The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an international organisation founded by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.1 Its objective is to promote economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the Southeast Asian region through multilateral cooperation. It also functions as a non-political platform to maintain peace and stability among its member states and external partners.2 In 1984, Brunei joined the grouping, followed by Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.3 In terms of size, the ASEAN region has a population of over 620 million and an area of 4.5 million square km.4
ASEAN has its origins in the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA).5 Constituted on 31 July 1961 with Malaya, Thailand and the Philippines as members, ASA fell short of becoming a viable regional grouping.6 This was due to numerous factors, including ASA’s inability to obtain endorsements from other Southeast Asian countries, most crucially Indonesia, and the breakdown of bilateral relations between two of its members – Malaya and the Philippines – over the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.7
However, following an improvement in multilateral ties marked by the end of Indonesia’s Confrontation policy in August 1966 against Malaysia and the normalisation of relations between Malaysia and the Philippines in June 1966, ASA initiated discussions to include more members.8 By May 1967, plans to enlarge ASA were replaced by a proposal to form a new grouping based on ASA’s framework.9 The initial name of the new grouping was Southeast Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, but this was later changed to ASEAN.10
Formation of ASEAN
ASEAN was officially established when the Foreign Ministers of the five founding countries – Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore and Thanat Khoman of Thailand – signed the ASEAN Declaration on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok.11 In 1984, Brunei became a part of ASEAN. This was followed by other Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.12
The principal objective of ASEAN, as stated in the Declaration, is to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership. This way, the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community could be laid.13 Among other things, the Declaration also stated that ASEAN would strive to maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organisations, promote regional peace and stability through the rule of law, and provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical and administrative spheres.14
In their relations with one another, the ASEAN member states stated in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia of 1976 that they would follow a set of fundamental principles.15 These include mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations; non-interference in the internal affairs of one another; renunciation of the threat or use of force; settlement of differences or disputes in a peaceful manner; and the right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion.16
Development of ASEAN
During its formative years, ASEAN undertook a number of joint programmes. These included projects to increase food production, promote tourism, ease travel restrictions, and enhance cooperation in the field of mass media through exchanges of radio and television programmes.17 In February 1976, the regional grouping achieved a major milestone when it held its first summit in Bali.18 The meeting resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.19 It also saw the heads of the member states make a joint communique reaffirming their commitment to work for the promotion of peace, stability and progress in Southeast Asia.20 Further, they signed a Declaration of Concord that laid the foundation for a series of measures for the regional grouping. These included the establishment of the ASEAN secretariat to improve the ASEAN mechanism and the creation of preferential trading arrangements among ASEAN members to boost intra-regional trade.21
ASEAN began to emerge as a leading voice on trade and security issues in the Southeast Asia region from the 1990s, starting with the signing of the ASEAN Free Trade Area Framework Agreement. Ratified in 1992, the agreement aims to establish a free-trade area in the region by means of a Common Effective Preferential Tariff scheme.22 In 1994, ASEAN then established the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) as a multilateral platform aimed at expanding external relations and strengthening dialogues on regional security among different nations.23 A year later, it signed the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ) which effectively bans the use, development, or deployment of nuclear weapons within ASEAN.24
In 1997, ASEAN member states agreed on a shared vision. Known as ASEAN Vision 2020, it charted the direction that by 2020, ASEAN would be a concert of Southeast Asian nations that were outward looking, peaceful, stable, prosperous, with an active partnership and supportive community.25 Five years later, ASEAN achieved yet another major milestone when it signed the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea with China. The Declaration contributed greatly to the peace and stability in the region by establishing peaceful mechanisms to prevent crisis and reduce tensions among the claimants of territories in the South China Sea which include some ASEAN countries and China.26 Thereafter, in 2007, ASEAN ratified the ASEAN Charter. The charter is the legal framework of the grouping as it codifies the rules and principles for ASEAN members, outlines the organisational structure of the grouping, and increased the frequency of ASEAN summit meetings.27
At the same time, ASEAN member states also adopted the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint which served as a coherent masterplan for the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.28 The aim of having such a community is to turn ASEAN into a single market with 622 million people and a combined gross domestic product of at least US$2.6 trillion. This would boost the competitiveness and connectivity of the region as a whole.29 In 2015, ASEAN members adopted an updated integration blueprint called the AEC Blueprint 2025.30 One of the key objectives of the new blueprint is to complete the unfinished measures under the former AEC Blueprint 2015 so that the ASEAN region could become a highly integrated and cohesive economy by 2025.31
