ASEAN Community “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”

ASEAN Community2017 will see the 50th anniversary of the ASEAN Community – The Association of South East Asian Nations. An organisation comprising ten member states – Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos,Myanmar & Cambodia. East Timor being the only Southeast Asian nation not currently a member but they too are in discussions regarding membership.

The organisation’s purpose is to provide a neutral forum for Southeast Asian nations to communicate with each other to foster regional cooperation on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields and to promote peace and stability in the region.

Prior to ASEAN there had already been several unsuccessful attempts at forming a regional grouping such as SEATO, The Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) and Maphilindo, so when the 5 foreign ministers of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore & The Philippines got together, at a resort in the coastal town of Bang Saen in Thailand in early August 1967, for talks regarding a regional grouping it is hard to believe that anyone then was of the opinion that the organisation they would form with the signing on the 8th August of the Bangkok Declaration would still be going strong today.

More so when it is understood that ASEAN was founded during very uncertain times. Britain was following France before her in pulling out of the region while the US was seemingly becoming entrenched in the region fighting a war in Vietnam . There was also the fear of the spread of communism and the so called Domino Theory while Indonesia appeared to be intent on seeking confrontation with its neighbours (Konfrontasi).

Against this backdrop how were the five foreign ministers able to come to any agreement? Well clearly the original five signatories to the Bangkok Declaration were anti-communist but perhaps it also had something to do with the approach taken to discussions at Bang Saen. The atmosphere was very informal with a liberal use of cooperation, consensus and pragmatism. Characteristics that have been the hallmarks of ASEAN through the years and have become known as the ‘ASEAN Way’. Interestingly enough in 2008 The ASEAN Way WRITTEN BY was chosen as the anthem of ASEAN.

The result of the Bang Saen talks and the Bangkok Declaration which followed was a loose organisation based on three basic principles: the respect for each other’s sovereignty, non intervention, and the renunciation of the threat or use of force in resolving disputes.

ASEAN has proved all its critics wrong and is still going strong today. The 5 original members opened the door for increased membership to those countries in the region subscribing to its aims, principles and purposes. Brunei subsequently joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995 to be followed by Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and finally Cambodia in 1999. Talks continue with East Timor regarding their membership. The organisation itself has been strengthened by the signing in 1976 of Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC)  and the adoption of the ASEAN Charter in 2008 providing ASEAN with legal status and an institutional framework which in effect has become a legally binding agreement among its ten member states.

Southeast Asia now constitutes one of the most peaceful, stable and prosperous regions in the world. ASEAN has been instrumental in encouraging economic growth and in maintaining peace and stability amongst its member countries. This despite the member states having different administrative, political, and legal systems and despite the variances in economic activity, population size and religious beliefs.

If it were a single country, the combined land areas of ASEAN would make it the 7th largest country in the world. Its population at approximately 600 million is greater than that of both the European Union and NAFTA, although with only around 10% of the GDP of either of those two organisations. ASEAN is now recognised in the international community as an example of successful regionalism with significant achievements to its name. It can look to the future with justifiable confidence and optimism.