Why ASEAN?

The Global Digest (English) - - Contents - By John S. Thang

Back­ground His­tory

South­east Asia is a sub-re­gion of Asia, con­sist­ing of coun­tries that are ge­o­graph­i­cally south of China, east of In­dia, west of New Guinea and north of Aus­tralia. The re­gion lies at the in­ter­sec­tion of ge­o­log­i­cal plates, with heavy seis­mic and vol­canic ac­tiv­ity (na­tion­son­line.org). South­east Asia is the ter­mi­nol­ogy of its ge­o­graph­i­cal name since the be­gin­ning of the earth. Whether they like or dis­like those coun­tries be­longed to this ge­o­graph­i­cal is known as South­east Asia. Namely, they are Brunei, Burma (Myan­mar), Cam­bo­dia, In­done­sia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land and Viet­nam.

In an­cient times, there were no coun­tries like there is now. For ex­am­ple, cur­rent Myan­mar was formed by eight dif­fer­ent eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Bur­man, Arakan and Shan. There were also no fixed bound­aries in an­cient times in the whole South­east Asian re­gion. The cur­rent bound­aries of the coun­tries were mostly drawn by col­o­niz­ers. There­fore eth­nic­ity and ter­ri­tory are over­lap­ping among South­east Asian coun­tries.

In his­tory, out­siders used to call South­east Asia in dif­fer­ent ways to its dif­fer­ing parts. Dur­ing the clas­si­cal age, the ex­is­tence of South­east Asia has been known to the Greeks. The Egyp­tian as­tronomer Ptolemy in his Geographia named the Malay Penin­sula as Aurea Cher­son­e­sus (Golden Penin­sula) while Java was called Laba­dius. An an­cient Hindu text may have ear­lier re­ferred to main­land South­east Asia as Suvarnabhumi which means land of gold and in­su­lar South­east Asia as Su­var­nad­vipa which means is­land or penin­su­lar of gold. Euro­peans first came to South­east Asia in the 16th cen­tury (his­to­ry­world.net).

South­east Asia agri­cul­ture is known for rice. Rice pad­dies are well-suited for mon­soons in South­east Asia. The rice pad­dies of South­east Asia have ex­isted for a mil­len­nia, with ev­i­dence for their ex­is­tence co­eval with the rise of agri­cul­ture in other parts of the globe (worldli­brary.org).

For­mal group­ing of the re­gion

The As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions, in the acro­nym ASEAN, is a for­mal geo-po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion of ten coun­tries lo­cated in South­east Asia, the only for­mal re­gional group­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion in Asia. They are Brunei, Burma (Myan­mar), Cam­bo­dia, In­done­sia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philip­pines, Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land and Viet­nam.

At the end of col­o­niza­tion and be­gin­ning of Cold War, ASEAN coun­tries were strug­gling for na­tion build­ing, the com­mon fear of com­mu­nism, re­duced faith in or mis­trust of ex­ter­nal pow­ers in the 1960s, and a de­sire for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. On 8 Au­gust 1967 in Bangkok, Thai­land, the ASEAN Dec­la­ra­tion (Bangkok Dec­la­ra­tion) was signed by the 5 South­east Asia coun­tries, namely In­done­sia, Malaysia, Philip­pines, Sin­ga­pore and Thai­land (asean.org).

Since then the day Au­gust 8 was be­comes the found­ing day of ASEAN. Es­pe­cially, th­ese 5 coun­tries had more wor­ried in the vac­u­umed of se­cu­rity in the re­gion in amidst of Cold War, ten­sion be­tween two blocks, com­mu­nist and democ­racy groups. The other mem­bers, most of main­land South­east Asia na­tions, were closer to China. Later, Myan­mar, as well as, Lao PDR joined ASEAN to­gether on the same 23 July 1997.

Ac­cord­ing to the group’s state­ment, its aims in­clude ac­cel­er­at­ing eco­nomic growth, so­cial progress, cul­tural de­vel­op­ment among its mem­bers, pro­tec­tion of re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity, and op­por­tu­ni­ties for mem­ber coun­tries to dis­cuss dif­fer­ences peace­fully (asean.org).

The group be­comes more for­mal when they de­vel­oped ASEAN Char­ter. The ASEAN Char­ter en­tered into force on 15 De­cem­ber 2008 (asean.org). The ASEAN Char­ter serves as a firm foundation in achiev­ing the ASEAN Com­mu­nity by pro­vid­ing le­gal sta­tus and in­sti­tu­tional frame­work for ASEAN. It also cod­i­fies ASEAN norms, rules and val­ues; sets clear tar­gets for ASEAN; and presents ac­count­abil­ity and com­pli­ance. In ef­fect, the ASEAN Char­ter has be­come a le­gally bind­ing agree­ment among the 10 ASEAN Mem­ber States. The group said it will also be reg­is­tered with the Sec­re­tar­iat of the United Na­tions, pur­suant to Ar­ti­cle 102, Para­graph 1 of the Char­ter of the United Na­tions (asean.org).

ASEAN cov­ers a land area of 4.46 mil­lion km², which is 3% of the to­tal land area of the Earth, and has a pop­u­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 600 mil­lion peo­ple, which is 8.8% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion (asean.org). Many econ­o­mists be­lieve ASEAN as a sin­gle en­tity ranks the eighth largest econ­omy in the world.

An­other im­por­tant one the group has suc­cess­fully de­vel­oped ASEAN Hu­man Rights Dec­la­ra­tion at its Novem­ber 2012 meet­ing in Ph­nom Penh. The Dec­la­ra­tion de­tails ASEAN na­tions’ com­mit­ment to hu­man rights for its peo­ple (suhakam.org.my).

The fu­ture of ASEAN is bright and strong as the only and strong­est Asian for­mal or­ga­ni­za­tion. ASEAN will keep go­ing well in the fu­ture in the re­gional and in­ter­na­tional arena. It’s also time for other Asian coun­tries to co­op­er­ate with ASEAN.

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