The commitment to relax visa conditions in the region was stipulated in the Joint Communiqué of the 44th Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting in Bali, Indonesia recently.
Changing entry require-ments for Asean nationals will allow more freedom of movement within the region, allowing people to travel more easily whether for business or pleasure. Over time this can only enhance the understanding and solidarity that people within the region feel towards neighbouring states and peoples.
Asean leaders agreed to task a Senior Official Meeting (SOM) with the relevant immigration authorities and foreign affairs officials from the respective countries to study the implementation of a progressive visa relaxation.
They will also discuss the possible establishment of an Asean common visa for non-Asean nationals and report to the 19th Asean Summit. The leaders also noted the Asean Tourism Ministers' discussions in January 2011, which included talks on a single visa being included in the Asean Tourism Strategic Plan for 2011-2015.
Director General of the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Asean Department Dr Khiane Phansourivong told Vientiane Times this week that bearers of diplomatic passports and official passports don't need visas when traveling to other Asean nations.
Currently, Lao citizens still require a visa to visit Indonesia but are exempt for the remaining nine Asean countries. However, when the bilateral agreement takes effect Lao citizens will be exempted from visa requirements in Indonesia.
Dr Khiane said if the Asean visa free area and the Asean common visa for non-Asean nationals eventuate it will attract more trade, investment, and international tourists to the region; as well as strengthen business investment and cross-border relations within the region itself.
However Dr Khiane said that the timeframe for the implementation of the visa free project was far from clear, as officials have to examine the laws and regulations of each member-state, and consider the possible ramifications it could have on the different countries in the region.
Asean nations aim to establish an Asean Community by 2015, with the concept based on three separate pillars which will help to integrate the region – an Asean Security Community (ASC), an Asean Economic Community (AEC) and an Asean Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).
The ASC aims to maintain regional peace and stability by developing a cooperative framework to deal with both conventional and unconventional security threats.
The AEC is aimed at enhancing regional economic cooperation to ensure Asean's prosperity and well-being.
The ASCC promotes harmonious regional relationship and cultural understanding.
Asean is home to nearly 600 million people and its aggregate GDP was US$1.9 trillion in 2010.
The Asean member states are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
By Times Reporters (Latest Update July 29, 2011)