The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration. The organization, headquartered in Jakarta, Indonesia, promotes economic cooperation among its member states. The original signatories to the declaration were Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Since then Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and Cambodia in 1998.
In the early 1960s there were various movements among the noncommunist states of southeast Asia to promote regional economic cooperation. For a variety of reasons these efforts were short-lived. In 1965, however, Indonesia's leader, Sukarno, lost all but nominal political power over his country, opening the door for the Bangkok Declaration, the formal beginning of ASEAN. The purpose of ASEAN is to promote economic cooperation between its member states and to promote the welfare of its respective populations. This is to be accomplished through three objectives: promoting economic, social, and cultural development programs; positioning ASEAN as a bulwark against big-power rivalries; and creating a forum for the resolution of intraregional disputes.
The association grew rapidly, quickly expanded the scope of its activities and eventually became a major world economic organization. Between 1976 and 1998 six summit meetings were held in the region. A summit meeting brings together each member's head of government and is the highest authority of ASEAN.
The first Summit Meeting, held in Bali, Indonesia, in 1976 resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the Declaration of ASEAN Concord. This summit set forth the basic aims of the association. The second summit was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1977 and primarily assessed ASEAN progress. The third summit was held in Manila, Philippines, in 1987 and focused on enhancing economic cooperation. The Manila Declaration was signed and the resultant ASEAN Plan of Action was agreed to. The Protocol Amending the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which enabled countries outside the ASEAN region to accede to the treaty was also agreed upon. The fourth summit was held in Singapore in 1992. A major outcome of this meeting was the decision to work towards an ASEAN Free Trade Area by the year 2007. The fifth summit was held in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1995 and was attended by leaders from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. A Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty was agreed to, as were many measures meant to further strengthen ASEAN's activities and accomplishments. A sixth summit was held in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1998. Cambodia was admitted as the tenth member of ASEAN during the summit, and the Hanoi Declaration addressed responses to the ongoing Asian financial crisis.
Trade between ASEAN and the United States has increased from $23 billion in 1980 to $80 billion in 1996. These figures make ASEAN America's fourth-largest trading partner after Canada, Japan, and Mexico. Between 1990 and 1994 U.S. exports to ASEAN grew at an average annual rate of just over 14 percent. The United States exports capital goods, transportation equipment, chemicals, and agricultural goods to ASEAN countries. In the 1980s America imported natural rubber, tin, petroleum, sugar, palm oil, textiles, and electronic products and components. By the mid-1990s, however, the United States was importing industrial machinery and equipment, electronics and telecommunication components, and computers and computer parts.
ASEAN has held a number of economic dialogues with the United States beginning in 1977. Early dialogues dealt with commodities, access to markets and capital, technology transfer, and the development of energy resources. During the 1980s there began a gradual shift away from programs centering on human needs in favor of programs concentrating on regional cooperation and human resource development. By the 1990s human resource development was still a priority but emphasis was also placed on trade, investment, and again technology transfer.
ASEAN nations offer investors marketplace-oriented economies, low labor costs, and abundant natural resources. Most U.S. investments in the ASEAN region are administered by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the United States Export-Import Bank. The U.S. Agency for International Development also has many projects in the region. Similarly there is a United States-ASEAN Council for Business and Technology and an ASEAN-Washington Committee comprised of ASEAN ambassadors to the United States.
When first established ASEAN had a noted anticommunist/free market orientation. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent lessening of regional superpower influence, however, served only to accelerate ASEAN's activities and influence. The ASEAN nations, at least until the financial crisis of 1998, led the world in economic growth. Despite its seeming prosperity ASEAN faces a number of problems. Economic integration amongst its members is hampered by the general low level of economic development. Most members still have developing economies with low per capita national incomes. ASEAN nations also have a high dependence on foreign markets outside ASEAN and are still weak on technological development.
ASEAN nations also face a number of political problems ranging from internal ethnic and religious clashes to outmoded political infrastructures unable to accommodate rapidly expanding economies. This has been exacerbated by the admission of Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia into the ASEAN family of nations.
[ Michael Knes ]
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Broinowski, Alison. Understanding ASEAN. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.
Economic Development and Prospects in the ASEAN: Foreign Investment and Growth in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
Yongming, Shi. "ASEAN: A Strong Voice in the Post-Cold War World." Beijing Review, 3-9 February 1997, 7.