ASEAN, officially an abbreviation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is a political and economic union of 10 member states in Southeast Asia.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by the Founding Fathers of ASEAN: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
Brunei Darussalam joined ASEAN on 7 January 1984, followed by Viet Nam on 28 July 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on 23 July 1997, and Cambodia on 30 April 1999, making up what is today the ten Member States of ASEAN.
It has a population of over 600 million and covers an area of 4.5 million km2 (1.7 million sq mi). ASEAN generated a purchasing power parity (PPP) gross domestic product (GDP) of around US$10.2 trillion in 2022, constituting approximately 6.5% of global GDP (PPP).
The motto of ASEAN is “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”.
8th August is observed as ASEAN Day.
ASEAN Secretariat – Indonesia, Jakarta.
Who are the Member Nations?
ASEAN was preceded by an organization formed on 31 July 1961 called the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), a group consisting of Thailand, the Philippines, and the Federation of Malaya.
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.
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 utilization 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 creation of ASEAN was initially motivated by the desire to contain communism.
ASEAN’s first summit meeting, held in Bali, Indonesia, in 1976, resulted in an agreement on several industrial projects and the signing of a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, and a Declaration of Concord.
The end of the Cold War allowed ASEAN countries to exercise greater political independence in the region, and in the 1990s, ASEAN emerged as a leading voice on regional trade and security issues.
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 7 January 1984, Brunei became ASEAN’s sixth member and on 28 July 1995, following the end of the Cold War, Vietnam joined as the seventh member. Laos and Myanmar (formerly Burma) joined two years later on 23 July 1997. Cambodia was to join at the same time as Laos and Myanmar, but a coup in 1997 and other internal instability delayed its entry. It then joined on 30 April 1999 following the stabilization of its government.
In 2006, ASEAN was given observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. In response, the organization awarded the status of “dialogue partner” to the UN.
On 15 December 2008, member states met in Jakarta to launch a charter, signed in November 2007, to move 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.
Objectives of ASEAN
To accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations.
To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter.
To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields.
To collaborate more effectively for the greater utilisation of agriculture and industries, the expansion of their trade, the improvement of transportation and communications facilities and the raising of the living standards of peoples.
To promote Southeast Asian studies.
To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organisations.
Institutional Mechanism of ASEAN
Chairmanship: Chairmanship of ASEAN rotates annually, based on the alphabetical order of the English names of Member States.
ASEAN Summit: The supreme policy making body of ASEAN. As the highest level of authority in ASEAN, the Summit sets the direction for ASEAN policies and objectives. Under the Charter, the Summit meets twice a year.
ASEAN Ministerial Councils: The Charter established four important new Ministerial bodies to support the Summit.
ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC)
ASEAN Political-Security Community Council
ASEAN Economic Community Council
ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Council
Decision Making: The primary mode of decision-making in ASEAN is consultation and consensus.
However, the Charter enshrines the principle of ASEAN-X – This means that if all member states are in agreement, a formula for flexible participation may be used so that the members who are ready may go ahead while members who need more time for implementation may apply a flexible timeline.
What Forums are led by ASEAN?
ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF): Launched in 1993, the twenty-seven-member multilateral grouping was developed to facilitate cooperation on political and security issues to contribute to regional confidence-building and preventive diplomacy.
ASEAN Plus Three: The consultative group initiated in 1997 brings together ASEAN’s ten members, China, Japan, and South Korea.
East Asia Summit (EAS): First held in 2005, the summit seeks to promote security and prosperity in the region and is usually attended by the heads of state from ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. ASEAN plays a central role as the agenda-setter.
ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-Plus Meeting: The ADMM-Plus is a platform for ASEAN and its eight Dialogue Partners to strengthen security and defence cooperation for peace, stability, and development in the region.
The ADMM-Plus countries include ten ASEAN Member States and eight Plus countries, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, ROK, Russian Federation, and the United States.
The first ADMM-Plus was convened at Ha Noi, Vietnam in 2010.
What are the Strengths of ASEAN?
