ASEAN Community-building

SECURITY, political, and economic factors facilitate the building of a strong Southeast Asian community.

Scholar Vincent Pollard said, “The turbulent political development of ASA happened from July 1961 to August 1967.”

What is ASA? What is the relevance of ASA to Southeast Asia?

ASA is Association of Southeast Asia. Although ASA consisted only of three states: the former Federation of Malaya, the Philippines, and Thailand, and its significance at different times, either diminished or increased, still the efforts of the three states to form ASA were laudable.

ASA was only given considerable attention by the US from 1964-1966 because of the “escalating politico-military conflict in Southeast Asia”, according to Pollard.

On Aug. 8, 1967 the world saw the birthing of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations comprised of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, through the signing of the Bangkok Declaration.

On Aug. 29, 1967 several ASA programs were transferred to ASEAN, added Pollard. Security-political and economic factors were the same drivers that formed ASEAN. 


Bilateral agreement is a broad term used simply to cover agreements between two parties like for instance, ASEAN and Australia, or the Philippines and Indonesia. These are also sometimes referred to as a “side deal” (

Multilateral agreements on the other hand, can be defined as the practice of coordinating national polices in groups of three or more states, through ad hoc arrangements or via institutions.

The significance of multilateralism in world politics has enormously increased since the end of World War II. This is seen in the proliferation of multi-national conferences and an increase in the number of multilateral intergovernmental organizations, explained Robert O. Keohane in Multilateralism: An Agenda for Research.

Agreements ensure the security, economic development, and political stability of a state. The 1993 ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) was done quickly raising questions.

Bowles and MacLean explained the reasons for such haste:

a) changing international political economy in the 1980s;

b) general pre-disposition towards regional trade liberalization;

c) ASEAN’s desire to maintain its importance in a rapidly changing region.

With AFTA, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, and Thailand cut tariffs on nearly 8,000 items. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam or CLMV will implement their tariff cuts by phases.

Shaun Narine in ASEAN and the ARF: The Limits of the “ASEAN Way”, explained that consisting of 21 countries belonging to Asia and/or bordering the Pacific Ocean, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) attempts to manage security in the post-Cold War Asia Pacific.

What is ARF?

Founded in 1994, ARF is an important platform for security dialogue in the Indo-Pacific. Here, members discuss current security issues and develop cooperative measures to enhance peace and security in the region.

Characterized by the “ASEAN Way” of consensus-based decision-making and dialogue, it comprises 27 members: the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam); the 10 ASEAN dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States); Bangladesh, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Timor-Leste; and one ASEAN observer (Papua New Guinea). Source:


We have heard about regionalism and regional integration over the past couple of years. Regionalism and regional integration developed tremendously in the early 1990s.

Offshoots of these are the creation of EU in Europe, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and Mercosur in Latin America, said Hidetaka Yoshimatsu in Collective Action Problems and Regional Integration in ASEAN.

While ASEAN is pushing for ASEAN Economic Integration, it is confronted by challenges such as the “ASEAN Way”, a set of norms that include non-interference principle, informal consultation, pragmatic expediency, consensus-building, and flexible incrementalism, Yoshimatsu added. The ASEAN member states have no interest to transform ASEAN into a supranational body like the EU, he further stated.

Although much has yet to be done, the good news is, ASEAN has worked on overcoming the challenges by developing mechanisms that ensure proper implementation of agreements; provided stronger dispute settlement mechanisms; strengthened the ASEAN Secretariat; among others.

With the ASEAN Economic Blueprint 2025; ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint 2025; ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Blueprint 2025; IAI Work Plan III (2016-2020); and the like, ASEAN and its peoples, not as passive observers, can actively engage and be benefited by the much-touted ASEAN integration.


Food for Thought

ASEAN Motto: “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”.


For comments, you may reach the writer at [email protected]./PN


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