An Essay on, The Expansion of ASEAN: Implications for Regional Securityt
An essay written in 1999, RAAF Command and Staff Course No.52, RAAF Command and Staff College, RAAF Base Fabian, Canberra, Australia
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - An Essay on, The Expansion of ASEAN: Implications for Regional Securityt
AN ESSAY ON
THE EXPANSION OF ASEAN: IMPLICATIONS FOR REGIONAL SECURITY
By Squadron Leader W. Poosit
The group as a whole will benefit; expansion will enrich ASEAN but it may strain the group’s
cohesion. There also will be both costs and benefits to the new members. Some are foreseeable;
others are intangible.
Department of Foreign Affair and Trade1
Moving toward the year 2000, Asian countries are still struggling to find the ways for
their survival and regional security from the modern world. The dramatic changes occurred in
the Southeast Asia region after the end of Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Soviet military regime has withdrawn from the region and no longer poses either threats or
support. American military power, which acted in response to the current situation, has
reduced significantly in scale. Consequently, the region has been freed from superpower
competition and intervention. The region that was divided by ideological lines in the past has
moved toward reconciliation.2
Established during the Vietnam War, Association of Southeast Asian Nations or
ASEAN, regional alliance of six independent countries of Southeast Asia, was founded in
Bangkok in August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. 3
Brunei joined the association after attaining independence in 1984 and Vietnam became the
seventh ASEAN member in July 1995.4 ASEAN was originally intended to defend against the
spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. Its principal objectives, outlined in the Bangkok
Declaration (1967), were to accelerate economic growth and promote regional peace and
stability. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, ASEAN played an important role in
mediating the civil war in Cambodia. In January 1992, ASEAN members agreed to establish a
free-trade area and to cut tariffs on non-agicultural goods over a 15-year period beginning in
1993. At the Fifth ASEAN Summit Meeting held in Bangkok in December 1995, the
Southeast Asia Non-Nuclear Zone Treaty, which prohibits the use of nuclear weapons by the
member states, was signed.5
In August 1997, the 30th anniversary of ASEAN, the original 7 members of ASEAN
expanded into 10 countries; these included Myanmar, Laos, and in the near future Cambodia.
The economic crisis and the demand to integrate the region have led Laos, Myanmar and
Cambodia to review their foreign policies and they finally decided to join ASEAN. Laos and
Myanmar became the eighth and the ninth ASEAN members respectively in July 1997. 6
Cambodia is expected to join ASEAN as soon as its political situation becomes secure and
stable.7 The implication of the expansion can not be easily determined since the expansion
may create uncertainties and complexities in the region. Once again the prospect of social
instability still exist in this territory. In Indonesia, armed forces are returning to internal
security, while the problems of illegal economic migrants in Malaysia and Thailand also
demonstrate that security problems in Southeast Asia remain for the most part internal. 8 Of
the nine nations in an expanded ASEAN only two can be considered liberal democracies,
those are Thailand and the Philippines.
The existing members of ASEAN hope that the expansion of ASEAN will guarantee
them more reliable future access to market in Indochina and Myanmar and will promote
economic activity in the entire Southeast Asia region. They also anticipate that an expanded
ASEAN will strengthen their diplomatic position to larger nations such as China, the United
States, Japan and Europe and increase their influence within comprehensive organisations
including APEC and the WTO.9 Despite criticisms from the West, ASEAN has expanded its
The aim of this essay is to examine the implication of the expansion of ASEAN for
Southeast Asia security. This essay will first introduce the background of Asian countries
including the overviews of Asia, Southeast Asia, Asian value and ASEAN in action. The
uncertainties and challenges in Asian countries are also briefed. After that, this essay will
examine security issues involving new ASEAN and how the new ASEAN memberships
(Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and also Vietnam) impact on individual member nations of the
association. Finally, it will then consider the regional security issues within Southeast Asia
that involve the new ASEAN, China and the West and how the new ASEAN memberships
affect current ASEAN security arrangements.
Asia is a land of extremes and contrasts. It is the largest and the most populous
continent; similarly, Asia is also home to some of the world's oldest cultures. It has some of
the poorest as well as some of the richest nations in the world. Because of its size, age,
population and rich resources. Asia has long been of great interest to the rest of the world. In
Asia's history, outsiders, principally Europeans, have tried to exploit and control it and its
people. In the 20th century, however, Asia has experienced a great change. Many of the
undeveloped countries of the region are taking various approaches to modernising their
economies and societies, some under Communism. Progress has often been slow because of
physical and cultural barriers, but there have been some notable advances and the efforts to
upgrade the living standards.
