ASEAN: brief history and its problems


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Seong Min Lee
Fall 2006



Table of Contents


I. Foreword
II. Introduction
III. Establishment
IV. Major Principles
V. Development
VI. Dilemma
VII. Case Study
VIII. Comparison with the European Union
IX. Current
X. Perspectives on ASEAN
XI. Conclusion
XII. Bibliography
XIII. Endnotes



I. Foreword


            I tried to discuss about ASEAN and its problems with regard to its history. When writing the paper, I tried not to become biased with the analyses of several situations. Still, I quoted some assertions that I regarded to be consistent with the thesis of this paper. Many of the books I used were from the Seoul National University library. Special thanks to the library and of course, Mr. Alexander Ganse.


II. Introduction


            The Southeast Asian region had not been integrated with certain common rules or customs. Indigenous societies, disconnected by forests, seas, or mountains, focused more on their own respective localities than others outside their territory. They retained control of the cultural, political and economic development within their respective territorial spheres of influence. Subsequently, the landscape was notable for its small-scale sub-regional identities. Due to not much interaction, or interrogation as a form of interaction, such individual characteristics were preserved. These fragmentary structures of the Southeast Asian region naturally led to even more distinctive features and perspectives of each sub-regional society. Local scripts and local sung poems in Java that persisted throughout centuries serve as some of the examples that show such preservation of individual culture. On the other hand, the region was not completely out of interactions. There existed contacts among areas, but they did not significantly alter the nature of indigenous culture. In other words, native and foreign elements did not quite disturb each other; the foreign elements neither supplanted the indigenous color nor were neglected totally. The variegated international interactions (commercial, cultural, and political, most notably) never expressed themselves in the form of a formal organization anything like ASEAN either. There is a case of Islam, which made its way as one of the most prominent religions among Southeast Asian nations, that seems to nullify that external culture did not alter much of the native culture. However, although the acceptance of Islam generated many fundamental changes in indigenous societies, these changes were initiated internally and not imposed externally.
            The traditional rulers of Southeast Asian nations, even in the face of an external threat as great as that posed by the European colonial powers later in the 20th century, met the challenge individually and not collectively. Their responses, whether similar or different, were carried out regardless of reactions of other nations in the region. Their individual responses were partly due to the colonial powers. The European powers took control of each area they possessed and directed the foreign policies within the area, and the traditional economic and political ties - though not significantly many - among neighboring nations were severed as the Europeans controlled the resources and trade of their colonies.
            Colonialism meant a whole new era for Southeast Asia. The western powers made clear the separation of states in Southeastern Asia as they settled on the boundaries of the territories that numerous countries had interest in. In the longer term, however, the colonial era established and strengthened important "cultural and historical ties" among the countries of the region. Though these countries endured the colonial experience while being virtually isolated from one another, the similarity of their experience gave them common resentments and aspirations. The Europeans initiated a new regional identity as from a global perspective. The range of cultural differences among Southeast Asian nations appeared smaller against the spectrum of people and cultures arranged in the political configurations of global politics A common resentment against European colonial rule, perceived racial arrogance, and imposed "standards of civilization" called forth Asian solidarity.
            The term Southeast Asia took a more set and pragmatic meaning during World War II, particularly in its political and military aspects, as the western countries recognized the region's geographical significance - its location between pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the China Sea - serving as a link connecting the Asian continent and the Oceania.
            Similarly, cold war served both purposes of separating and uniting the states in Southeastern Asia. As the cold war kept the region fragmented, attention mostly concentrated inward. Still, the Cold War and the following regional conflicts, domestic insurgencies, and rapid changes - both economic and international - instigated a number of non-communist countries of Southeast Asia to cooperate and provide the foundations for economic development (1965 and on). The post war atmosphere and the region's sudden entrance to the global economy had an influence as well. The Southeast Asian region, along with other countries such as those in the third world, had a late start in business and technology compared to the more developed states. This factor provided the nations a need to cooperate.
            The fundamental forces driving greater economic integration in East Asia included the forces of economic expansion, geographical proximity, web of business network, and lower transportation and transaction costs among countries in the region. Japan's emergence as a world economic power, the reduction of the American presence in the region following the Vietnam War (1973), and the subsequent Vietnamese aggressions in Indochina also played a no less role. Although there were reasons to build a regional grouping, Southeast Asian countries were not deprived of problems. Konfrontasi, a series of Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation over the island Borneo, remained as a problem in Indonesia and Malaysia cooperating. Some nations had not communicated officially with each other.
            Then, the need to cooperate slowly outweighed the ambivalence. The continuous territorial and political disputes, and deprivation of diplomatic relations, pointed out the need for a regional organization that could deal with such tensions. The Konfrontasi ended as President Sukarno lost power with General Suharto's coup d'etat in 1965. The new government claimed a role of reducing intraregional conflicts and changed its attitude of indifference to efforts at regional organizations to a major supporter of regionalism.
            Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), composed of Malaya, the Philippines, and Thailand, was established in Bangkok on July 31, 1961. Originally, the Philippines and Malaya had sought an organization similar to the European Economic Community (EEC), but they assented to Thailand, who insisted on an association with a looser structure and obligations; they required Thai participation in the ASA and they hoped to entice other Southeast Asian states to join the association by assuming a less formal character. However, outsiders saw the ASA (Association of Southeast Asia) as politically aligned to the west. Indonesia, as a supporter of nonalignment, did not wish to join an organization that was either too strong in its political stance or which Indonesia had no role in creating. A new organization was required.
            There were several other organizations. One of them was Maphilindo - a combined name of Malaya, the Philippines, and Indonesia - which was formally established on July 1963 in Manila. Originally an attempt to draw together the Malay people who had been blocked communication during colonial era, Maphilindo could not work well due to different interests of the participating nations. The Phillipines and Indonesia were to put off or even check the formation of a Federation of Malaysia. They each had territorial disagreement with Malaya. Consequently, Maphilindo had to walk down the hill mainly because of military disputes.
            There was the SEATO, or the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). It was an international organization for defensive collaboration established on September 8, 1954. It also failed due to lack of agreement. [1] The organization required unanimity in order to pursue a policy or express a stance on an issue, such as Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, but there were always several countries that expressed disapproval.
            There were several other organizations such as the Asian Pacific Council (ASPAC), or the Southeast Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SEAARC), which all ended not much in a success. Such lack of successful organizations could be said that the era called for a new, effective organization, but mostly, many countries over the world were skeptical about such an organization. ASEAN, when it was first cranked in, was not an exemption of such doubt.


