Economic downturn, biggest concern among Bruneians: Report

Azlan Othman

Economic downturn is the biggest concern among Bruneian respondents with 83.5 per cent followed by climate change (drought, floods, cyclone and rising sea level) as the second pressing issue (72 per cent) and domestic political instability (52 per cent).

This was based on a survey of professionals released by Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute’s ASEAN Studies Centre in the report titled The State of Southeast Asia on January 16.

Increased military tension from three flash points like South China Sea, Taiwan Strait and Korean Peninsula came in fourth with 47.4 per cent and terrorism at the bottom of the threat list for Bruneian respondents with 44.3 per cent.

Respondents from the 10 ASEAN member states took part in the targetted online poll with more than 1,300 professionals from the fields of research, business and finance, public sector, civil society and the media responding. This is the second year the survey has been conducted.

Concern pertaining to economic downturn among respondents in the Sultanate rose from 80 per cent last year to 83 per cent this year.

On climate change, 71 per cent of Bruneian respondents said such an issue deserves to be monitored while 26 per cent said climate change is a serious and immediate threat to the Sultanate’s well-being.

Regionally in the ASEAN, domestic political instability (70.5 per cent), economic downturn (68.5 per cent) and the impact of climate change (66.8 per cent) are the ASEAN region’s most pressing security concerns. Terrorism is ranked last (44.6 per cent) right after the concern over increased military tensions emanating from regional flashpoints such as the South China Sea, Taiwan Strait, and the Korean Peninsula (49.6 per cent).

Meanwhile, 73.2 per cent of respondents felt ASEAN was becoming an arena of major power competition, up from 62 per cent last year.

The top three concerns about ASEAN among Bruneian respondents where 80 per cent said ASEAN’s tangible benefits are not felt by the people while 79 per cent said ASEAN is becoming an arena for major power competition and its member states may become proxies for the interest of major power. Sixty-eight per cent said ASEAN is unable to cope with fluid political and economic development.

Regionally, Southeast Asians are most concerned that its tangible benefits are not felt by the people (74.9 per cent) up from 73 per cent last year.

“The fact that nearly three in four respondents do not feel the tangible benefits of ASEAN after 52 years of community building calls for deep introspection by ASEAN and its member states,” said the institute’s researchers in the report. They noted, however, that this did not equate to ASEAN “not providing” tangible benefits.

They also share the concern that ASEAN is becoming an arena for major power competition, and its members may become proxies for the interests of a major power (73.2 per cent). Additionally, respondents remain wary that the regional organisation is unable to cope with the fluid political and economic developments (68.6 per cent).

Meanwhile, the survey also revealed that ASEAN member states become the most popular place to visit for Bruneian respondents with 28 per cent followed by the United Kingdom (UK) at 17 per cent and Japan (14 per cent). UK is the first choice if a Bruneian child is offered a scholarship to a university with 54 per cent, followed by Australia (12 per cent) and the United States (10 per cent).