To bring together the heads of state and government officials of member and non-member countries, ASEAN holds a series of meetings. The ASEAN Summit, which has been scheduled to take place annually since the adoption of the ASEAN Charter, brings together the heads of state of member countries.32 Since the first summit in 1976, it has been used as a platform to discuss issues related to integration of ASEAN, as well as economic, political, security and socio-cultural development of Southeast Asian countries. As of 2018, ASEAN has held 32 summits.33
Besides the ASEAN Summit, there are meetings and working groups at the ministerial, senior official and private organisation levels. Some examples include the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting, the ASEAN Law Ministers Meeting and the ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting.34 These are handled by councils from the various areas of governance such as foreign affairs, defence, law, economy, finance, energy, science and technology, tourism, the environment, rural development, labour, information, women, youth, social welfare, culture, and arts.35
Meetings between ASEAN and non-member countries are conducted through platforms such as ASEAN Plus Three. This is an annual meeting of the heads of state of ASEAN members and the leaders of China, the Republic of Korea and Japan.36 There is also ASEAN Plus Six which involves the nations in ASEAN Plus Three, with the addition of Australia, India and New Zealand.37 The meeting among ASEAN Plus Six members, as well as Russia and the United States, is called the East Asia Summit.38
The ASEAN secretariat and chairmanship
There is an ASEAN Secretariat that provides administrative support to the organisation. Located in Jakarta, the secretariat is headed by a secretary-general who is appointed based on the alphabetical order of the ASEAN member states’ names for a non-renewable five-year term.39 The secretary-general is supported by some 400 staffers, and four deputy secretary-generals. Two of the deputies are appointed based on the alphabetical rotation of the member states’ names, while the remaining two are hired on merit.40
Chairmanship of ASEAN
As for the chairmanship of ASEAN, it is held on rotational basis among member states. The tenure of office of the chairmanship and office holder is selected using the alphabetical order of the member states’ names.41 As chair, the member state will chair the ASEAN Summit, as well as other ASEAN meetings.42 Singapore is the Chair of ASEAN for 2018 and the theme of its ASEAN chairmanship is “Resilient, Innovative”.43
Symbols of ASEAN
The ASEAN emblem has 10 stalks of padi to represent the 10 member states. These are yellow to symbolise prosperity.44 The padis are set in a red circular field, which depicts courage and dynamism, with the word “ASEAN” below them.45 As for the red circular field, it is bordered by a white and blue line. The blue represents peace and stability, while white reflects purity.46
As a whole, the emblem represents a stable, peaceful, united and dynamic ASEAN. The colours used in the emblem — blue, red, white and yellow — are taken from the colours of the state crests of all the ASEAN member states.47
The ASEAN flag comprises the ASEAN emblem against a blue background. It is a symbol of the member states’ unity, as well as their support for the principles and endeavours of ASEAN. Further, the flag aims to promote greater ASEAN awareness and solidarity.48
“One Vision, One Identity, One Community” is the motto of ASEAN.49
ASEAN Day falls on 8 August every year.50
The official anthem of ASEAN is called “The ASEAN Way”.51 It was written by Payom Valaiphatchra, Kittikhun Sodprasert and Sampow Triudom.52 The 60-second anthem was chosen following an ASEAN-wide song writing competition that was held in 2008.53 Below are the lyrics of “The ASEAN Way”:54
Raise our flag high, sky high
Embrace the pride in our heart
ASEAN we are bonded as one
Look-in out-ward to the world
For peace, our goal from the very start
And prosperity to last.
We dare to dream, we care to share.
Together for ASEAN
we dare to dream,
we care to share for it’s the way of ASEAN.
Lim Tin Seng
1. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 10 Years ASEAN (Jakarta: ASEAN, 1978), 14–15 (Call no. RSING 309.2233 TEN); “About ASEAN,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d.
2. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 10 Years ASEAN, 14–15; Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “About ASEAN.”
3. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “About ASEAN.”
4. The ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Community in Figures 2016 (Jakarta: The ASEAN Secretariat, 2016)
5. “Agreed – It’s Asean,” Straits Times, 8 August 1967, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Beginning at Bangkok,” Straits Times, 4 August 1961, 8; “Asa's Last Role,” Straits Times, 29 August 1967, 10 (From NewspaperSG); Shaun Narine, Explaining ASEAN: Regionalism in Southeast Asia (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), 11–12. (Call no. RSEA 341.2473 NAR)
7. Narine, Explaining ASEAN, 11–12.
8. Narine, Explaining ASEAN, 11–12; “Soon, Much Bigger ASA Concept Says Khoman,” Straits Times, 20 April 1967, 11; “Asa Revival,” Straits Times, 27 April 1966, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “A Bigger ASA: Foreign Ministers to Meet,” Straits Times, 31 May 1967, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Agreed – It’s Asean.”
11. “History,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d.; “The Asean Aims: First 7-Point Accord Signed,” Straits Times, 9 August 1967, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Asean at 30 (Jakarta: ASEAN, 1997), 10. (Call no. RSING q341.2473 ASE)
12. “Brunei Joins Asean,” Straits Times, 14 January 1984, 20; Lee Kim Chew, “Vietnam Now Part of Asean,” Straits Times, 29 July 1995, 1; Lee Kim Chew, “Laos and Myanmar Admitted into Asean,” Straits Times, 24 July 1997, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “Cambodia Joins Asean,” Straits Times, 25 April 1999, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “History.”
14. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “History.”
15. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “History.”
16. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “History.”
17. “The First Ten for Asean,” Straits Times, 25 February 1968, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “Joint Communique: The First ASEAN Heads of Government Meeting Bali, 23–24 February 1976,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 14 May 2012.
19. Association of Southeast Asian Nations,v“Joint Communique.”
20. “Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia Indonesia, 24 February 1976,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 2012.
21. “The Declaration of ASEAN Concord, Bali, Indonesia, 24 February 1976,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 14 May 2012.
22. “Asean Leaders Back Afta Fully as the Answer to Trade Blocs,” Straits Times, 28 February 1992, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “About Us,” ASEAN Regional Forum, n.d.
24. Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 2012.
25. “1997 ASEAN Vision 2020,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 2012.
26. “Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 14 May 2012.
27. Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, “Cheer as Asean Member Countries Adopt Charter,” Straits Times, 16 December 2008, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Alastair McIndoe, “Landmark Blueprint for an Asean Economic Community,” Straits Times, 25 August 2007, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “ASEAN Economic Community,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 7 December 2015.
30. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Economic Community.”
31. “ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025,” The ASEAN Secretariat, n.d.
32. Stefano Inama and Edmund W. Sim, The Foundation of the ASEAN Economic Community: An Institutional and Legal Profile (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 24–25. (Call no. RSING 337.159 INA)
33. “ASEAN Summit,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d.
34. “ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d.
35. Inama and Sim, Foundation of the ASEAN Economic Community, 25; Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies.”
36. “Overview of ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 2017.
37. Shujiro Urata, “An ASEAN+6 Economic Partnership: Significance and Tasks,” Asia Research Report 2007 (Japan: Japan Centre for Economic Research, February 2008)
38. “Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the East Asia Summit,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 14 December 2005.
39. Inama and Sim, Foundation of the ASEAN Economic Community, 26.
40. Inama and Sim, Foundation of the ASEAN Economic Community, 26.
41. “ASEAN Chair,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d.
42. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Chair.”
43. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Chair.”
44. “ASEAN Emblem,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d.
45. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Emblem.”
46. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Emblem.”
47. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Emblem.”
48. “ASEAN Flag,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d.
49. “ASEAN Motto,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d.
50. “ASEAN Day,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d. (n.d.).
51. “ASEAN Anthem,” Association of Southeast Asian Nations, n.d.
52. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Anthem.”
53. “ASEAN Anthem Competition,” Today, 9 August 2008, 22; “Anthem, Picture Book Make Debut,” Straits Times, 1 March 2009, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
54. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, “ASEAN Anthem.”
ASEAN Regional Forum, (2007). ASEAN Regional Forum: Documents Series 1994–2006 (Jakarta: ASEAN Regional Forum). (Call no. RSING 341.2473 ASE)
Helen E.S. Nesadurai, Globalisation, Domestic Politics, and Regionalism: The ASEAN Free Trade Area (London: Routledge, 2003). (Call no. RBUS 337.15 NES)
Hiro Katsumata, ASEAN's Cooperative Security Snterprise: Norms and Interests in the ASEAN Regional Forum (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan). (Call no. RSING 355.031095 KAT)
Jürgen Haacke and Noel M. Morada, eds., Cooperative Security in the Asia-Pacific: The ASEAN Regional Forum (London: Routledge). (Call no. RSING 355.031095 COO)
K.S. Sandhu, et al., The ASEAN Reader (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992). (Call no. RSING 341.2473 ASE)
Kao Kim Hourn and Sarah Kanter, ASEAN Free Trade Agreement: Implications & Future Directions (London: ASEAN Academic Press, 1997). (Call no. RBUS 382.710959 ASE)
Kuah Guan Oo, ASEAN: One Region One Vision (Kuala Lumpur: Bernama, 1997).
(Call no. RSING q341.2473 ASE)
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, ed., The Road to Ratification and Implementation of the ASEAN Charter (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009). (Call no. RSING 341.2473 EXP)
Pearl Imada and Seiji Naya, eds., ASEAN Free Trade Area: The Way Ahead (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992). (Call no. RSING 382.710959 AFT)
Rodolfo C. Severino, Framing the ASEAN Charter: An ISEAS Perspective (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005). (Call no. RSING 341.2473 FRA)
S. Tiwari, ASEAN: Life after the charter (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian (Call no. RSING 341.2473 ASE)
Sharon Siddique and Sree Kumar, The 2nd ASEAN Reader (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2003). (Call no. RSING q341.2473 SEC)
The Asean Charter (Jakarta: Association of Southeast Asian Nations, 2008). (Call no. RSING 341.3759 ASE)
Tommy Koh, Sharon Seah Li-Lian and Chang Li Lin, eds., 50 Years of ASEAN and Singapore (Singapore: World Scientific, 2017). (Call no. RSING 341.2473 FIF)
The information in this article is valid as at September 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain form our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.