Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 February 2018
What do young people in ASEAN expect of the ASEAN Community? Do they have a sense of regional identity in the way the Association has cultivated the “ASEAN Way” at policymaking levels in its member states? Do young people know ASEAN?
The two ten-nation surveys — the first in 2007 and the 2014 expanded update — both confirm that, among the young undergraduates in this region, there continues to be an emerging sense of identification with the region of Southeast Asia, and with ASEAN as the representative grouping for regional cooperation. Indeed, all forms of ASEAN cooperation, especially those initiated without government prodding, are what will ultimately glue the ASEAN Community together. The more often the people of Southeast Asia get together — to exchange views, help each other, or work together — the stronger the community will become, despite the diversity of culture, ethnicity, and politics. Yet, challenges remain. Young people in the region have correctly identified some of the most important: bridging the development gaps that still exist between and within the ASEAN members, and entrenching a sense of regional identity.
We can expect that as the ASEAN Community project, especially the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), becomes a more concrete reality, there may be more dissension over the value of ASEAN. The increase in the number of Thai students being more critical of ASEAN in 2014–15 serves as a good illustration of how more information and discussion of ASEAN within the national context can bring about more critical thinking. At the same time, the Myanmar findings for 2014–15 provide exactly the reverse; with the country's chairing of ASEAN in 2014, sentiments of the students in Myanmar now track the ASEAN-enthusiast tendencies in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
ASEAN stakeholders should thus be prepared for this, i.e. not to see contention of ASEAN's usefulness or value as a “failure” but rather see the increasing importance of ASEAN on people's future and the contention as a measure of the students’ heightened knowledge of and interest in regional integration issues. At the same time, substantial attention is needed to alleviate the unintended consequences of integration.