Southeast Asia's population of about 421 million is unevenly distributed. 10 Independent
civilizations, such as the Khmer and Thai, had established in the region long before the
colonial rule of the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese was imposed during the
16th and 17th centuries. All of Southeast Asia’s countries were under or influenced by
colonial rule until the ending of World War II. 11 Since independence, these countries have
struggled to develop their natural resources and industries for their national stability and good
living of their people.
Great poverty contrasted with great wealth characterises Asian economies. Some
countries such as, Japan and Singapore have standards of living equal to that of most Western
countries. Other parts, such as Indonesia, Myanmar and Indochina have much lower standards
of living. Many of the people live in poverty. There are great gaps in income levels, with a
relatively small and wealthy group living in luxury and large masses of people who struggle
to survive. One of the most important factors which explains this inequality is probably that
Asian people still depend largely on agriculture for their living. Most Asian countries tend to
be concentrated in a few large cities. The wealth produced by such urban-centered industry
tends not to spread evenly throughout the countries. Asian traditional societies also reluctant
to change customs. In many of the smaller countries, modern industrialised economy is
concentrated in the largest city which is often the national capital. A small proportion of the
people live there but their average income tends to be higher than that of the majority of the
people living in rural areas. Most of the people still work in agriculture. There is little industry
and income levels are low. Most of all, society changes slowly. Because of this gap between
rural areas and the large cities, millions of rural people have been moving from the
countryside to the cities to seek a better life. The rural areas also suffer because most of the
migrants are young men. This trend is one of the major problems facing Asian nations that are
still largely agricultural. Those familiar ways of living still continue and the leaders of each
Asian country have to find suitable ways to modernise their countries yet still maintain their
Asian nations have claimed that their unique Asian value system was responsible for
their rapid growth and change in living conditions. Geography, culture, economy, history and
political structure have created the environment of foreign policy making. These factors
influence the Asian’s leaders’ perceptions of future developments and they run deep. 12
Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia's current Prime Minister
Mahathir Mohamad actively promote the idea that a combination of authoritarianism and
economic liberalism is desirable. They argue that this is the Asian way. They say democracy
and human rights are Western values; Asians have "Asian values."13 By Asian values they
mean that individual rights must be sacrificed to the common good, and the common good is
defined by the leaders whose judgment one defies at one's peril. 14 Asian leader also fear that
the extremes of liberalism, expressed as excessive individualism, may undermine cherished
ways of defining and ordering Asian realities. The 20th century for Asian peoples has been a
process of painful and profitable absorption of western science and technology. Most older
leaders endorse the essentially colonial idea that Asian people are not ready just yet for
democracy. They have to be better educated first, or become wealthier, or be more disciplined
and more virtuous. Singapore is ideally placed because it is compact, wealthy and above all its
leaders seem to be concerned about protecting and reviving Asian values. Lee Kuan Yew has
argued that without the necessary measures to preserve traditional values within a guided
political process, his nation could not have achieved its successful economic performance.
They see the Asian economic crisis as, ‘a defining event of the post Cold War international
order and that the principal concern is whether the resulting political and social upheaval will
lead to international conflict and tension’.15 These Asian’s leaders’ perceptions led arguments
from western countries; however, Asian countries agree that Asian value is the way to survive
their countries and leads to security to the region.
UNCERTAINTIES IN ASIAN COUNTRIES
10. Despite claiming an Asian value to guide the country, a number of countries in the
region are likely to see a change of political regime in the foreseeable future. Some of the
regimes have leaders who have been in power for a substantial period and it is uncertain
whether any change or hand over will be achieved peacefully and without disruption. The
timing of these changes is likely to be critical as they will coincide with economic and social
11. The critical uncertainty resulting from an intolerance of cultural diversity also has the
potential to undermine national unity. Some regional states are ethnically divided, such as
India, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Laos. The tensions, which can arise
from the pressures of various ethnic mixes, religious beliefs, languages and historical
backgrounds, represent critical uncertainties. The aspirations of many of the groups in the
current transition period will present difficult challenges for the maintenance of domestic
political stability and key indicators of the degree and timing of change.