III. Establishment


            "The truth is that politics attended ASEAN at its birth. It was the convergence in political outlook among the five original members, their shared convictions on national priority objectives and on how best to secure these objectives in the evolving strategic environment of East Asia which impelled them to form ASEAN."[2]

            The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established on 8 August 1967 with the signing of Bangkok Declaration by the Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. ASEAN was founded as a loose organization. It based on three basic principles: respect for state sovereignty, nonintervention, and renunciation of the threat or use of force in resolving disputes. Thus, ASEAN did not base its foundation on formal dispute-resolution mechanisms and hence was not a collective security arrangement. The founders did not want ASEAN to be mistaken for a military grouping among political allies as some of its unsuccessful predecessors had been.
            ASEAN's objectives were to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to promote regional peace and stability. In doing so, it sought to abide respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region and adhere to the principles of the United Nations Charter.
            On the other hand, all the members of ASEAN had different reasons for wanting an effective regional organization. Indonesia desired to repair its relations in the region, but it also saw ASEAN as an opportunity both to exercise regional leadership and to reduce the ability of external powers to influence events in Southeast Asia. Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines supported ASEAN as a way to constrain Indonesia, while providing Jakarta with a channel for its aspirations to regional preeminence.
            Yet, these states had other interests in the organization. The pullout of the British military had important security implications for Malaysia and Singapore. Besides their mutual concern over Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore were deeply suspicious of each other. To Singapore, belonging to ASEAN symbolized that it was accepted and tolerated by its neighbors as an equal state. For Malaysia and the Philippines, ASEAN was an opportunity to enhance their national prestige. Philippines also hoped that ASEAN would strengthen Filipinos' Asian identity and trading links, thereby counterbalancing the Philippines' relationship with the United States. Thailand hoped that ASEAN would become the basis for the "collective political defense" of the region, forming an organization that could supplement and perhaps eventually replace its own security relationship with the United States.
            Ostensibly, ASEAN was not a security-oriented structure. The Bangkok declaration broadly states the main purposes of ASEAN as "to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region" and "to promote regional peace and stability." Despite the latter objective, ASEAN politicians made it clear from the outset that the organization would not deal directly with security matters of political controversies. However, security matters were of primary significance, for ASEAN was, in fact, a grouping of anticommunist states in a volatile region. Their common political outlook was a major factor in bringing them together, but ASEAN refused to present itself as a security bloc because it wished to avoid the polarizing effects of such a position on the other states of the region


