The ASEAN yesterday, today, and in the future

Association of the organization of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand. Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand were the founding fathers of ASEAN. Brunei Darussalam, Viet Nam, Myanmar, and Cambodia joined ASEAN later to make the strength of ASEAN to ten member states. Even though many other regional cooperation were in place at different parts of the world, prior to ASEAN, there has been little history of Southeast Asian inter-state relations and no real indication that such relations would happen. This paper tries to answer questions like why there was no regional cooperation prior to ASEAN, What might be some of the problems it will face, Will ASEAN succeeds, and the events that were important to ASEAN’s development.

Why there was no regional cooperation prior to ASEAN?

Before the formation of ASEAN, most of the countries in the South East Asia were under different types of administration. Some of them were communist countries whereas others were democratic, autocratic or constitutional monarchies. These contrasting administration styles and the differences in political ideologies prevented these countries from forming a common platform for regional growth prior to the formation of ASEAN. The conflicts between these countries were immense and most of these countries tried to destabilize the neighbouring countries in order to gain upper hand in the region. Contrasting interests and contrasting motives prevented these countries from thinking in terms of forming a regional alliance in order to interfere in global matters more effectively. But later they have realized the need of a regional cooperation by taking inspirations from the other successfully functioning regional cooperation in the world.

What might be some of the problems ASEN will face?

Like many other region in the world, ASEAN is also not free from threats. Still many problems are haunting ASEAN. Financial crisis, Indochina refugee issues, Cambodia problem and Haze problem (environmental crisis) etc are some of them. Like most of the countries in the world, the recent financial crisis has affected ASEAN countries also. Even before the 2008 financial crisis, in the 1990’s also ASEAN region faced severe financial problems. In order to prevent future financial problems, the ASEAN finance ministers agreed in October 1998 on a framework for closer consultations on economic policies called the ASEAN Surveillance Process

This process has two major elements. The first is the monitoring of global as well as regional and national economic and financial developments. Monitoring serves at least two purposes: to keep track of the recovery process and to detect any sign of recurring vulnerability in the ASEAN financial systems and economies. The outcome of the monitoring exercise is reported to the ASEAN finance ministers twice a year. The second element of the ASP, provides a forum at which ASEAN finance ministers exchange views and information on developments in their domestic economies, including policy measures carried out and the progress of structural reforms (ASEAN Response to the Financial Crisis, 2009)

Cold war resulted in ethnic and religious conflicts which resulted in many people losing their home and properties in the 1990s. “The outflow of Indo-Chinese refugees, which broke out in 1975, peaked at 390,000 in 1979 and then declined until the stream of boat people caused an acute increase at the end of 1988”(Refugees, 2002).Cambodia is probably the poorest country in the world and ASEAN region cannot develop properly if Cambodian economic problems were not rectified. The haze problem caused by forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan is another major problem which is causing billions of dollars losses to ASEAN in general and Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in particular.

Will ASEAN succeeds?

ASEAN is likely to succeed as it has suppressed communism to a certain extent. In other words, the conflicts between the regional administrations were lessened a lot because of the suppression of communism. Most of the ASEAN countries have democratic regimes at present which again increased the chances of success of ASEAN. Globalization has taught many lessons to the world and regional cooperation is one among them. It is impossible for countries or regions to develop properly if they were more adamant on fighting each other. The above fact has opened the eyes of many countries in the ASEAN and most probably ASEAN will continue its success in future also. The 1976 Bali Summit and Marcos’ famous speech: “there can be no economy without economic success”, declaration of CONCORD in 1976,(a summit in which ASEAN member states reaffirmed their commitment to the principles listed in the ASEAN Declaration), AMITY (a peace treaty among Southeast Asian countries established by the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) etc are some of the other positive aspects which point towards the possible success factors of ASEAN in future.

The events that were important to ASEAN’s development

The countries which were stayed away from ASEAN forced to join ASEAN after watching the successful functioning of it. Brunei joined ASEAN in 1984 whereas Vietnam joined in 1993. Cambodia joined ASEAN later. All these inclusions strengthened ASEAN further. Japan has particular interest in the development of ASEAN countries and donated more than one billion dollars for the industrial project in ASEAN region in the 1990’s. Moreover Australia is also very much interested in the development of ASEAN as ASEAN countries are the prominent trade partners of Australia. The 1987 manila summit is another important event in the history of ASEAN.

For the implementation of the improved PTA, the ASEAN Economic Ministers signed two documents during the Manila Summit. These are the Protocol on Improvements on The Extension of Tariff Preferences Under the ASEAN Preferential Trading Arrangements and the Memorandum of Understanding On Standstill And Rollback On Non-Tariff Barriers Among ASEAN Countries. New initiatives on intra-ASEAN cooperation in commodities and the need for closer CO- operation in Trade in Services were also adopted by the Manila Summit (COOPERATION IN TRADE AND TOURISM (COTT), 2009).

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