The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)


Written by Martin Russell

ASEAN: building an Economic Community © MasterLu / Fotolia

The Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) has long been one of the developing world’s most active regional organisations. Set up in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, it has — like the EU —helped to bring stability to a formerly turbulent region. Successive enlargements have added Brunei, former Cold War adversaries Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and —most recently — Myanmar.

However, in contrast to the EU, ASEAN remains a mostly intergovernmental organisation. Decisions are non-binding, taken by national leaders at annual summits, based on the principles of consensus and non-interference in domestic affairs. ASEAN has no equivalent of the EU’s strong supranational institutions such as the European Commission. Partly because of this, progress towards regional integration has been slow.

After criticism of its weak response to the 1997 Asian financial crisis, ASEAN decided to step up cooperation. Its…

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