ASEAN commands far greater influence on Asia-Pacific trade, political, and security issues than its members could achieve individually.
Demographic dividend – As of 1 July 2019, the population of the ASEAN was about 655 million people (8.5% of the world population).
Major global hub of manufacturing and trade, as well as one of the fastest-growing consumer markets in the world.
7th largest economy in the world. It is projected to rank as the fourth-largest economy by 2050.
ASEAN has the third-largest labor force in the world, behind China and India.
Free-trade agreements (FTAs)
ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area
ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreements
ASEAN-India Free Trade Area
ASEAN – Japan Free Trade Area
ASEAN-Republic of Korea Free Trade Area
ASEAN – Hong Kong, China Free Trade Area
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
ASEAN is the fourth-largest exporting region in the world, trailing only the European Union, North America, and China/Hong Kong acccounting for 7% of global exports.
ASEAN has contributed to regional stability by building much-needed norms and fostering a neutral environment to address shared challenges.
Challenges within ASEAN
Regional imbalances in the economic and social status of its individual markets.
Gap between rich and poor ASEAN member states remains very large and they have a mixed record on income inequality.
While Singapore boasts the highest GDP per capita—nearly $53,000 (2016), Cambodia’s per capita GDP is the lowest at less than $1,300.
Many regional initiatives were not able to be incorporated into national plans, as the less developed countries faced resource constraints to implement the regional commitments.
The members’ political systems are equally mixed with democracies, communist, and authoritarian states.
While the South China Sea is the main issue exposing the organization’s rifts.
ASEAN has been divided over major issues of human rights. For example, crackdowns in Myanmar against the Rohingyas.
Inability to negotiate a unified approach with regards to China, particularly in response to its widespread maritime claims in the South China Sea.
The emphasis on consensus sometimes becomes the a chief drawback – difficult problems have been avoided rather than confronted.
There is no central mechanism to enforce compliance.
Inefficient dispute-settlement mechanism, whether it be in the economic or political spheres.
India has a separate Mission to ASEAN and the EAS in Jakarta.
India and ASEAN already has 25 years of Dialogue Partnership, 15 years of Summit Level interaction and 5 years of Strategic Partnership with ASEAN.
ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner.
India’s trade with ASEAN stands at approx. 10.6% of India’s overall trade.
India’s export to ASEAN stands at 11.28% of our total exports. The ASEAN-India Free Trade Area has been completed.
ASEAN India-Business Council (AIBC) was set up in 2003 to bring key private sector players from India and the ASEAN countries on a single platform.
Socio-Cultural Cooperation: Programmes to boost People-to-People Interaction with ASEAN, such as inviting ASEAN students to India, Special Training Course for ASEAN diplomats, Exchange of Parliamentarians, etc.
Funds: Financial assistance has been provided to ASEAN countries from the following Funds:
ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund
ASEAN-India S&T Development Fund
ASEAN-India Green Fund
Delhi Declaration: To identify Cooperation in the Maritime Domain as the key area of cooperation under the ASEAN-India strategic partnership.
Delhi Dialogue: Annual Track 1.5 event for discussing politico-security and economic issues between ASEAN and India.
ASEAN-India Centre (AIC): To undertake policy research, advocacy and networking activities with organizations and think-tanks in India and ASEAN.
Political Security Cooperation: India places ASEAN at the centre of its Indo-Pacific vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region.
Significance of ASEAN for India
India needs a close diplomatic relationship with ASEAN nations both for economic and security reasons.
Connectivity with the ASEAN nations can allow India to improve its presence in the region.
These connectivity projects keep Northeast India at the centre, ensuring the economic growth of the northeastern states.
Improved trade ties with the ASEAN nations would mean a counter to China’s presence in the region and economic growth and development for India.
ASEAN occupies a centralised position in the rules-based security architecture in the Indo-Pacific, which is vital for India since most of its trade is dependent on maritime security.
Collaboration with the ASEAN nations is necessary to counter insurgency in the Northeast, combat terrorism, tax evasions etc.