Making the Case for Greater Integration within the Asia-Pacific Region

By Tan Kai Wei Aaron

The “Asian Century” as foretold by numerous scholars and analysts, may only be realized if countries in the Asia-Pacific region accept that integration is an essential need. Integration can come in many forms. It can be as deep and complex as the European Union, a supranational organization that has binding legislation and dictates everything from currency to cross-border travel. Integration can also be as shallow as the African Union (AU) or the Association for Southeast Asian (ASEAN). Since the turn of the century, there have been ambitious plans for deeper economic integration within the region, with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) chiefly spearheading this initiative. As of late, though, there is a tendency for leaders to denounce globalization and integration. 

The election of Donald J. Trump is but a series of instances where leaders pander exceedingly towards nationalism and promote isolationist and protectionist policies. History teaches us that protectionism and isolationism have unintended consequences of destructive nature. To avoid this path of self-destruction, leaders have to resist the make-believe that they are stronger alone. I will spell out two reasons below why this task is imperative. 

1. The current COVID-19 pandemic has inter alia, disrupted food supply chains, wiped out millions from stock markets, infected close to 17 million people, and killed hundreds and thousands of lives. There seems to be no fixed timeline of the pandemic, and a suitable vaccine might take years to develop. However, one thing is sure. The economic fallout will be devastating, and every country will feel its ripple-effects. No matter how industrialized or powerful they are, no country can withstand these effects alone or even attempt to unilaterally re-shape global and regional institutions successfully. It takes the combined effort of states to see beyond their inherent differences and formalize a structured framework to revitalize the global economy. 

2. As it stands, the two most significant powers in the world, America and China, are embroiled in a tit-for-tat race to determine superiority over the other. The two-year and still running trade war imposed by America on China, has caused many trade-intensive countries in the Asia-Pacific region to rethink their future economic plans, and to a certain extent, foreign policy. There are tremendous uncertainty and anxiety among policy-makers, and one cannot be faulted for predicting a bleak outlook on future economic growth. As tensions between America and China continue to intensify, they will continue to jostle for influence over countries on the periphery. Against their wishes, non-participatory countries to this conflict might be forced to choose between one or the other. But this can be mitigated if there are strong regional agreements within non-partisan countries to develop a fixed framework in dealing with both America and China. 

On a final note, as the world becomes increasingly smaller, many economic and cultural benefits exist to be unlocked between countries. That is not to say that misunderstandings would not occur. Therefore, let us take this opportunity to understand the concerns of our neighboring countries, and strive as far as possible, for a win-win situation for all.

This article written by Tan Kai Wen Aaron, the APYouthS Ambassador of Singapore, currently studying Public Policy and Economics in a double major program in Nanyang Technology University, was submitted as a part of APYouthS’ Article Submission program. We are calling for enthusiastic and impassioned youths in Asia-Pacific who are willing to share their opinions on current situations of the world. Submit your article now through

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of Asia-Pacific Youth Service.

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