Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), organization established by the Bangkok Declaration (1967), linking the nations of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Subsequently, Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), Myanmar (1999), and Cambodia (1999) were admitted; a formal charter for ASEAN was signed in 2007 and came into force in 2008. The organization's secretariat is in Jakarta. ASEAN seeks to promote socioeconomic progress and regional stability through cooperation in banking, trade, technology, agriculture, industry, and tourism. Members agreed in 1992 to create the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), a regional common market, which became effective in 1993. Tariffs among the ASEAN nations have been greatly reduced, especially among the six oldest ASEAN members; a free trade area is slated to be established largely by 2015. ASEAN also has reached free-trade agreements with China (2004), South Korea (2006), Japan (2008), and Australia, New Zealand, and India (2009). Members are also pledged to work together to promote foreign investment in the region.
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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, commonly referred to as ASEAN, AH-see-ahn in English (the official language of the bloc), is a geo-political and economic organization of 10 countries located in Southeast Asia, which was formed on August 8, 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Its aims include the acceleration of economic growth, social progress, cultural development among its members, the protection of the peace and stability of the region, and to provide opportunities for member countries to discuss differences peacefully.

In 2005, the bloc spanned over 1.1 billion acres with a combined GDP (Nominal/PPP) of about USD$896.5 billion/$2.728 billion growing at an average rate of around 5.6% per annum. Nominal GDP had grown to $1,073.9 billion in 2006.


ASEAN was preceded by an organization called the Association of Southeast Asia, commonly called ASA, an alliance consisting of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand that was formed in 1961. The bloc itself, however, was established on August 8, 1967, when foreign ministers of five countries Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand met at the Thai Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok and signed the ASEAN Declaration, more commonly known as the Bangkok Declaration. The five foreign ministers Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso Ramos of the Philippines, Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand are considered as the organization's Founding Fathers.

The motivations for the birth of ASEAN were the desire for a stable external environment (so that its members’ governing elite could concentrate on nation building), the common fear of communism, reduced faith in or mistrust of external powers in the 1960s, as well as the aspiration for national economic development; not to mention Indonesia’s ambition to become a regional hegemon through regional cooperation and the hope on the part of Malaysia and Singapore to constrain Indonesia and bring it into a more cooperative framework. Unlike the European Union, ASEAN was designed to serve nationalism.

In 1976, the Melanesian state of Papua New Guinea was accorded observer status. Throughout the 1970s, the organization embarked on a program of economic cooperation, following the Bali Summit of 1976. This floundered in the mid-1980s and was only revived around 1991 due to a Thai proposal for a regional free trade area. The bloc then grew when Brunei Darussalam became the sixth member after it joined on January 8, 1984, barely a week after the country became independent on January 1.

On July 28, 1995, Vietnam became the seventh member. Laos and Myanmar joined two years later in July 23, 1997. Cambodia was to have joined together with Laos and Myanmar, but was deferred due to the country's internal political struggle. The country later joined on April 30, 1999, following the stabilization of its government.

During the 1990s, the bloc experienced an increase in both membership as well as in the drive for further integration. In 1990, Malaysia proposed the creation of an East Asia Economic Caucus composing the then-members of ASEAN as well as the People's Republic of China, Japan, and South Korea, with the intention of counterbalancing the growing influence of the United States in the APEC as well as in the Asian region as a whole. This proposal, however, failed since it faced heavy opposition from Japan and the United States. Despite this failure, member states continued to work for further integration. In 1992, the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) scheme was signed as a schedule for phasing tariffs and as a goal to increase the region’s competitive advantage as a production base geared for the world market. This law would act as the framework for the ASEAN Free Trade Area. After the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, a revival of the Malaysian proposal was established in Chiang Mai, known as the Chiang Mai Initiative, which calls for better integration between the economies of ASEAN as well as the +3 countries (China, Japan, and South Korea).

Aside from improving each member state's economies, the bloc also focused on peace and stability in the region. On December 15, 1995, the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty was signed with the intention of turning Southeast Asia into a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. The treaty took effect on March 28, 1997 after all but one of the member states have ratified it. It became fully effective on June 21, 2001, after the Philippines ratified it, effectively banning all nuclear weapons in the region.