IV. Major Principles


            "Through ASEAN this region will become a grassroots-supported and close-knit community bound together not only by common interests but by shared values, identity and aspirations among our peoples."[3]

            The numerous principles of the ASEAN are coherent to the "ASEAN way," which mainly respects member nations' sovereignty. Among various values, the most notable values that the "ASEAN way" endorses can be said to be notions of non-interference, informality, and consensus building, generally supporting cautious diplomacy.
            ASEAN supports the principle of non-interference; it respects each nation's self-interest. It tries not to infringe upon national interests in the name of the good for the region as a whole. ASEAN recognizes the diverse ethnicities, cultures, histories, religions, and political systems, and accordingly, it accepts and respects disparate national interests. As ASEAN supports non-confrontasi, it avoids enforcing a certain value upon such nations to risk a military confrontation. This non-interference principle in a way coincides with "restraint," one of the "three key principles that all member states must adhere to in order to ensure the success of the organization." [4] ASEAN aims to promote states to restrain from intervening in other nations' internal affairs. It encourages the member nations to "respect" others' opinions and that each nation is "responsible" for its own actions.
            Another notable code ASEAN adheres to is informality. The meetings are held not regularly but rather in an ad hoc basis. The member states meet when there is a need to, such as an occurrence of international disputes or urgent incidents. They arrange their meetings in issue-by-issue coalitions. There are no completely strict and legal procedures to strain the members and the meetings because ASEAN believes that such laws might be checks that curbs national sovereignty.
            Also, the decisions agreed upon in the ASEAN are consensus oriented. ASEAN endeavors to arouse agreement from most of the states. However, "consensus does not assume that everyone must agree; it assumes at least that no one objects to the proposal." [5] In other words, consensus does not require unanimity but rather leads to finding a common interest that could appeal to the whole.
            This concept is closely related to musjawarah and mufukat, concepts that Sukarno and the Indonesians introduced to Southeast Asian diplomacy. These terms, rooted in the traditional village societies of the Malay region, represent an approach to decision-making that emphasizes consensus and consultation. The consensus seeks for a common denominator that the different interests of each nation share. As ASEAN endeavors to represent the Southeast Asian region as a whole in front of the international society, it allows even the countries that are least benefited by the decision, to influence such resolution. This way, the loyalty among the member states toward the association can increase while simultaneously the states are satisfied.
            Musjawarah is closely tied with non-interference as well. It endorses a view that "a leader should not act arbitrarily or impose his will, but rather make gentle suggestions of the path a community should follow, being careful always to consult all other participants fully and to take their views and feelings into consideration before delivering his synthesis conclusions." [6] Subsequently, the values ASEAN promotes are associated with musjawarah and mufukat - the goal toward which musjawarah is directed - one way or the other.
            In addition, ASEAN respects procedural significance. Generally, meetings do not end with tangible and specific results; this does not matter too much because the organization values the conferences as progressive, having approached nearer to solving a problem. The consultative process itself is beneficial because one of ASEAN's objectives is to promote its understanding of the norms and practices of international society to the rest of society, and the process serves this purpose well. ASEAN seeks to postpone and compartmentalize sensitive or disputable issues so that they can focus more on the issues that states can share and agree on; it tries to avoid impeding the process. The negotiations that take place in the spirit of musjawarah are "not as between opponents but as between friends and brothers."[7]
            As a whole, ASEAN entertains a cautious diplomacy. It does not try to instigate the member nations by enforcing them to sacrifice their national interests for those of the association. It also does not impose strict rules to deprive other nations of their freedom. At the same time, ASEAN attempts to dissatisfy the least number of states by employing consensus-oriented method in dealing with subjects. They do not welcome disputes and hence try to avoid them by putting aside.


V. Development


            Since establishment, ASEAN strived for resilience, both individually as nations and as an international grouping. It spent time refining and fostering the concepts that defined ASEAN.

