ASEAN is being projected as a destination for investments because of its growth rate at 5.3%1, which is currently faster than the US at 3.1%, and the EU at 2.5%. However, these numbers do not adequately reflect the realities on the ground. Perhaps, the starkest evidence of this is the rising inequality and concentration of wealth in the hands of a few elite. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2016, Thailand and Indonesia are the 3rd and 4th most unequal countries in the world, respectively. In Thailand, the richest 1% owns 58% of the total wealth of the country while in Indonesia, the richest 1% owns 49.3%. The same report shows worrying levels of inequality in all ASEAN countries. These persistent challenges will not in any way be addressed by the AEC 2025. Instead, these will be worsened.
As the ASEAN gears for another ten (10) years of deepening and strengthening regional integration, let us look into how the economic community building actually impacts the people of Southeast Asia.