Integrity Legal

6th May 2014

In recent articles in the Financial Times the argument has be made that the Peoples’ Republic of China will economically overtake the United States of America in the year 2014. It  should be noted that Chinese economic outpacing of the United States is only measured in terms of statistical purchasing power and little more. In any event, this revealation is significant as it shows the increasing dominance of China in the world economy. The authors of the two articles (which can be found on the Financial Times official website here and here) appear to disagree as to the importance of these developments. The  author of the first article seems rather alarmist about the fact that China will overtake the USA in statistical purchasing power while the second author notes that this should not be viewed as China overtaking the USA in all facets of comparative economics. Furthermore, the second article notes that the United States still remains politically the most powerful nation in the world despite the fact that the world is evolving from a state of unipolarity with the United States as the lone Superpower able to effectively and virtually unilaterally project its power throughout the world, to a state of multipolarity in which many nations have increasing regional (or even global) dominance in certain spheres of economics as well as politics.

The notion that the world is moving toward a state of multipolarity leads this blogger to posit: how will the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) fit into the framework of a multipolar world? It seems reasonable to infer that ASEAN will become an increasingly important economic bloc following the integration of the various member states’ economies under the framework of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) which is set to take effect on January 1, 2015. The creation of a single economic platform which will include approximately 400-500 million people, some of the fastest growing economies in the world, and some of the most strategically important geographical locations will likely lead to greater economies of scale for businesses in the region, a larger market for goods and services for the member states, and greater leverage to trade with countries outside of the bloc. However, these issues are not entirely pertinent to the question posited above. The differences between China and an integrated ASEAN economic platform will be substantial. First, some members of ASEAN rank amongst some of the largest economies in the world, in their own right. Meanwhile other economies within the region are still developing. This could lead to a “best of both worlds” scenario for ASEAN, China, and the USA. Case in point, Thailand has seen difficulties in recent years competing with cheaper Chinese labor, but the movements of labor and capital which will come hand-in-hand with ASEAN economic integration could lead to a situation where Thai companies could utilize labor pools in developing ASEAN member countries to offset the low cost of Chinese labor and thereby mitigate previous competitive disadvantages. Furthermore, the United States may find new markets for US goods in an integrated ASEAN and new venues for the manufacture of low cost goods in developing ASEAN nations that would allow for some economic de-coupling from China by the USA, thereby allowing the United States a freer hand in making foreign policy decisions vis-a-vis China. Finally, China stands to gain due to the increase in trade between China and the ASEAN nations which has recently been evidenced by the evolving nature of the geography of the Chinese economy. In recent years, increasing economic activity has been noted in Southern China across the border from Laos, which acts as a kind of entrepot for trade between China and Thailand as well as the Greater ASEAN community. Recent discussions of a high speed rail link connecting China, Laos and Thailand have also been cause for optimism that one day this region could play host to a booming economy which will bring large numbers of people out of poverty and create wealth for the peoples of all nations concerned.

Following ASEAN economic integration, there are likely to be myriad legal challenges for those businesses in ASEAN nations and abroad wishing to gain a foothold in this burgeoning market. The legal challenges posed will likely require the assistance of legal professionals in the region familiar with new ASEAN regulations as well as the internal regulatory frameworks of the various member states.


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