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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations



ENG - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, commonly abbreviated ASEAN, is a geo-political and economic organization of 10 countries located in Southeast Asia, Locationwhich was formed on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Since then, membership has expanded to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Its aims include the acceleration of economic growth, social progress, cultural development among its members, the protection of the peace and stability of the region, and to provide opportunities for member countries to discuss differences peacefully.

In 2005, the bloc spanned over 1,100,000,000 acres (4,500,000 km2) with a combined GDP (Nominal/PPP) of about USD$896.5 billion/$2,728 billion growing at an average rate of around 5.6% per annum. Nominal GDP had grown to USD $1.4 trillion in 2008.




ASEAN was preceded by an organization called the Association of Southeast Asia, commonly called ASA, an alliance consisting of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand that was formed in 1961. The bloc itself, however, was established on 8 August 1967, when foreign ministers of five countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand – met at the Thai Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok and signed the ASEAN Declaration, more commonly known as the Bangkok Declaration. The five foreign ministers – Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso Ramos of the Philippines, Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand – are considered as the organization's Founding Fathers.


The motivations for the birth of ASEAN were the desire for a stable external environment (so that its members’ governing elite could concentrate on nation building), the common fear of communism, reduced faith in or mistrust of external powers in the 1960s, as well as the aspiration for national economic development; not to mention Indonesia’s ambition to become a regional hegemon through regional cooperation and the hope on the part of Malaysia and Singapore to constrain Indonesia and bring it into a more cooperative framework. Unlike the European Union, ASEAN was designed to serve nationalism.


During the 1990s, the bloc experienced an increase in both membership as well as in the drive for further integration. In 1990, Malaysia proposed the creation of an East Asia Economic Caucus composing the then-members of ASEAN as well as the People's Republic of China, Japan, and South Korea, with the intention of counterbalancing the growing influence of the United States in the APEC as well as in the Asian region as a whole. This proposal, however, failed since it faced heavy opposition from Japan and the United States. Despite this failure, member states continued to work for further integration. In 1992, the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) scheme was signed as a schedule for phasing tariffs and as a goal to increase the region’s competitive advantage as a production base geared for the world market. This law would act as the framework for the ASEAN Free Trade Area. After the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, a revival of the Malaysian proposal was established in Chiang Mai, known as the Chiang Mai Initiative, which calls for better integration between the economies of ASEAN as well as the +3 countries (China, Japan, and South Korea).


Aside from improving each member state's economies, the bloc also 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 have ratified it. It became fully effective on 21 June 2001, after the Philippines ratified it, effectively banning all nuclear weapons in the region.


At the turn of the 21st century, issues shifted to involve a more environmental prospective. The organization started to discuss environmental agreements. These included the signing of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002 as an attempt to control haze pollution in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful due to the outbreaks of the 2005 Malaysian haze and the 2006 Southeast Asian haze. Other environmental treaties introduced by the organization include the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security, the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network in 2005, and the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, both of which are responses to Global Warming and the negative effects of climate change.


The leaders of each country, particularly Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, also felt the need to further integrate the region. Beginning in 1997, the bloc began creating organizations within its framework with the intention of achieving this goal. ASEAN Plus Three was the first of these and was created to improve existing ties with the People's Republic of China, Japan, and South Korea. This was followed by the even larger East Asia Summit, which included these countries as well as India, Australia, and New Zealand. This new grouping acted as a prerequisite for the planned East Asia Community, which was supposedly patterned after the now-defunct European Community. The ASEAN Eminent Persons Group was created to study the possible successes and failures of this policy as well as the possibility of drafting an ASEAN Charter.


In 2007, ASEAN celebrated its 40th anniversary since its inception, and 30 years of diplomatic relations with the United States. On 26 August 2007, ASEAN stated that it aims to complete all its free trade agreements with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand by 2013, in line with the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. In November 2007 the ASEAN members signed the ASEAN Charter, a constitution governing relations among the ASEAN members and establishing ASEAN itself as an international legal entity. During the same year, the Cebu Declaration on East Asian Energy Security in Cebu on 15 January 2007, by ASEAN and the other members of the EAS (Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea), which promotes energy security by finding energy alternatives to conventional fuels.


On February 27, 2009 a Free Trade Agreement with the ASEAN regional block of 10 countries and New Zealand and its close partner Australia was signed, it is estimated that this FTA would boost aggregate GDP across the 12 countries by more than US$48 billion over the period 2000-2020.