At the turn of the 21st century, issues shifted to involve a more environmental prospective. The organization started to discuss environmental agreements. These included the signing of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002 as an attempt to control haze pollution in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful due to the outbreaks of the 2005 Malaysian haze and the 2006 Southeast Asian haze. Other environmental treaties introduced by the organization include the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security, the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network in 2005, and the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, both of which are responses to Global Warming and the negative effects of climate change.

Through the Bali Concord II in 2003, ASEAN has subscribed to the notion of democratic peace, which means all member countries believe democratic processes will promote regional peace and stability. Also the non-democratic members all agreed that it was something all member states should aspire to.

The leaders of each country, particularly Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, also felt the need to further integrate the region. Beginning in 1997, the bloc began creating organizations within its framework with the intention of achieving this goal. ASEAN Plus Three was the first of these and was created to improve existing ties with the People's Republic of China, Japan, and South Korea. This was followed by the even larger East Asia Summit, which included these countries as well as India, Australia, and New Zealand. This new grouping acted as a prerequisite for the planned East Asia Community, which was supposedly patterned after the now-defunct European Community. The ASEAN Eminent Persons Group was created to study the possible successes and failures of this policy as well as the possibility of drafting an ASEAN Charter. In 2006, ASEAN was given observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. As a response, the organization awarded the status of "dialogue partner" to the United Nations. Furthermore, on July 23 that year, José Ramos-Horta, then Prime Minister of East Timor, signed a formal request for membership and expected the accession process to last at least five years before the then-observer state became a full member.

In 2007, ASEAN celebrated its 40th anniversary since its inception, and 30 years of diplomatic relations with the United States. On August 26, 2007, ASEAN stated that it aims to complete all its free trade agreements with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand by 2013, in line with the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. In November 2007 the ASEAN members signed the ASEAN Charter, a constitution governing relations among the ASEAN members and establishing ASEAN itself as an international legal entity. During the same year, the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security in Cebu on January 15, 2007, by ASEAN and the other members of the EAS (Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea), which promotes energy security by finding energy alternatives to conventional fuels.


In the 1960s, the push for decolonization promoted the sovereignty of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, among others. Since nation building is often messy and vulnerable to foreign intervention, the governing elite wanted to be free to implement independent policies with the knowledge that neighbors would refrain from interfering in their domestic affairs. Territorially small members such as Singapore and Brunei were consciously fearful of force and coercive measures from much bigger neighbors like Indonesia and Malaysia. As a result, non-interference, consensus, non-use of force and non-confrontation became the key principles of the organization.

On the surface, the process of consultations and consensus is supposed to be a democratic approach to decision making, but the ASEAN process has been managed through close interpersonal contacts among the top leaders only, who often share a reluctance to institutionalize and legalize co-operation which can undermine their regime’s control over the conduct of regional co-operation.

All of these features, namely non-interference, informality, minimal institutionalization, consultation and consensus, non-use of force and non-confrontation have constituted what is called the ASEAN Way.

Since the late 1990s, many scholars have argued that the principle of non-interference has blunted ASEAN efforts in handling the problem of Myanmar, human rights abuses and haze pollution in the region. Meanwhile, with the consensus-based approach, every member in fact has a veto and decisions are usually reduced to the lowest common denominator. There has been a widespread belief that ASEAN members should have a less rigid view on these two cardinal principles when they wish to be seen as a cohesive and relevant community.


Apart from consultations and consensus, ASEAN’s agenda-setting and decision-making processes can be usefully understood in terms of the so-called Track I and Track II. Track I refers to the practice of diplomacy among government channels. The participants stand as representatives of their respective states and reflect the official positions of their governments during negotiations and discussions. All official decisions are made in Track I. Track II on the other hand refers to diplomatic activities that are unofficial and includes participants from both government and non-government institutions such as the academic, economic communities and NGOs. This track enables governments to discuss controversial issues and test new ideas without making official statements or binding commitments, and, if necessary, backtrack on positions.

Although Track II dialogues are sometimes cited as examples of the involvement of civil society in regional decision-making process by governments and other second track actors, NGOs have rarely got access to this track, meanwhile participants from the academic community are a dozen think-tanks. However, these think-tanks are, in most cases, very much linked to their respective governments, and dependent on government funding for their academic and policy-relevant activities. Their recommendations, especially in economic integration , are often closer to ASEAN’s decisions than the rest of civil society’s positions.