            ZOPFAN (Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality)
            The foreign ministers of the then five ASEAN members signed a Zone Of Peace, Freedom, And Neutrality declaration (ZOPFAN) on 27 November 1971. ZOPFAN committed all ASEAN members to "exert efforts to secure the recognition of and respect for Southeast Asia as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality, free from any manner of interference by outside powers," and to "take concerted efforts to broaden the areas of cooperation, which would contribute to their strength, solidarity and closer relationship." [8]
            Although ZOPFAN claimed to be the primary declaratory security policy of ASEAN, it was a highly ambiguous concept. Accordingly, the member states had their own reservations with regard to it. For Thailand and the Philippines, their existing relationship with the United States was a better security guarantee than being part of a neutralized area. Singapore preferred to trust its security to a balance of great power forces in the region. Each state had a different interpretation of what ZOPFAN meant and implied. ASEAN itself made little movement toward implementing the policy. ZOPFAN in a way was a statement of principles that were never meant to be taken seriously and represented what the ASEAN states understood to be "vague long-term aspiration."[9]

            Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC)
            Reduction of U.S. power in Southeast Asia and the related collapse of anticommunist regimes in South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975 provided a powerful impetus to ASEAN's political development. The organization shifted its emphasis to the promotion of economic development as the surest way of combating the internal appeal of communism in the ASEAN nations. The Indonesian government even wanted to redefine the organization as a military alliance, but the other states rejected this proposal. Thus the first summit meeting eventually called forth the declaration of ASEAN concord and the treaty of amity and cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC).
            The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia agreed on the following articles: mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations; the right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion; non-interference in the internal affairs of one another; settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner; renunciation of the threat or use of force; and effective cooperation among themselves. The treaty envisaged these principles as the foundation of a strong Southeast Asian community. It stated that "ASEAN political and security dialogue and cooperation should aim to promote regional peace and stability by enhancing regional resilience."[10] This resilience shall be achieved by cooperation among the member countries in all fields.

            The Dialogue System
            ASEAN did not seclude itself completely. In 1977, at the Second Summit in Kuala Lumpur the ASEAN heads of government agreed that the association's economic relations with other countries or groups of countries needed to be expanded and intensified. With such purpose, the ASEAN heads of government met with the Prime Ministers of Australia, Japan and New Zealand, setting the first example of holding meetings with leaders of non-ASEAN countries.
            The first example was not the only example of such communication. The next year, the first post-ministerial conference connecting ASEAN and its dialogue partners, Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, was held. Following this, the foreign ministers of dialogue countries met at these post-ministerial conferences with their ASEAN counterparts every year. Dialogues were held at various levels wide ranges, and more countries joined the system after years - Republic of Korea (1991), China (1996), India (1996), and Russia (1996). The United Nations Development Programme (1977) is the only dialogue partner that is not a sovereign state.

            Member changes
            ASEAN initiated with five original members, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. No members left the association, and Brunei Darussalam joined on 8 January 1984, Vietnam on 28 July 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on 23 July 1997. Cambodia joined the association on 30 April 1999; a political crisis in Cambodia prevented this remaining Southeast Asian country from joining ASEAN in 1997 as originally planned.

            Although frequent meetings held between ministers and between senior governments officials of the member states at times resulted in joint statements, joint press releases, and joint communiques, they did not lead to firm decisions or real actions. Consultations rather than solution or formulation of specific policies were agreed upon; members of ASEAN cautiously tried to avoid any commitment to their other members.


VI. Dilemma


            "The countries of East Asia are much more heterogeneous than are the countries of the EU or NAFTA in terms of ethnicity, religion, culture, and political systems, both within the individual countries themselves and between countries of the region."[11]