With the current disruption to many regional economies, there is no certainty that the
financial and economic institutional reforms required for growth will be maintained.
Domestic pressures may force some countries to look inward and become protectionist or
isolationist rather than resolutely undertake the reform process. Recently, Malaysia adopted
policies designed to insulate its economy from the international markets. This decision moves
Malaysia away from the open market economy model. External and domestic pressures will
expand. It will be watched with interest by other political elites in the region. Other nations
13. Many nations in the region have overlapping territorial claims. For example, IndiaPakistan, China-Taiwan, North-South Korea, the dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia
over the Sipidan and Ligatan Islands, and the disputes between China and the Philippines,
Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei concerning the Paracel and Spratly Islands. These
disputes are long-standing and there has been little to no progress in resolving them. Instead,
economic growth has been the national and regional focus. It is at least uncertain that this
situation will be maintained in the future.
14. With the signing of the Bangkok Declaration, ASEAN was established on 8 August
1967 in Bangkok. Originally, the founders of the Association were Indonesia, Malaysia,
Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam became the sixth member of
ASEAN on 8 January 1984.17 The Bangkok Declaration established guidelines for ASEAN’s
activities and the aim of the association. In addition, ASEAN’s three main objectives are to
promote the economic, social and cultural development of the region through cooperative
programs; to safeguard the political and economic stability of the region against super power
rivalry; and to serve as a forum for the resolution of intra-regional differences. 18 By
implementing the Asian way of confidence building and conflict management, ASEAN has
survived from war and conflicts in Southeast Asia for thirty years. The way involves the
establishment of a network of meetings and functions, which have successfully increased
dialogue and consequently, decreased probability of conflict.
NEW MEMBERS OF ASEAN
15. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Vietnam was the battleground of an extended war and was
divided. The Vietnam War ended in 1975 and political unity was established the next year
when the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and the Republic of Vietnam in the
south became one nation.19
16. Vietnam has failed to develop into a predominantly commercial nation or became a
major participant in regional trade patterns. After a long period of Indochina War and the
removal of Soviet support in December 1986, Vietnam has had to face many economic
difficulties. The evidence can be seen from the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from
Cambodia in September 1989. The economic difficulties undermined Vietnam’s security so
severely that it had to set up a system of market-driven economic reform or Doi Moi. 20 The
Vietnam Communist Party (VCP) favoured economic liberalisation without becoming a
democracy or risking its stability. After consistently implementing political and economic
reform over many years, Vietnam moved towards ASEAN to further improve its economy
and establish closer regional links.
17. Laos is a landlocked country with most of its natural resources unexploited or
unsurveyed. The overwhelming majority of the people are engaged in subsistence agriculture.
Industry is limited to small plants manufacturing consumer products. During the 1980s the
nation's large annual budget deficit was met by foreign aid, much of it from the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Vietnam. 21 Similar to Vietnam, Laos faced economic
problems before joining ASEAN. Another victim of the Cold War, Laos was drawn into the
Indochina conflict. In 1973, after the Paris Peace Agreement secured US military withdrawal
from Vietnam, Laos’ coalition government with the Laos’ Communist Party was formed. In
1975, after the communist victory in Saigon and Phnom Penh, the Laos communists took full
power. They abolished the monarchy and established the Laos People’s Democratic Republic
under the Laos People’s Revolutionary Party. The Party has ruled the country since then. 22
From 1978 to 1980, a system of centralised physical planning was introduced. However, it
was not successful, and Laos’ economy began to deteriorate. By following closely the Doi
Moi in Vietnam, the new economic mechanism was implemented. Laos moved away from
central planning towards a market-oriented economy.23
18. Myanmar is primarily an agricultural country. More than a half of the working
population is engaged in growing or processing crops. Industrial development, which was
almost nonexistent before World War II (1939-1945), accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s. 24 A
major aim of the government has been to modernise and diversify the economy; consequently,
many private enterprises have been nationalised. With its economic turmoil and its political
instability, the government has made a start in its reforms encouraging economic growth. The
military has ruled Myanmar since 1962. In 1974, the military established a new constitution
which provided only one socialist political party, the Myanmar Socialist Program Party
(BSPP). Under the 1974 constitution, the country's chief executive official is the president;
however, the military controlled both directly and through the BSPP and the state
administration throughout the country at all levels.25 Finally, in 1988, the new military regime,
the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), abandoned socialism and declared
the open market economy policy as a way to capitalism. 26 Joining ASEAN was also a big
step, which led to the regional economic integration, because Myanmar has had little
experience in international organisations, especially at the regional level. As a result,
Myanmar’s economy has started growing consistently.