The track that acts as a forum for civil society in Southeast Asia is called Track III, which is essentially people-to-people diplomacy undertaken mainly by CSOs. Track III networks claim to represent communities and people who are largely marginalised from political power centers and unable to achieve positive change without outside assistance. This track tries to influence government policies indirectly by lobbying, generating pressure through the media. Third-track actors also organise and/or attend meetings as well as conferences to get access to Track I officials.

While Track II meetings and interactions with Track I actors have increased and intensified, rarely has the rest of civil society had the opportunity to interface with Track II. Those with Track I have been even rarer. In other words, the participation of the big majority of CSOs has been excluded from ASEAN’s agenda-setting and decision-making.

Looking at the three tracks, it is clear that until now, ASEAN has been run by government officials who, as far as ASEAN matters are concerned, are accountable only to their governments and not the people. In a lecture on the occasion of ASEAN’s 38th anniversary, the incumbent Indonesian President Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono admitted:

“All the decisions about treaties and free trade areas, about declarations and plans of action, are made by Heads of Government, ministers and senior officials. And the fact that among the masses, there is little knowledge, let alone appreciation, of the large initiatives that ASEAN is taking on their behalf.”


ASEAN Summit

The organization holds meetings, known as the ASEAN Summit, where heads of government of each member meet to discuss and resolve regional issues, as well as to conduct other meetings with other countries outside of the bloc with the intention of promoting external relations.

The ASEAN Leaders' Formal Summit was first held in Bali, Indonesia in 1976. Its third meeting was held in Manila in 1987 and during this meeting, it was decided that the leaders would meet every five years. Consequently, the fourth meeting was held in Singapore in 1992 where the leaders again agreed to meet more frequently, deciding to hold the summit every three years. In 2001, it was decided to meet annually to address urgent issues affecting the region. Member nations were assigned to be the summit host in alphabetical order except in the case of Myanmar which dropped its 2006 hosting rights in 2004 due to pressure from the United States and the European Union.

The formal summit meets for three days. The usual itinerary is as follows:

  • Leaders of member states would hold an internal organization meeting.
  • Leaders of member states would hold a conference together with foreign ministers of the ASEAN Regional Forum.
  • A meeting, known as ASEAN Plus Three, is set for leaders of three Dialogue Partners (People's Republic of China, Japan, South Korea)
  • A separate meeting, known as ASEAN-CER, is set for another set of leaders of two Dialogue Partners (Australia, New Zealand).

ASEAN Formal Summits
Date Country Host
1st February 23–24, 1976 Bali
2nd August 4–5, 1977 Kuala Lumpur
3rd December 14–15, 1987 Manila
4th January 27–29, 1992 Singapore
5th December 14–15, 1995 Bangkok
6th December 15–16, 1998 Hanoi
7th November 5–6, 2001 Bandar Seri Begawan
8th November 4–5, 2002 Phnom Penh
9th October 7–8, 2003 Bali
10th November 29–30, 2004 Vientiane
11th December 12–14, 2005 Kuala Lumpur
12th January 11–14, 200712 Cebu
13th November 18–22, 2007 Singapore
14th December, 2008 Bangkok
15th 2009
1 Postponed from December 10–14, 2006 due to Typhoon Seniang.
2 hosted the summit because Myanmar backed out due to enormous pressure from US and EU

During the fifth Summit in Bangkok, the leaders decided to meet "informally" between each formal summit:

ASEAN Informal Summits
Date Country Host
1st November 30, 1996 Jakarta
2nd December 14-16, 1997 Kuala Lumpur
3rd November 27-28, 1999 Manila
4th November 22-25, 2000 Singapore

East Asia Summit

The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a pan-Asian forum held annually by the leaders of 16 countries in East Asia and the region, with ASEAN in a leadership position. The summit has discussed issues including trade, energy and security and the summit has a role in regional community building.

The members of the summit are all 10 members of ASEAN together with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand who combined represent almost half of the world's population. Russia has applied for membership of the summit and in 2005 was a guest for the First EAS at the invitation of the host - Malaysia.

The first summit was held in Kuala Lumpur on December 14, 2005 and subsequent meetings have been held after the annual ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting.