            The region is rich with myriads of diversity, including that in religion, population, political systems, population, and geographical conditions. Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines confront serious internal ethnic, linguistic, religious divisions impeding agreement on even a single set of national, or even region wide, cultural norms internally.
            One of the most significantly sensitive differences is that in religion and population. Thailand is a Buddhist country while Islam is prevalent among the Malay population in Malaysia and Indonesia. Singapore supports Confucianism, and Catholicism take much part in Philippines. The population in Southeast Asia is mainly composed of Austronesian, Tai, and Mon-Khmer-speaking immigrants who migrated from Southern China during the Iron Age, but it also includes a large number of Chinese, European, Papuans, Eurasians and their hybrids.
            Different political systems among member states is no less a problem in ASEAN. Colonialism takes part in inducing such diverse systems. None other than Thailand had any state in the Southeastern Asia escaped from colonial rule. As the Southeast Asian states had been under control of various countries -Indonesia under the Dutch, Malaysia and Singapore under the British, and the Philippines under Spain and later the United States - they have different administrative, political, and legal systems. The international relations each country pursues with regard to its former "motherland" often clashes as well.
            Another kind of diversity that leads to different national interests is the natural structure of the countries. Indonesia and the Philippines are archipelagoes with approximately 13000 and 7800 islands respectively, whereas Malaysia and Thailand are embedded on the Asian continent, and Singapore is a small island. Transportation, communication, and defense problems call for entirely different concepts and policies in a state with numerous islands and state located on land.
            These diversities grew even more intense as the association welcomed more members. While ASEAN could be said to be more representative of Southeast Asia as a whole by enlargement, it also encountered more diversity of opinion. Reforming the institution was made more difficult due to the objections of new members who had joined the association with regard to its original shape. Communist states such as Vietnam and Laos and authoritarian military regime (Myanmar) brought ASEAN's original objective into question. Preserving ASEAN's self-imposed limitations and expansive claims which the association has made for itself emerged as a new problem to solve.
            The discrepancies - religious, political, geographical, et cetera - among the nations contribute to a myriad of dissimilar national interests. Given such wide-ranging diversities, it could not be as integrated a region as the Gulf States, Central America, or the Western states. The numerous differences in various fields have frequently made the member states difficult to agree on certain schemes and plans, such as economic integration proposals, due to discrepancies in perceived national benefits. The region is even said to be "ripe for rivalry," a place likely to emerge as the "cockpit of great-power conflict."[12]
            Although diversity relates to a larger grouping, diversities in ASEAN do not necessarily lead to an effective economic integration grouping either. It is too small to be effective as an economic integration grouping. Although ASEAN has a population exceeding EU, NAFTA, et cetera, its GDP size is less than 10% of either association.
            In addition, the fundamental contradiction does not leave ASEAN: desiring to be seen as managing the region's affairs while not interfering with the internal concerns of its members. The lack of balance between national interests and regional priorities is a major hindrance to a sustained integration as a whole. Moreover, this loose structure and the non-interference rule, along with the tendency of the Southeast Asian states to preoccupy themselves with sub-regional issues, contribute to the limitations that hinder the growth of a strong community. As the member nations have their internal problems at hand while the association does not require them for more participation, the organization does not develop much. Likewise, the end of cold war made void the reason for the nations to bind together. Accordingly, ASEAN had placed a new priority on enhancing the quality of its integration and on "community," hoping that it could help solve regional problems. Yet, the attempt failed because the illusion of integration proved to be based on loose inter-governmental cooperation.
            Moreover, the very principle that ASEAN pursued - putting aside conflicting problems in order to prevent military confrontations- makes the association powerless. They avoid the problems, hence leaving them unsolved.
            The other dilemmas include the unrepresentative representation of the society at large and its inability to handle military matters proficiently. As the representatives from each country are from the educated social class, they have problem representing the value systems and social norms in their society at large. Also, although the perception of a common external threat had played an important role in ASEAN's creation and grew more important as the organization developed, there have not been enough consensuses among the ASEAN states on security matters. Distrust among the ASEAN states remains a problem, and the ASEAN states lack the military power needed to form a credible bloc. Both the persistent crisis that occur in the "world's most persistently problematic areas of military friction."[13] and the organization's inability to effectively deal with the conflict remain a crucial problem ASEAN has yet to overcome.
            As a whole, ASEAN's diversity in various spheres checks the member states from reaching a practical agreement on specific issues. The variety of nations does not lead to much benefit from economic integration either. The principles ASEAN adheres to also deter the way to development; in short, it needs to overcome various difficulties.


