, social inclusion and collaboration to empower communities. The success of the South East Asian Night Market held in 2008 also provided an impetus to collaborate with the Southeast Asian communities.
SSEAC, which was established on 29 May 2009 in Wellington, is a nonprofit organisation registered with the Companies Office (27 November 2009) granted charitable entity status (25 August 2010) by the Charities Commision (No: CC45024) under the Charities Act of 2005.
Because many Southeast Asian migrants and their constituent communities in New Zealand still face difficulty with social and economic integration and are beset with a spectrum of barriers that challenge them, the Society pursues public debates, discussions, activites and programmes focused on creating avenues and pathways that help mitigate their problems. By acting as a locus where their collective concerns and voices can be heard and acted upon using creative solutions, the Society aims to trans-form these communities and their individual members and organisations as partners in New Zealand’s efforts towards building bridges to Southeast Asia.
Therefore, we exist to foster better understanding, partnerships, collaborations and cooperation bet-ween our stakeholders and the rest of New Zealand; advocate programmes that empower them; raise the profile and status of their respective communities via constructive dialogues and socio-cultural involvement; network for and with other ethnic communities and organisations in promoting cultural diversity; work diligently towards educating and facilitating integration into social mainstreams; and, advance efforts to promote their upliftment as productive members of our society through human-itarian, community and economic development agendas that work for them.
As a united effort, we believe the ultimate outcomes for New Zealand on the whole would be their deep-er sense of gratitude and belonging and a higher level of confidence acting as representatives in aiding our country engage, establish and grow mutually-beneficial social, cultural, economic and political ties with each of the countries in Southeast Asia – one fashioned from a shared and meaningful collabora-tive response from members of its own Southeast Asian migrant communities.