The Declaration by the five original member countries—Indonesia, Malaysia,

The
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967 with the
signing of the Bangkok Declaration by the five original member
countries—Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Its
formation was primarily driven by political and security motivations with a
view to promoting tactful cooperation in economic, social, cultural, technical,
educational and other fields. It stood for the promotion of regional peace,
stability, and security and the prevention of growing rebellion movements. The
activities carried out by ASEAN are planned by the different member countries.
As the environmental pollution is an issue, member countries plan activities
that deal with environmental issues, have conferences, hold camps and hold a
Green Week in conjunction with World Environment Day, to name a few.

The
representatives from the member countries hold meetings throughout the year in
the various countries around the globe. However, most of these meetings are
held in Asia. They also take part in courses and workshops on transport,
terrorism and such. These meetings are usually based on the Transnational
Issues that ASEAN is concerned about. These Transnational Issues are the
Environment, Transboundary Haze, Transnational Crime & Terrorism, Legal
Cooperation, Immigration, Drugs and Civil Services. In this respect, the
origins of ASEAN were similar to those of the European Union (EU), in that the
founding countries initially came together for political and security reasons,
rather than a desire to benefit from the economic integration. In a region
largely widowed of regional organizations and divided by the Cold War, ASEAN
has been the most significant multilateral group for the past fifty years.
Since the end of the Cold War, ASEAN has grown increasingly influential and its
leading economies have recovered from the 2008 global recession and are
thriving much more than those of the West and other emerging markets that
continue to suffer. More importantly, ASEAN has helped prevent interstate
conflicts in Southeast Asia, despite several brewing territorial disputes in
the region.

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Subsequently,
to comprehending the grave consequences of the Cold War, numerous efforts were
made to establish peace in the South-East Asia area of the world. Experimental
tries were also made for economic co-operation among the countries of
South-East Asia. As a result of that effort, the ‘ASEAN’ was formed in 1967,
which was at the center of world events. Indonesia had recently been at war
with Malaysia, trying to prevent the creation of Malaysia out of former British
colonies. The Second Indochina War was raging, following the withdrawal of
France in 1954 and the end of the First Indochina War that same year. In
Malaysia, a powerful communist revolt had been recently put down and defeated,
while an army coup in Indonesia was launched in part to head off the rise of
left-leaning political parties which has also unleashed bloodshed. The Cultural
Revolution and China’s support for several communist movements in Southeast
Asia, as well as the region’s fears of the United States abandoning its
commitment to Southeast Asia, led the noncommunist countries in the region to
form ASEAN. ASEAN was founded with a limited charter, even compared to many
other regional organizations. The goal was to preserve long-term peace in
Southeast Asia and, by unifying, to balance the roles that outside powers,
including the United States, China, and Japan, played in Southeast Asia Over
the past two decades, ASEAN has been the leader of East Asian trade, economic,
and security integration.

ASEAN
has been the only organization consistently focused on regional integration,
while others, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), have
shifted their focus extensively and somewhat haphazardly. Other regional
organizations such as the Northeast Asian Six-Party Talks have focused only on
one discrete issue—North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. However, despite its
intentions, ASEAN has been more successful in promoting trade integration and
creating regional forums for discussing security issues than it has been in
promoting more concrete security integration or economic integration such as
more open borders, joint development of resources, and common currencies. Some
of these failures are due to ASEAN’s structural weaknesses, which make it hard
for the organization to lead on security and economic integration. In other
respects, these failures are simply due to the fact that East Asia contains
countries with wide-ranging levels of development, political cultures, and
political systems than in Western Europe, and thus integration is more
challenging. However, ASEAN could learn a lot from the EU, mainly in practical
measures as product standards, customs coordination, environmental regulations,
but more generally in the creation and evolution of its institutions and processes
(Kurlantzick, 2012).

Even
though the Second Indochina War ended in 1975, the region remained mired in
Indochina politics until the late 1980s, and ASEAN’s mission evolved only
marginally from its original goal. ASEAN also made little effort to push for
greater regional integration or trade liberalization. Despite China’s economic
opening in the late 1970s, China did not have formal relations with many
Southeast Asian states and was a minor trading partner for the majority of the
countries in the region by the late 1980s. Most ASEAN states (with the
exception of small, oil-rich Brunei, which was added as a member after the
original five) were focused on building export-oriented manufacturing sectors
that relied on low wages, Japanese capital, and open Western markets. This
strategy was extremely successful, at least for a time: in the 1980s and early
1990s, Thailand regularly posted some of the highest growth rates of any
country in the world. In the 2000s, however, ASEAN developed more muscle. In the
late 1990s, indicating that the Indochina Wars had finally ended, the
organization admitted Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, as well as Myanmar, which
had been isolated by choice from the international community for decades. With
the Bush administration largely absent from Southeast Asia, other than for
counterterrorism cooperation, China became increasingly influential in the
region. Senior Bush administration officials skipped important meetings held by
ASEAN and other Asian organizations, alienating many Asian leaders, and when
they did attend, many Bush administration officials spent little time focusing
on economic integration in Asia, the topic most Asian leaders wanted to discuss
far more than they wanted to discuss terrorism, which was not a threat in most
East Asian nations. China, at the same time, pointedly sent its senior
officials to meetings of ASEAN and other Asian organizations, drawing an
implicit contrast. At the meetings, Chinese officials privately and publicly
noted that they had come to focus on Asian economic integration, rather than
terrorism. At the same time, India, Japan, and South Korea also built closer
ties with the organization.