19. The end of the Cold War opened the way for a negotiated settlement of the seemingly
intractable “Cambodia Problem” with Australia playing a major facilitating role. 27 After
Vietnam withdrew its remaining troops from Cambodia in 1989, followed by the cease-fire
agreement in 1991, Cambodia became more secure a stable. The signing of the Paris Peace
Accords in 1992 placed Cambodia under the temporary administration of the United Nations
Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). In 1993, under UNTAC’s administration, the
general election was held. The result of the election was that Prince Narodom Ranariddh and
Hun Sen became respectively first and second Prime Minister. 28 In 1997, Hun Sen overthrew
Ranariddh after two days of intense fighting in the capital, Phnom Penh. As a result, ASEAN
has postponed Cambodia’s membership.29
ASEAN APPROACH TO REGIONAL SECURITY
20. ASEAN was initially never intended to be established as a multilateral security
organisation. Its role is obviously different from NATO and FPDA. 30 ASEAN increases
individual security of its members through security cooperation. This is not seen as a formal
multilateral security organisation. The end result of ASEAN’s inclusiveness in security
cooperation was the development of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The purpose of
ARF, which held its first meeting in Bangkok in July 1994, is to solve regional security
problems.31 Its strength relies on the principles of non-violence, partnership and dialogues.
Having participants from both ASEAN and non-ASEAN nations, the ARF gradually
formulates ways and means to improve the confidence building measures, preventive
diplomacy and conflict resolution. By using cooperative arrangements, ASEAN maintains
ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM
21. The emergence in the formation of the ARF is to promote regional security, stability
and tranquillity. ARF is seen in the context of keeping the United States within the region;
trying to minimise the role of both China and Japan; and finally using the ARF as a platform
to keep the connection of the ASEAN in South-East Asia. 32 Furthermore, it acts as a shock
absorber against the existing trends within both the global economic and security climate. The
ASEAN sought to ensure that the Western states that were encouraging the development of
the ARF did not undermine the compulsions of the Asian way by instilling in the forum any
major agenda on human rights and democratisation. The ASEAN also sought to extend its
model of conflict prevention to the ARF which would provide the ASEAN a principal role in
the region. The ASEAN's expansion to include Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia
would automatically increase the influence that the ASEAN would enjoy in the ARF, thereby
maintaining the centrality of the ASEAN's position in the ARF.
ASEAN Regional Forum: The Main Objectives
22. The ARF had been instilled with three main objectives: confidence building measures,
preventive diplomacy and the question of non-proliferation and arms control. These three
objectives of the ARF were identified after an assessment of the various problems that
affected the region. The ARF's approach to security cooperation in three categories:
confidence building, preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution. The evolution of the ARF
and the principles upon which it has been founded are identified as the "ASEAN way," which
specifically refers to a unique approach of the ASEAN towards areas of conflict-settlement
and regional cooperation.33 The singleness of the ASEAN way has been emphasised in both
the conduct of inter-state behaviour as well as in the policy relating to decision making where
there is total dependence on the processes of consultation and consensus.
23. The growth of the ASEAN to include Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam also brings with it a
variety of new and more complex issues that will require special attention. 34 The fact that
these states can now come together on a common platform for the resolution and discussion
of security issues in itself is an achievement. Moreover, the ARF has succeeded in bringing to
the forefront various issues relevant to the security concerns in the region. This is different
from the ASEAN, where the question of security did not play a pivotal role because its
political agenda was appeared in a broader economic grouping. It must be stated that the ARF
has managed to broaden the scope of the security dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region. It
remains the only grouping where all the major powers have been represented on a common
stage and have the benefit of interacting in security related issues.
24. ASEAN countries wish to plan their own futures without significant outside
interference. Though ASEAN members try to manage and arrange meetings to maintain
regional peace and security; however, apprehensions do exist: the Taiwan/China dispute,
conventional arms proliferation, the fragile Cambodian peace, the Spratly Islands and Chinese
claims in the South China Sea and the division of Korea. 35 ASEAN countries are doubtful of
using conflict resolution models such as OSCE, EC, and WEU from other areas of the world
to reduce these apprehensions among nations in which cultures differ from those of Europe.