VII. Case Study


            Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia
            A communist state in Southeast Asian region persisted as a concern for ASEAN, which stood for zone of peace, freedom, and neutrality. Vietnam had proposed a region of peace, independence, and neutrality. Endorsing the concept of independence as Vietnam suggested was a problem because "independence," as Vietnam defined, opposed all foreign military bases in Southeast Asia. Many of the ASEAN nations did not share the view. Yet, other than the seeming threat of the existence of a communist state, the bigger problem happened to lie somewhere else. While the communist victories in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia suggested a cause of dissent among Southeast Asian region by the three countries' coalition, it rather turned out that the three countries did not get along well. Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, and ASEAN countries had to work for resilience. ASEAN member nations continually proposed resolutions in the United Nations calling for the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops and democracy. The nations also conducted continuous conversational attempts with the nations involved in the conflict. It could be said that such efforts combined to result in Jakarta Informal Meetings in which four Cambodian factions discussed peace and national reconciliation, 19-nation Paris Conference on Cambodia, and the Paris Conference on Cambodia in 1991 which produced the Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodian Conflict.
            However, this incident was more than a simple conflict between two nations. While dealing with the issue, some member nations of ASEAN revealed what importance they had given into ASEAN. The Jakarta Post reflected its country's position that "it is high time to spell out clearly to our ASEAN partners, as the largest archipelagic state in Southeast Asia with a growing national interest to protect, that we simply cannot afford the endless prolonging of the Kampuchean conflict." Other than Indonesia, Thailand and other nations expressed that the interests of ASEAN could not be put above the nation's own interests. This example conveys one of the dilemmas of ASEAN, the independence of the member nations that could be extended to selfishness and deprived commitment.
            Also, ASEAN's role in settling the conflict would not be said to be completely powerful. Some view the case as ASEAN playing a great role in reconciling the two countries' turbulence. Surely, ASEAN countries, both individually and collectively, worked actively. However, the actual measures taken to conciliate the situation were influenced highly by the activities in the United Nations. Although the member nations played a big role in the United Nations, the fact that an organization ASEAN had to seek help from a bigger organization UN implies the powerlessness of ASEAN as an organization itself.

            East Asian economic crisis
            A flow of economic crisis swept over the Southeast Asian region immensely from 1997 to 1998. Occasionally referred to as the "IMF era," this period meant serious setbacks for several developing - then looking forward to becoming developed - nations. Some countries seriously affected by the crisis included Indonesia, Thailand, and South Korea (the latest not included in ASEAN).
            The crisis pointed out ASEAN's need to accelerate financial cooperation in the region. Compared to the previous case, however, this financial crisis brought forth more internal, practical, and expedient measures to improve the situation. A number of institutions and programs were created and put into actions.
            In December 1997, ASEAN Vision 2020 was issued and the ASEAN members resolved on the followings: maintain regional macroeconomic and financial stability by promoting closer consultations on macroeconomic and financial policies; continue to liberalise the financial services sector; and closely cooperate in money and capital market, tax, insurance and customs matters. In the same route to improve the situation, an ASEAN Finance Work Program - which included measures to establish sound international financial practices and standards, and to deepen capital markets and improve corporate governance - was drawn up.
            Moreover, in order to prevent another financial crisis, ASEAN finance ministers brought out the ASEAN Surveillance Process in October 1998. The process had two major elements: the monitoring of global, regional, and national economic and financial developments and the peer review. Monitoring was expected to keep track of recoveries in nations and to detect any indications of recurrence; the results of such monitoring were to be reported to the ASEAN finance ministers twice a year. The peer review basically offered an opportunity for the ASEAN finance ministers to discuss. The ministers were to exchange views and information on developments or difficulties in their national economies.
            On the other hand, ASEAN extended the cooperation level to include three countries in East Asia: China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. Referred to as ASEAN + 3, since the Manila Summit in November 1999, the ASEAN+3 finance ministers have been holding continual sessions.
            ASEAN could be said to have developed throughout the years in dealing with setbacks. Surely, the actions ASEAN took were more expedient and tangible. Yet, the involvement of Indonesia in the crisis and the following quick measures implies that Indonesia plays a very large role in ASEAN. Indonesia's powerful status within ASEAN is not necessarily a problem by itself, but it is very likely that its dominance may block the organization as a whole from developing further with regard to the other member nations.
            Also, the cooperation with the East Asian countries gives out a sense of uncertainty. As seen from ASEAN's continual expansion regardless of the joining nations' economic or political status, ASEAN seems to feel insecure of its status in the global politics and economy.