Prior
to the further development of the ASEAN community, the success factor was what
has shocked its critics due to the tribulations it has overcome with each
passing year. Yet ASEAN lags far behind its full potential. Most Western
leaders and even many of Southeast Asia’s own top officials do not consider the
organization capable of handling any serious economic or security challenges,
including the current dispute in the South China Sea. In previous times of
severe economic downturn, ASEAN members have looked to countries outside the
group for assistance because it somewhat lacks unity and high-profile leadership,
the members have resorted to addressing disputes either together or with the
U.S. involvement. Like every organization, ASEAN has its advantages and
disadvantages. ASEAN has the potential to become widely influential by opening
more borders and free intra-ASEAN trade that could improve competitiveness and
attract new investments that play a larger role in international economic and
trading areas. The organization with added internal consistency and higher
political and economic problem-solving skills could form a stronger foundation
for wider integration and gain greater respect on a worldwide stage. A
stronger, unified ASEAN would also benefit the United States. As taken from
“ASEAN’s Future and Asian Integration” working paper of Joshua
Kurlantzick,

“A
single, liberalized ASEAN market would boost U.S. investment in Southeast Asia,
and an assertive ASEAN would be able to take over some U.S. responsibilities in
the areas of peacekeeping, antipiracy, disease prevention, and other security
issues. Moreover, it would represent a powerful deterrent against Chinese
dominance of the South China Sea and the broader Asia-Pacific.”

By
evaluating the progress ASEAN has made over the past fifty years, it was
observed that it has gradually become a fast-paced changing organization that
has highly benefitted the Southeast Asian regions. It has adopted globalization
and information technology and is determined to promote more scientific
research and culture.  The shortages of resources
are not a barrier to the plans of ASEAN, but hopefully, that more success will
arrive in its future. The ASEAN Economic Community established in 2015 is one
of the many major milestones of regional economic integration agenda; with a
combined GDP of $2.4 trillion and a population of 628 million, ASEAN is the
world’s seventh largest market and third largest labor force and is expected to
become the fourth largest economic bloc by 2030. Regional expansion in
Southeast Asia by multinational enterprises has continued to be robust through 2016.
As a result, ASEAN remains as a major destination for global FDI with the
region receiving U.S.$120 billion, representing almost 16% of world FDI among
developing countries in 2015. Investors recognize the potential gains from an
increasingly integrated and vibrant economic area, where GDP growth has
surpassed any other region in the world consistently over the last decade and
continues to do so. ASEAN faces challenges and these will require a cooperative
effort to overcome them. Within a group of nations of such different
ethnicities, cultures, languages, religions and political histories, each step
towards integration has involved lengthy discussion and will continue to do so.
The region is firmly set to be at the crossroads of global business, as it invests
in the digital age and builds vast new connectivity including modern ports,
high-speed railways, airports and other transport infrastructure (Investing in
ASEAN, 2017).

Even
though critics have been amazed at the evaluation of ASEAN’s achievements, the
near future has been somewhat bleak due to the United States current presidency
and change of laws. There are also security challenges stemming from this
problem. The first and foremost challenge for ASEAN in this current U.S.
presidency is the new administration’s budding impact on ASEAN’s security
management. Two months after Donald Trump’s inauguration, a foreign policy
blackout has been brought to attention and has come to effect which leaves
ASEAN leaders uncertain of the United States’ intentions. From various
analysts’ observation, ASEAN has always wanted a balance in the influence of
major countries such as the U.S. and China; if the U.S. were to pull away from
the organization, China’s dominant role would develop and create many problems.
China’s interest in investment and trade is welcome by ASEAN but there is the
main goal of letting all countries have power that is not too dominant and is
distributed equally. Member countries of the ASEAN organization would have to
work diligently on balancing the dominant influences of the two major powers to
protect its own interests. As for future economic integration, ASEAN has the
potential to develop some serious economic clout. If the organization were a
single country it would already rank in the top ten global economies. However,
ASEAN has not yet achieved its major goal of economic integration. The
establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 was viewed as the
first step in addressing this, but it still lacks a common regulatory framework,
ultimately preventing ASEAN from becoming a major economic player. Analyst
Avery Poole, Assistant Director of the Melbourne School of Government at the
University of Melbourne, believes diversity among member states with regard to
economic development is the main issue – while states like Singapore and Brunei
have relatively high GDP’s per capita, others such as Laos, Cambodia and
Myanmar have far lower levels of prosperity. ASEAN’s reputation, when it comes
to tackling human rights issues, is another major challenge which has plagued
the organization for decades. Myanmar’s Rohingya refugee crisis has drawn
particular attention to this subject in recent years. Despite global outrage
triggered by numerous alleged human rights abuses, ASEAN remains steadfast in
its policy of non-interference and refuses to suspend Myanmar as a member.

ASEAN
appears to have at least attempted to address the human rights issue on the
surface. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights was established
in 2009 and by mid-2012 the Commission had formally drafted its own ASEAN Human
Rights Declaration. Despite this, the declaration has been strongly criticized
by a number of international observers, as well as members of ASEAN civil
society. Human Rights Watch has described the document as a “declaration
of government powers disguised as a declaration of human rights.”
“The human rights initiatives really came about because some states
(particularly Indonesia, but to some extent the Philippines and Thailand)
pushed for them, as human rights have become important in their own domestic
political contexts,” said Poole. Analyst Poole fears the organization may
even go backward. “I don’t really expect ASEAN to change much at all –
except to potentially regress in some areas, given that we see a possible
backsliding from democracy in some states, for example with the election of
Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and continued martial law in Thailand.”

As having gathered
enough information, I believe that ASEAN’s growth future and problem-solving
will be slowed down due to the unsure involvement of the current U.S.
presidency, member countries’ issues such as backsliding of democracy, and
current states of government in the others for another ten years.

 

 

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