The Association of Southeast Asian States celebrates its 50th anniversary. In 1967, the regional cooperation started targeting economic development, peace and stability. At that time, the EU was still a role model for Southeast Asia, but nowadays the example became less shiny.
From 6 to 8 August, the Secretaries of Foreign Affairs of the ASEAN member States met in Manila on a regional forum lasting several days. At this date, 50 years ago, the organisation was founded. The European Union’s Foreign Commissioner, Federica Mogherini, also travelled to the Philippine capital to participate in the discussions.
Signing the “Declaration of Bangkok” on 8 August 1967, the foreign secretaries of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines founded the ASEAN. In the following years Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam as well as the Sultanate of Brunei joined as members.
The union was founded at the time of the raging Vietnam War and was originally aimed at damming communism. Today, the former rivals are committed to economic cooperation, peace and stability and have become partners. With 625 million people and an annual economic growth of about five percent, they form one of the most dynamic economic areas in the world.
From the outset, the association gave priority to the economic cooperation. By the Declaration of Singapore in 1992, the free trade area AFTA (Asian Free Trade Area) was founded and helped some members to grow enormously.
After the Asian crisis 1997/98, a deeper integration was set as a goal, for which the Member States developed the concept “ASEAN Vision 2020”. In the year 2015, the Association of States proclaimed the “ASEAN Economic Community”, which envisaged a common market and the free exchange of goods, services, labour and capital based on the model of the EU.
From the outset, the partners agreed on the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs. Respect for territorial integrity, sovereignty and national identity is firmly anchored in the Charter of the Association. Decisions must always be unanimous, making it difficult to reach consensus.
And yet the ASEAN countries are quite heterogeneous, politically, religiously and economically. While Malaysia and Brunei are monarchies, the states of Laos or Vietnam are governed by unity parties. Illiberal democracies like Singapore exist aside military dictatorships as currently in Thailand. Countries like Cambodia and Myanmar are Buddhist, the Philippines are staunchly catholic. Indonesia, with more than 191 million Muslims, is even the largest Islamic country worldwide. The acute threat of Islamist terror in the region is felt as a common threat and encourages further cooperation.
The date of the recent summit also marked the 40th anniversary of the opening of relations between ASEAN and the EU, at that time still in the form of the EC. For the European Union, the ASEAN region is the third largest trading partner after the United States and China, which is why it is promoting a strategic partnership.
“We would like to see broader cooperation with ASEAN in the future, which will include, in addition to economic issues, defence and security policy, as well as climate-change and energy issues,” said the EU ambassador to ASEAN, Francisco Fontan, in an interview.
As distinct from ASEAN, the principle of non-interference is clearly less important for the EU. In the past, European countries have repeatedly criticised violation of human rights and democratic deficits also in ASEAN countries. This proselytising zeal did not arouse an understanding among the addressees. The former ASEAN General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan responded to criticism from Europe:
“The Europeans cannot expect the world to revolve around their own ideas, just as it did a century or two hundred years ago. The colonial period is over. We work differently from Europe. We do not have strict rules, such as the level of debt - which are then not respected. We in Asia have learned that we have to deal with each other honestly and cautiously. We communicate at all levels. We know that every problem of a member state can infect the others. In the West, individualism dominates. Here in Asia, however, we still need a controlling hand that is recognisable. However, it seems to me that Europe is now taking a step back and emphasising the role of the state again.”
Southeast Asia has seen European integration as a model for many years. The experience of the financial and refugee crises, however, has risen scepticism over a supra-national model. The ASEAN countries have, for the time being, renounced a planned common currency.
China, meanwhile, is also touting for influence in the region and is one of the biggest investors there. Some Member States therefore fear a prevailing dominance of the Chinese economy. Cambodia, which was supported by China, has so far prevented the association from finding a common position on the demands of the People’s Republic in the South China Sea.
ASEAN has so far only been an intergovernmental union that could only partly limit the influence of major powers. The single market remains a common basis, but it is still subject to restrictions by national trade barriers. It is questionable whether the European Union will continue to be a role model for the Southeast Asian way of working. •
Source: https://deutsch.rt.com/asien/55408-asean-gemeinschaft-feiert-50-jahriges/ vom 9.8.2017
(Translation Current Concerns)
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