To resolve disputes and addressing security matters, they are more likely to rely upon
ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) even though it is in its beginning.
25. It is obvious in ASEAN perspective that the United States should continue safeguarding
the regional balance of power and ensuring open trade. Because of China's growing military
and economic power, ASEAN prefers that the United States remain engaged as a
counterbalance to China. The United States will most likely continue as the number one
outsider to ASEAN for trade and military power.36
26. Russia is viewed as a declining threat to in the region. Russia's absence as a player in
Southeast Asia has made a great change on the regional security environment. 37 The
unfavourable relationships among Southeast Asian nations built during the Cold War period
are currently being restructured due to the absence of Soviet influence in the region and the
need to enhance the regional economy.
SECURITY ISSUES INVOLVING NEW ASEAN
Human rights issue
27. Richard Nixon’s final words, ‘We must begin by asking ourselves what kind of world
we want now that we have peace. Ideally, all nations should have free economic systems, free
political systems, and an unfailing commitment to social justice and human rights.’ 38, is
probably one of many great influences on the western thought of freedom and human right.
Asian leaders listen to the idea but it is still difficult to abruptly apply to Asian people in the
near future. They believe that human rights and freedom, without understanding and control,
can easily create chaos in the large masses of less educated people. The argument seems not
to be easily ended, base on a different belief; however, it is accepted that human rights and
regional security issues are considerably linked. The worldwide human rights organisation
particularly urged ASEAN members, with backing from the ARF, to step up efforts aimed to
improve the human rights situation in Myanmar and Cambodia. Security problems that affect
the region, especially in Cambodia, North Korea, East Timor, Bougainville and Myanmar, are
commonly human rights violations.
The Economic Crisis and ASEAN States' Security
28. Asia's financial crisis has quickly become a global problem. Its implications exceeded
economic or financial considerations. In fact, the crisis that began with the fall of Thailand's
Baht in 1997 now embraces the entire world and has caused governments to fall in Asia and
Russia. The defense modernisation and arms acquisitions of the past 15 years are now being
significantly cut back. Replacement of obsolete systems is being delayed. Overall,
modernisation has been put on hold as financial resources disappear. However, the region
cannot be considered more stable because of a traditional belief in arm racing, which has
sought to secure each member country’s requirement for protection of national interests.
New ASEAN and old ASEAN
Most common conflicts between the new ASEAN and old ASEAN involve territorial
disputes both on land and offshore. The expansion of maritime territorial as result of the
extension of territorial waters and the exclusive provision of the third United Nations
Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) has resulted in overlapping claims. 39 As a
result, maritime boundary disputes have existed between Thailand and Malaysia, Cambodia
and Vietnam, and Vietnam and Indonesia. In addition, land border disputes have occurred
between Thailand and Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, Thailand and Burma, and Cambodia
and Vietnam. These issues are not expected to become a threat to regional security by
ASEAN members and can be resolved, particularly when Cambodia receives ASEAN
New ASEAN and China
30. The most obvious conflict that involves not only new ASEAN and China but also some
old ASEAN countries and China is the Spratly Islands dispute. It becomes more of a serious
issue between China and Vietnam since both countries lay claims to the entire Spratly Islands.
The dispute has become more complex by several attendant factors such as the seizure of
Mischief Reef, additional Islands in the Spratly group by china in 1995 and the Chinese
legislation of territorial waters law which affirmed the territorial sovereignty over the Spratly
Islands.40 Consequently, even though ASEAN does not see China as a threat, it still poses a
regional security risk if China and the involved ASEAN nations cannot resolve the dispute
New ASEAN and the West
31. The relationship between the new ASEAN and the West can be both favourable and
unfavourable. The favourable relationship is between Vietnam and the West, especially
United States. The unfavourable relationship is between Myanmar and the West.