Economic Community

ASEAN has emphasized regional cooperation in the “three pillars” of security, sociocultural and economic integration.The regional grouping has made the most progress in economic integration, aiming to create an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. The AEC would have a combined population of over 560 million and total trade exceeding US$ 1,400 billion.

Free Trade Area

The foundation of the AEC is the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), a common external preferential tariff scheme to promote the free flow of goods within ASEAN. The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) is an agreement by the member nations of ASEAN concerning local manufacturing in all ASEAN countries. The AFTA agreement was signed on 28 January 1992 in Singapore. When the AFTA agreement was originally signed, ASEAN had six members, namely, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Vietnam joined in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999. The latecomers have not fully met the AFTA's obligations, but they are officially considered part of the AFTA as they were required to sign the agreement upon entry into ASEAN, and were given longer time frames in which to meet AFTA's tariff reduction obligations.

Comprehensive Investment Area

The ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Area (ACIA) will encourage the free flow of investment within ASEAN. The main principles of the ACIA are as follows:

  • All industries are to be opened up for investment, with exclusions to be phased out according to schedules
  • National treatment is granted immediately to ASEAN investors with few exclusions
  • Elimination of investment impediments
  • Streamlining of investment process and procedures
  • Enhancing transparency
  • Undertaking investment facilitation measures


Full realization of the ACIA with the removal of temporary exclusion lists in manufacturing agriculture, fisheries, forestry and mining is scheduled by 2010 for most ASEAN members and by 2015 for the CLMV (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam) countries.

Trade in Services

An ASEAN Framework Agreement on Trade in Services was adopted at the ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in December 1995. Under AFAS, ASEAN Member States enter into successive rounds of negotiations to liberalise trade in services with the aim of submitting increasingly higher levels of commitments. The negotiations result in commitments that are set forth in schedules of specific commitments annexed to the Framework Agreement. These schedules are often referred to as packages of services commitments. At present, ASEAN has concluded seven packages of commitments under AFAS.

Single Aviation Market

The ASEAN Single Aviation Market (SAM), proposed by the ASEAN Air Transport Working Group, supported by the ASEAN Senior Transport Officials Meeting, and endorsed by the ASEAN Transport Ministers, will introduce an open-sky arrangement to the region by 2015. The ASEAN SAM will be expected to fully liberalize air travel between its member states, allowing ASEAN to directly benefit from the growth in air travel around the world, and also freeing up tourism, trade, investment and services flows between member states. Beginning 1 December 2008, restrictions on the third and fourth freedoms of the air between capital cities of member states for air passengers services will be removed, while from 1 January 2009, there will be full liberalization of air freight services in the region, while By 1 January 2011, there will be liberalization of fifth freedom traffic rights between all capital cities.

Free Trade Agreements With Other Countries

ASEAN has concluded free trade agreements with China, Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, it is currently negotiating free trade agreement with India (conclusion expected in April 2009) and with the European Union. Taiwan has also expressed interest in an agreement with ASEAN but needs to overcome diplomatic objections from China.


Cultural activities

The organization hosts cultural activities in an attempt to further integrate the region. These include sports and educational activities as well as writing awards. Examples of these include the ASEAN University Network, the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, the ASEAN Outstanding Scientist and Technologist Award, and the Singapore-sponsored ASEAN Scholarship.


S.E.A. Write Award

The S.E.A. Write Award is a literary award given to Southeast Asian poets and writers annually since 1979. The award is either given for a specific work or as a recognition of an author's lifetime achievement. Works that are honored vary and have included poetry, short stories, novels, plays, folklore as well as scholarly and religious works. Ceremonies are held in Bangkok and are presided by a member of the Thai royal family.



ASAIHL or the Association of Southeast Asian Institutions of Higher Learning is a non-governmental organization founded in 1956 that strives to strengthen higher learning institutions, espescially in teaching, research, and public service, with the intention of cultivating a sense of regional identity and interdependence.


Heritage Parks

ASEAN Heritage Parks is a list of nature parks launched 1984 and relaunched in 2004. It aims to protect the region's natural treasures. There are now 35 such protected areas, including the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park and the Kinabalu National Park.



The ASEAN Scholarship is a scholarship program offered by Singapore to the 9 other member states for secondary school, junior college, and university education. It covers accommodation, food, medical benefits & accident insurance, school fees, and examination fees.

University Network

The ASEAN University Network (AUN) is a consortium of Southeast Asian universities. It was originally founded in November 1995 by 11 universities within the member states. Currently AUN comprises 21 Participating Universities.




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