Meeting Country Location Date Note
First EAS Kuala Lumpur December 14, 2005 Russia attended as a guest.
Second EAS Cebu City January 15, 2007 Rescheduled from December 13, 2006.
Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security
Third EAS Singapore November 21, 2007 Singapore Declaration on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment
Agreed to establish Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia
Fourth EAS Bangkok December 17, 2008 TBC

Regional Forum

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is a formal, official, multilateral dialogue in Asia Pacific region. As of July 2007, it is consisted of 27 participants. ARF objectives are to foster dialogue and consultation, and promote confidence-building and preventive diplomacy in the region. The ARF met for the first time in 1994. The current participants in the ARF are as follows: all the ASEAN members, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, the People's Republic of China, the European Union, India, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Timor-Leste, United States and Sri Lanka. The Republic of China (also known as Taiwan) has been excluded since the establishment of the ARF, and issues regarding the Taiwan Strait is neither discussed at the ARF meetings nor stated in the ARF Chairman's Statements.

Other meetings

Aside from the ones above, other regular meetings are also held. These include the annual ASEAN Ministerial Meeting as well as other smaller committees, such as the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center. Meetings mostly focus on specific topics, such as defense or the environment, and are attended by Ministers, instead of heads of government.

Plus Three

The ASEAN Plus Three is a meeting between ASEAN, China, Japan, and South Korea, and is primarily held during each ASEAN Summit.

Asia-Europe Meeting

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is an informal dialogue process initiated in 1996, bringing together the European Union and the ASEAN Plus Three groupings. The soco-cultural non-profit organization, Asia-Europe Foundation, is associated with this meeting.

ASEAN-Russia Summit

The ASEAN-Russia Summit is a meeting between leaders of member states and the President of Russia.

Economic community

ASEAN has emphasized regional cooperation in the “three pillars” of security, sociocultural and economic integration. The regional grouping has made the most progress in economic integration, aiming to create an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. The AEC would have a combined population of over 566 million and a GDP exceeding US$ 1.173 trillion.

Free Trade Area

The foundation of the AEC is the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), a common external preferential tariff scheme to promote the free flow of goods within ASEAN. The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) is an agreement by the member nations of ASEAN concerning local manufacturing in all ASEAN countries. The AFTA agreement was signed on January 28, 1992 in Singapore. When the AFTA agreement was originally signed, ASEAN had six members, namely, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Vietnam joined in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999. The latecomers have not fully met the AFTA's obligations, but they are officially considered part of the AFTA as they were required to sign the agreement upon entry into ASEAN, and were given longer time frames in which to meet AFTA's tariff reduction obligations.

Investment Area

The AIA will encourage the free flow of investment within ASEAN. The main principles of the AIA are as follows:

  • All industries are to be opened up for investment, with exclusions to be phased out according to schedules
  • National treatment is granted immediately to ASEAN investors with few exclusions
  • Elimination of investment impediments
  • Streamlining of investment process and procedures
  • Enhancing transparency
  • Undertaking investment facilitation measures

Full realization of the AIA with the removal of temporary exclusion lists in manufacturing agriculture, fisheries, forestry and mining is scheduled by 2010 for most ASEAN members and by 2015 for the CLMV (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam) countries.

Trade in Services

An ASEAN Framework Agreement on Trade in Services was adopted at the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in December 1995. Under the agreement, ASEAN members are negotiating intra-regional services liberalization in several sectors, including air transport, business services, construction, financial services, maritime transport, telecommunications and tourism. Although some sectors have liberalized faster, such as air transport, other sectors remain subject to continued negotiation. Efforts to expand the scope of the Framework Agreement also remain subject to continued negotiations.

Single Aviation Market

The ASEAN Single Aviation Market (SAM), proposed by the ASEAN Air Transport Working Group, supported by the ASEAN Senior Transport Officials Meeting, and endorsed by the ASEAN Transport Ministers, will introduce an open-sky arrangement to the region by 2015. The ASEAN SAM will be expected to fully liberalize air travel between its member states, allowing ASEAN to directly benefit from the growth in air travel around the world, and also freeing up tourism, trade, investment and services flows between member states. Beginning December 1, 2008, restrictions on the third and fourth freedoms of the air between capital cities of member states for air passengers services will be removed, while from January 1, 2009, there will be full liberalization of air freight services in the region, while By January 1, 2011, there will be liberalization of fifth freedom traffic rights between all capital cities.