32. After the end of Cold War, followed by the withdrawal of Vietnam forces from
Cambodia, the relationship between Vietnam and US has been enhanced significantly. The
most outstanding result can be seen from the establishment of the first Vietnamese diplomatic
office in Washington in 1995 and the appointment the first American ambassador to Vietnam
33. The United States can play a major role in shaping the choices by promoting a possible
future of stability, economic openness and prosperity, and political freedom. But ultimately,
the political, economic, and security future of Asia will depend on decisions by the people of
34. The relationship between Myanmar and the West becomes unsettled because of
Myanmar’s human rights issues. The problem is so serious that in 1991, a United States
official told ASEAN foreign ministers in Kuala Lumper that Myanmar was a ‘cancer of
instability’ in the region.42 However, Myanmar became a full member of ASEAN in July
1997 since ASEAN insisted on its policy of non-interference in the international affairs of
other countries. The problem can have some negative effects to the relationship between
ASEAN as a whole and the West and they can not be solved easily.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ASEAN
The New Geostrategic Environment
35. As a result of the addition of four new ASEAN states in the association, Asia faces a
new geostrategic situation. This addition will play a leading role in determining whether
security or insecurity will prevail.43 In additions, the remnants of the Cold War have resulted
in significant changes in the region; especially, the strategic circumstances previously
experienced in ASEAN countries. As a result, uncertainties involving the balance of power
within the region are created.44
With the four new ASEAN members, the organisation will have a considerable
number of its members in the Asian continent. It will also have a direct border with two great
powers. China and India. This will lead ASEAN to embrace a more balanced maritime and
Cohesion or Conflict
Countries in ASEAN are expected to continue to be profoundly preoccupied with
nation building issues in the foreseeable future. The problems will probably rise in those
countries where political and socio-economic situations are poorly developed or are most
unstable. These countries are Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. In the ASEAN
countries, the primary nation–building issues will ensue from ethnic and religious factors and
will also be associated with the process of evolving mature political institutions and systems
for their respective societies. These issues will undoubtedly have repercussions and
complicate bilateral relations which will tend to deteriorate periodically in some specific
38. The other implications come from the distinction between the old ASEAN and the new
ASEAN political systems. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are the communist countries.
Myanmar is the only socialist country which is ruled by the armed forces. ASEAN security
needs will be mainly confidence building measures between the new and old members and
among all members of ASEAN. This task seems to be more difficult as the new members
have different political systems and are not yet familiarised with the ASEAN way. The new
members also add to the list of disputes and sources of suspicion and distrust among the
members. As a result, ASEAN’s achievement at conflict avoidance and conflict management
will be challenged significantly.
39. Because almost all of the Southeast Asian countries are experiencing economic setbacks
together, China’s unimpeded arms buildups appear to be hazardous. If a difference in arms
balances develops over time between the PLA and ASEAN armed forces, China could behave
more boldly in the South China Sea. Offensive military action to occupy largely unpopulated
islets against multiple potential adversaries is one of the classic risks under multipolarity.
40. The Spratly Islands conflict has become a significant issue in the region since it
involves overlapping claims and multiple claimants. It has also created suspicions among the
claimants, especially, Vietnam and China. The solution to this dispute is not easily
determinable and it still creates tension in the region.
41. In their physical and human geography as well as historical experience, the states of
ASEAN comprise a rich diversity characteristic of Southeast Asia. That diversity has given
rise to important differences of strategic perspective and political interest within the
association which have limited its efficiency.
42. Southeast Asian countries have historically resolved disputes through bilateral
agreements. The major multilateral organisation is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN), which advocates "preventive diplomacy" among its members and with surrounding
nations. In Asian countries, security concerns are more traditional, centering on disputes over
resources and territorial boundaries. The formation of ARF will gradually evolve into a
platform for the promotion of regional security, stability and tranquillity.
43. With economic difficulties, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar joined ASEAN in order to
improve their economic situation. Cambodia is also expected to become a member as soon as
its political environment stabilises. The end of the Cold War has altered Asia’s geostrategic
environment. The strategic focus of Southeast Asia is marked by uncertainties, which are
caused by the transition from bipolarity to multipolarity.
44. The relationship between the new ASEAN and the West is both settled and unsettled.
The positive effects can be seen from the establishment of diplomatic relations between
Vietnam and US. On the other hand, Myanmar’s connection to the West is less favourable
due to its human rights issues. Consequently, it may, if it has not already, affect the credibility
of the group in the wider international community.
45. This essay has examined that poorly developed economies and instable governments
amongst ASEAN countries, especially the new members, may affect ASEAN reputation and
progress. Furthermore, it may deteriorate bilateral relations periodically. In addition, the
dissimilarities of ASEAN’s political systems may strain ASEAN cohesion. This will be a
major test for ASEAN as to whether it can build a united environment in the region.
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