VIII. Comparison with European Union (EU)


            "ASEAN is an association, not an alliance and certainly not a military, but overall a cultural, social and economic alliances."[14]

            Probably the most significant difference between the two organizations is the scope of power the organization has among its member nations. The European Union is more of a supranational organization that stands above all nations. It is like a government consisted of several states that are committed to a bigger entity. On the other hand, ASEAN is not above other nations but is rather in the same level. Nations' leaders convene to come up with a resolution or so, and the resolution serves as more a kind of guideline than an order.
            Another mark of difference is ASEAN's respect of spontaneity and in contrast, EU's legality. ASEAN's meetings are based on Ad hoc, need basis while EU follows a schedule. EU is more institutionalized while ASEAN is not. The spontaneity that ASEAN emphasizes may appeal to the member nations in that they gather only when there is a need to, but a sense of formalization could be needed as well.
            Also, the leading country's degree of involvement stands as another difference between ASEAN and EU. Indonesia, with the largest population and role in building the organization, undoubtedly stands as the leading nation in ASEAN. However, as seen from previous cases, Indonesia's own interests stand much above the interests of ASEAN as a whole and it does not favor too much intervention from ASEAN. EU's case is slightly different. France and Germany, while they may not be the only leading nations, took a large role in integrating the continent.
            There is also the relative lack of common history that many of the European nations share. Including such, there lie many factors that differentiate the ASEAN with the EU. Perhaps Kao Kim Hourn, the executive director of the Camodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace is right. "Each organization has a uniqueness and should be treated accordingly." He specifically stated that "it would be unfair to compare ASEAN to the EU since its goals and structure differ from the European organization's." And of course, the European Union is not perfect. The European Union has had problems in gaining full approval from the public, having to inform them how the integration process may improve their lives. As a forerunner, the European Union can serve as an example, both as a model to follow and not to follow.


IX. Current


            Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ)
            The Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) was signed by all member nations' representatives in December 1995, at the ASEAN Summit. The SEANWFZ supported ZOPFAN and extended to express ASEAN's concern about nuclear disarmament and international security. As environmental issues appeared on the surface, the treaty also touched on radio-active waste and toxic materials that resulted from nuclear activities. The treaty was valid since March 27, 1997, and ASEAN has negotiated with the five nuclear-weapon states.

            Flexible Engagement
            As Suharto got out of power, ASEAN met a new era. The non-intervention could be said as a tool that prevented ASEAN from intervening in national issues, which could include human rights and democracy. As a country not respecting human rights and democracy too much, Indonesia did not want to be guarded against an organization that sought for peace and freedom. As Suharto was removed from power, however, Thailand suggested "flexible engagement." ASEAN could criticize another government's policies on issues such as human rights and democracy. While this approach could mean a new attitude for ASEAN, it also means a direct contradiction of previous principles. The consequences will have to be viewed later.
            ASEAN has welcomed the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the ARF (Asian Regional Forum) for the first time in July 2000. It has endorsed several countries that support different (and contrary) ideology from most of the original member nations. It has accepted Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos as new members and like one's saying, perhaps "ideology has never been a problem to ASEAN. It has not allowed theoretical political differences to interfere in its efforts to cooperate for the common good. ASEAN's leaders and ministers never tire of seeking consensus. They work hard to seek it on issues and programmes that the association develops and carries out."[15] Still, as Viet Nam's former Foreign Minister and now Deputy Prime Minister, Nguyen Manh Cam, points out in 1999, "in the face of a Greater ASEAN, which comprises countries at different levels of economic and technological development and which have different cultures and historical backgrounds, a need emerges on how to keep those differences from slowing down ASEAN's growth and from creating difficulties for developing countries."
            As the Phillipine chairmanship of ASEAN said, ASEAN is now striving to become a "community conscious of its diverse cultures and bounded by a common regional awareness, where people strive for equitable access to opportunities for total human development regardless of gender, race, religion, language, or social and cultural background." Following this vision, the 12th ASEAN summit sought for "one caring and sharing community" and is heading toward a stronger regional integration. Also, the Vientiane Action Program (VAP), a six-year plan building up establishing an ASEAN Community in 2020, attempts to strengthen regional integration and diminish the development gap among member countries. Particularly facing a nuclear threat imposed by North Korea, ASEAN is again emphasizing the need to integrate. An interesting factor here is how the term regional integration actually includes North Korea in any aspect - social, economic, et cetera - other than security concerns.


