The ASEAN Common Time or ACT – One Time for South-East Asia

ASEAN Culture

What is the ASEAN Common Time? Do we need it? Why not use the current way of displaying time-zones, like UTC+0800?

These are good and valid questions which we will answer tonight.

The Asean Common Time or ACT is the proposed “common” time for all the Member Nations of the ASEAN. If you are not aware, the 10-member nations of the ASEAN are divided into 3 time-zones, as listed:

  • Brunei – UTC+0800
  • Cambodia – UTC+0700
  • Indonesia – UTC+0700; UTC+0800; UTC+0900
  • Laos – UTC+0700
  • Malaysia – UTC+0800
  • Myanmar – UTC+0630
  • Philippines – UTC+0800
  • Singapore – UTC+0800
  • Thailand – UTC+0700
  • Vietnam – UTC+0700

What is the problem there? Can’t we just compute it since the differences are small? All true. It is a simple computation, IF you know which nations use UTC+0630; UTC+0700; UTC+0800; and UTC+0900. And even if you know it by heart, how about the other people? Especially those with businesses whose market is the ASEAN?

It is better explained by BiSEAN, as quoted:

If Southeast Asia is a hospital and baby Burma came in at 6:30 with an asthma attack, she has to wait 30 minutes to see if Dr. Thailand or Nurse Vietnam got a Ventolin inhaler. But when they came in at 7.00— they don’t have any. Meanwhile, old Mrs. Laos and baby Cambodia came in with an asthma attack too! Now all of them panicked and all — have to wait another hour to see if Dr. Singapore, Dr. Malaysia or Nurse Philippines have the inhaler. Unfortunately, when they came in at 8.00, it turned out that Dr. Indonesia got the inhaler but he’ll come in at 9.00! Now the hospital is in one BIG 2 ½ hour mess! An utter tragedy!

(note: The following paragraphs were added on 2009-May 12, something went wrong, the original content from this point went missing.)

By having a common time for the Asean region, we will be opening each of our Nation to an bigger opportunities especially when it comes to economy or doing a business, and inter-cultural exchanges, even education! Imagine being able to conduct (video) conference calls, or online seminars at 10:00 in the morning. Someone in Vietnam doesn’t have to do anything extra, someone in Western Indonesia doesn’t have to recompute, and the organizer doesn’t have to worry in providing “local times”. When one say 10:00am, it is 10:00am for the whole Asean region.

In my opinion, Asean should mandate the use of ACT now that Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste officially bid for membership in the regional grouping. True, 10:00am will be 8:00am or 12:00nn for some countries in the region, but we should not forget that Singapore and (Western) Malaysia are both in the “wrong timezone” for more than a decade already. Not to mention China is spanning across different timezones but they are only using UTC+0800 for the whole country.

If China, Singapore, and Malaysia can all live with it, why can’t everybody else? It’s an hour difference only, and every month the length of daytime vs. nighttime shifts as our planet revolves around our star. But why UTC+0800 for the Asean Common Time when majority of the member Nations are UTC+0700? I do not know, but if I will take a guess, [1] ASEAN was an idea that came from the Philippines; and [2] Papua New Guinea is being considered once the Nation officially becomes a member (Papua New Guinea has been an observer for the longest time, and they’ve showed interest in joining time and again).

With ACT set as UTC+0800, the UTC+0630 Nations and territories (like Myanmar); UTC+0700 Asean Nations; UTC+0900 Nations and territories (like Eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste); and UTC+1000 (Papua New Guinea) does not have to adjust more than 2 hours forward or backward. I believe this is reasonable for the Nations that will be affected. Fair enough? I believe so.

All blogs I’m a part of follows ACT, and many of my Asean friends also use ACT as a way of showing our support for this proposal.

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