Cultural activities

The organization hosts cultural activities in an attempt to further integrate the region. These include sports and educational activities as well as writing awards. Examples of these include the ASEAN University Network, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, the ASEAN Outstanding Scientist and Technologist Award, and the Singapore-sponsored ASEAN Scholarship.

S.E.A. Write Award

The S.E.A. Write Award is a literary award given to Southeast Asian poets and writers annually since 1979. The award is either given for a specific work or as a recognition of an author's lifetime achievement. Works that are honored vary and have included poetry, short stories, novels, plays, folklore as well as scholarly and religious works. Ceremonies are held in Bangkok and is presided by a member of the Thai royal family.


ASAIHL or the Association of Southeast Asian Institutions of Higher Learning is a non-governmental organization founded in 1956 that strives to strengthen higher learning institutions, espescially in teaching, research, and public service, with the intention of cultivating a sense of regional identity and interdependence.

Heritage Parks

ASEAN Heritage Parks is a list of nature parks launched 1984 and relaunched in 2004. It aims to protect the region's natural treasures. There are now 35 such protected areas, including the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park and the Kinabalu National Park.


ASEAN Heritage Sites
Site Country Site Country
Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park Ao Phang-nga Marine National Park
Apo Natural Park Ba Be National Park
Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park Gunung Leuser National Park
Gunung Mulu National Park Ha Long Bay
Hoang Lien Sa Pa National Park Iglit-Baco National Park
Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary Inlé Lake Wildlife Sanctuary
Kaeng Krachan National Park Kerinci Seblat National Park
Khakaborazi National Park Khao Yai National Park
Kinabalu National Park Komodo National Park
Kon Ka Kinh National Park Lampi Marine National Park
Lorentz National Park Meinmhala Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary
Mu Ko Surin-Mu Ko Similan Marine National Park Nam Ha Protected Area
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park Preah Monivong (Bokor) National Park
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Taman Negara National Park Tarutao Marine National Park
Tasek Merimbun Wildlife Sanctuary Thung Yai-Huay Kha Khaeng National Park
Tubbataha Reef Marine Park Ujung Kulon National Park
Virachey National Park Keraton Yogyakarta


The ASEAN Scholarship is a scholarship program offered by Singapore to the 9 other member states for secondary school, junior college, and university education. It covers accommodation, food, medical benefits & accident insurance, school fees, and examination fees..

University Network

The ASEAN University Network (AUN) is a consortium of Southeast Asian universities. It was originally founded in November 1995 by 11 universities within the member states. Currently AUN comprises 21 Participating Universities.


Southeast Asian Games

The Southeast Asian Games, commonly known as the SEA Games, is a biennial multi-sport event involving participants from the current 11 countries of Southeast Asia. The games is under regulation of the Southeast Asian Games Federation with supervision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia.

Football Championship

The ASEAN Football Championship is a biennial soccer competition organised by the ASEAN Football Federation, accredited by FIFA and contested by the national teams of Southeast Asia nations. It was inaugurated in 1996 as Tiger Cup, but after Asia Pacific Breweries terminated the sponsorship deal, "Tiger" was renamed "ASEAN".


The ASEAN ParaGames is a biennial multi-sport event held after every Southeast Asian Games for athletes with physical disabilities. The games are participated by the 11 countries located in Southeast Asia. The games, patterned after the Paralympics, includes mobility disabilities, amputees, visual disabilities, and those with cerebral palsy.


Western countries have criticized ASEAN for being too "soft" in its approach to promoting human rights and democracy in the junta-led Myanmar. Despite global outrage at the military crack-down on peaceful protesters in Yangon, ASEAN has refused to suspend Myanmar as a member and also rejects proposals for economic sanctions. This has caused concern as the European Union, a potential trade partner, has refused to conduct free trade negotiations at a regional level for these political reasons. International observers view it as a "talk shop", which implies that the organization is "big on words but small on action".

During the 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu, several activist groups staged anti-globalization and anti-Arroyo rallies. According to the activists, the agenda of economic integration would negatively affect industries in the Philippines and would cause thousands of Filipinos to lose their jobs. They also viewed the organization as "imperialistic" that threatens the country's sovereignty. A human rights lawyer from New Zealand was also present to protest about the human rights situation in the region in general.

ASEAN has agreed to an ASEAN human rights body which will come into force in 2009. The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand want this body to have an enforcement capacity, however Singapore, Viet Nam, Burma, Laos and Cambodia do not.


See also


External links




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