X. Perspectives on ASEAN


            The United States, European nations, and Japan welcomed ASEAN; they preferred to deal with the region through a single entity. The U.S. found it useful to consider ASEAN as a single unit when devising Asia-pacific plans. European community also recognized ASEAN as a whole, meeting Southeast Asian states as a whole, through ASEAN, instead of individual countries. Furthermore, European countries moreover approved ASEAN's - to be specific, Singapore's - proposal to set up a meeting of Asian and European states, because they thought they had been oblivious of a good global market and that they now met a good chance to advance into such market.
            Different views on ASEAN are rampant: some claim that "ASEAN is a modern phenomenon growing out of compelling economic and political circumstances," and that "defining 'progress' in regional organization in terms of EU-style institutionalization" is wrong, while skeptics view ASEAN as merely an "instrument of its member states." Such doubters assert that ASEAN "is designed to pursue the narrow self-interests of its member states; the organization is useful to its members at various times, but does not enjoy any special regard as a symbol of regional solidarity." The validity of such arguments can differ with regard to the perspective one supports.


XI. Conclusion


            "The consciousness that binds two persons or groups of different cultures, be it in the same nation or in a regional association of several nations, is that they share some common economic and political interest that promises mutual benefit."[16]

            "If faced with a threat from a third party outside of their partnership to upset their interest and deprive them of the expected benefit, the consciousness of that bond is strengthened if both parners believe that they could overcome the threat only by being united in their association. Without such mutual benefit, an external threat, and a conviction that only a cohesive unity of their association can ride the storm, no sense of belonging to the same community, no shared identity, and no consciousness of one and the same entity with a common destiny can ever develop among the members of the association."[17]

            "Southeast Asia minus ASEAN equals greater political instability, more widespread economic deterioration and, almost surely, the ascendancy of expansionist forces that thrive on the weakness, isolation and disunity of others."[18]

            ASEAN is based on this mutual benefit as well. Still, while ASEAN can be seen as a significant representative of Southeast Asian region, this regional identity is not acknowledged among all the members to the same degree. The level of commitment to the ASEAN identity varies from state to state, according to the circumstances of each state.
            ASEAN still has its dilemmas to work on. One of them, undoubtedly, is balancing between its non-interference principle and a more formal organization. This fundamental contradiction hinders the association from being an effective organization, not being able to carry out practical actions. The diversity is also an important problem ASEAN faces. Enhancing its policy of the common denominator approach could be helpful in reducing the conflicts occurring from such disparity.
            Still, ASEAN has improved also. True, ASEAN had not been a particularly successful organization especially in terms of an economic institution. The nations enjoyed more profit by exporting with nations other than the ASEAN states, and the narrow interests of member states did not consider much of the economic bloc. Still, the effect ASEAN had as an economic body could be found indirectly. As an organization connecting the various nations in the Southeast Asian region, ASEAN had affected and mitigated the disputes in one way or the other. By contributing to political stability, it made the region more attractive for the foreign investors. It is unlikely that foreign investors would have been interested in areas effervescent of conflicts and wars.
            The organization is supported by supplementary factors as well. Popular culture, through more developed technology contributes to building a popular regional identity that might bind the people of the region. Various ASEAN organizations - such as ASEAN confederation of newspaper publishers, the ASEAN confederation of journalists association, the ASEAN motion picture producers association, et cetera - were implemented in the private sectors. Such organizations help ASEAN in promoting a common factor that many states can share.
            After all, "ASEAN can thus be seen as an attempt both to come to grips with the contemporary international order and to preserve and give expression to traditional cultural values." [19] It is on its way to more development.


XII. Bibliography

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XIII. Endnotes


[1]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SEATO
[2]
Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas insisted to emphasize this fact in various occasions
[3]
Prachaub Chaiyasan, former Foreign Minister of Thailand, in 1997
[4]
Antolik; 1990: 158
[5]
Chin; 1997: 5
[6]
Jorgenson-Dahl; 1982: 166
[7]
Peng; 1981: 318
[8]
http://www.aseansec.org
[9]
Huxley; 1993: 16
[9]
http://www.aseansec.org
[10]
Yue; 1997: 38
[11]
Friedberg; 1993: 7
[12]
Emmerson; 2001: 104
[13]
former ASEAN secretary-general, Narciso G. Reyes of the Philippines
[14]
Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi, Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia
[15]
Peng; 1981: 315
[16]
Peng; 1981: 317
[17]
Narciso G. Reyes of the Philippines, former ASEAN Secretary General
[18]
Peng; 1981: 322