The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional intergovernmental organization comprising ten Southeast Asian countries that promotes intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, security, educational, military, and socio-cultural integration amongst its members and other Asian states. It also regularly engages other states in the Asia-pacific region and beyond. Being a global powerhouse and one of the world’s most prominent and influential organisations, ASEAN maintains a global network of alliances and is involved in numerous international affairs.
It is a major partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), developing cooperation model with the organisation for the peace, stability, development and sustainability of the Asian continent. It also serves as an international role model in seeking harmony and strength among diversity and differences, as well as a leading figure in international diplomacy.
ASEAN was preceded by an organization formed in 31 July 1961 called the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), a group consisting of the Philippines, Federation of Malaya, and Thailand. ASEAN itself was created on 8 August 1967, when the foreign ministers of five countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, signed the ASEAN Declaration. In 1984, Brunei became ASEAN’s sixth member and on 28 July 1995, Vietnam joined as the seventh member. Laos and Myanmar (Burma) joined two years later on 23 July 1997 and Cambodia joined on 30 April 1999.
As set out in the Declaration, the aims and purposes of ASEAN are to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region, to promote regional peace, collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest, to provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities, to collaborate for better utilisation of agriculture and industry to raise the living standards of the people, to promote Southeast Asian studies and to maintain close, beneficial co-operation with existing international organisations with similar aims and purposes.
The headquarters of ASEAN are located in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The ASEAN bloc focused on peace and stability in the region. On 15 December 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 28 March 1997 after all but one of the member states had ratified it. It became fully effective on 21 June 2001 after the Philippines ratified it, effectively banning all nuclear weapons in the region.
On 15 December 2008, member states met in Jakarta to launch a charter, signed in November 2007, with the aim of moving closer to “an EU -style community”. The charter turned ASEAN into a legal entity and aimed to create a single free-trade area for the region encompassing 500 million people.
The ‘ASEAN Way’ refers to a methodology or approach to solving issues that respects the cultural norms of Southeast Asia. It is summarised as “a working process or style that is informal and personal. Policymakers constantly utilize compromise, consensus, and consultation in the informal decision-making process… it above all prioritizes a consensus-based, non-conflictual way of addressing problems. Quiet diplomacy allows ASEAN leaders to communicate without bringing the discussions into the public view. Members avoid embarrassment that may lead to further conflict.” It has been said that the merits of the ASEAN Way might “be usefully applied to global conflict management”
ASEAN PLUS THREE
ASEAN Plus Three was the first of attempts for further integration to improve existing ties with China, Japan and South Korea. This was followed by the even larger East Asia Summit (EAS), which included ASEAN Plus Three as well as India, Australia, and New Zealand. This group acted as a prerequisite for the planned East Asia Community which was supposedly patterned after the now-defunct European Community.
Tourism has been one of the key growth sectors in ASEAN and has proven resilient amid global economic challenges. With the institutionalisation of visa-free travel between ASEAN member states, intra-ASEAN travel has boomed. In 2010, 47% or 34 million out of 73 million tourists in ASEAN member-states were from other ASEAN countries. Cooperation in tourism was formalised in 1976, following the formation of the Sub-Committee on Tourism (SCOT) under the ASEAN Committee on Trade and Tourism.
Free trade initiatives in ASEAN are spearheaded by the implementation of the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) and the Agreement on Customs. These agreements are supported by several sector bodies to plan and to execute free trade measures, guided by the provisions and the requirements of ATIGA and the Agreement on Customs. They form a backbone for achieving targets of the AEC Blueprint and establishing the ASEAN Economic Community.