Introduction to Association of South East Asian Nations

ASEAN (or Association of South East Asian Nations featured on ABBREVIATIONFINDER) was founded in 1967 with the aim of strengthening economic growth, cultural development, social progress and stability in the region through cooperation. Its current issues include the process of increasing democracy in the Member State of Myanmar (formerly Burma), the management of the conflict over the South China Sea and the conflicts over the member states of Cambodia and Thailand.

ASEAN – Introduction

When the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, came into being more than four decades ago, the East-West terror balance of the Cold War controlled much of world politics. Southeast Asia was shaken by war and political unrest.

In Vietnam, divided between the two antagonistic regimes in Hanoi and Saigon, the United States bombed the socialist, Soviet-backed North Vietnam and deployed ground troops against the FNL guerrillas in the south. Mao Zedong’s stormy cultural revolution in China had begun. In Indonesia, a crushing coup attempt was followed by military patterning and massacres of up to one million suspected communist sympathizers. Civilian rule in Burma (now Myanmar) was replaced by Ne Wins’ military dictatorship for five years.

In this complex tangle of great power interests and local power struggles, the five founding states of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines had managed to resolve several internal conflicts peacefully, despite religious, cultural and ethnic differences. But they were worried about communist North Vietnam, and were intimidated by the West’s domino theory of the spread of communism – if South Vietnam also fell to the Communists, other countries in the region would one by one find the same fate. With ASEAN, they sought to create an economic and security policy front against communism and against the threat of being drawn into the cold wars of the great powers.

After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the situation changed radically. For ASEAN, it became important to find its place in the new security structure that emerged in the region with China and the United States as dominant powers. It now became possible to strive for the goal of including all the countries of Southeast Asia in Asia. In 1984 Brunei became a member and from the mid – 1990’s the united Vietnam (1995), Laos and Myanmar (until 1989 Burma; 1997) and Cambodia (1999) were included in the organization. In May 2002, the new state of East Timor was formed with the aim of being included in the ASEAN constituency. That this has not yet happened is partly due to the fact that the new country suffered from severe internal unrest after independence, and partly because during the first years it was difficult to bear the costs of membership in the organization.

From the beginning of the 1990’s, the members of ASEAN put more effort into broadening cooperation. An important initiative was the 1992 decision to form the Afta free trade area. In 1997, however, Asean suffered a severe setback. Extensive currency speculation gave rise to a financial crisis in Thailand, which spread like wildfire to the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. In a few months, the economic successes of recent years were swept away. Asean as an organization was paralyzed and subsequently had to endure criticism for its paralysis of action. Some observers went so far as to predict the dissolution of Asean.

However, ASEAN did not give up but tried from the end of the 1990’s to strengthen economic cooperation, which was seen as fundamental for the countries to be able to protect themselves against similar crises in the future. At a summit in Bali in 2003, the members decided to form an economic, security policy and social community by 2020 (the goal was changed five years later to 2015). The decision means, among other things, that ASEAN in 2015 must have an internal market and production base, be economically competitive, have a fair economic distribution and that the region must be fully integrated with the global economy.

Since the first years of the 21st century, the ASEAN countries have also been forced to focus more and more on a common problem, terrorism. An ASEAN Convention against Terrorism entered into force in 2011.

In 2005, a special group was formed with the task of drafting a proposal for basic statutes for ASEAN, something that the organization lacked. These statutes would define the basic principles, purposes and legal framework of ASEAN. At the Singapore Summit in November 2007, the Charter was signed by the ten Member States. It was supposed to have been ratified and entered into force at the planned summit in Bangkok in July of the following year, but the meeting had to be postponed due to political unrest in Thailand. The Charter was finally able to enter into force in December 2008. It states, among other things, that member states must promote democracy and human rights.

Since its accession in the 1990’s, the military-ruled member state of Myanmar has been an international problem for ASEAN due to its lack of democracy and respect for human rights. At the Phnom Penh summit in April 2012, however, Myanmar and the hope of democratization were in focus. The first general elections in the country in over 20 years had been held in November 2010. However, they had resulted in victory for the military-backed governing party USDP, as the opposition boycotted the election. Both the opposition party NLD, led by leader Aung San Suu Kyi and large parts of the world, rejected the election as a hoax. After the election, however, an unexpected series of events followed that raised hopes of real change in a democratic direction: political prisoners were released, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, and political repression eased somewhat. By by-elections in April 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi and 42 other NLD politicians entered parliament, leading to easing sanctions against Myanmar, among others. ASEAN, long criticized for its lenient attitude towards the disputed Member State, emphasized that the sanctions should be lifted completely.

Introduction to Association of South East Asian Nations