Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Association of Southeast Asian Nations
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a political, economic, and cultural organization of countries located in Southeast Asia. Founded in 1967, its aim is to foster cooperation and mutual assistance among members. The countries meet annually every November in summits.
The current member countries of ASEAN are (north to south):
Papua New Guinea has observer status in the ASEAN.
ASEAN regularly conducts dialogue meetings with other countries and an organization, collectively known as the ASEAN dialogue partners. They are Australia, Canada, the People's Republic of China, North Korea, South Korea, the United States, India, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Russia, and the European Union.
The association includes about 8% of the world's population and in 2003 it had a combined GDP of about US$700 billion (roughly equivalent to South Korea) and this GDP was growing at an average rate of around 4% p.a. The economies of member countries of ASEAN are diverse, although its major products include electronic goods , oil and wood.
The ASEAN countries are culturally diverse and they include the third largest number of English speakers in any other geopolitical entity (after the US and UK), around 50 million, mostly in the Philippines. ASEAN also includes more Muslims than any other geopolitical entity -- about a quarter of a billion, mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia. Other main religions of the various peoples in the region include large numbers of Buddhists and the predominantly Catholic Philippines.
ASEAN has governments with widely differing views on governance and political process, including practices in areas such as suffrage and representation. Government types range from democracy (capitalism) to communism and socialism. The level of corruption in ASEAN governments is also an area with large disparity.
The ASEAN Regional Forum
The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is an informal multilateral dialogue of 23 members that seeks to address security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. The ARF met for the first time in 1994. The members include the 10 member states of the ASEAN, the observer Papua New Guinea, and the 12 ASEAN dialogue partners.
ASEAN was originally formed out of an organization called Maphilindo , an organization consisting of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia in the early 1960s. As such, Maphilindo is considered the predecessor to ASEAN.
ASEAN itself was established on August 8, 1967, when foreign ministers of five countries—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand met at the Thai Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok and signed the ASEAN Declaration (also known as the Bangkok Declaration). The five foreign ministers, considered the organization's Founding Fathers, were Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso R. Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand. The founding fathers envisaged that the organization will eventually encompass all countries in Southeast Asia.
Brunei Darussalam became the sixth member of the ASEAN when it joined on January 7, 1984, barely a week after the country became independent on January 1. It would be a further 11 years before ASEAN expanded from its core six members. Vietnam became the seventh member in 1995, and Laos and Myanmar joined two years later in July 1997. Vietnam would be the first Communist member of ASEAN. Cambodia was to have joined the ASEAN together with Laos and Myanmar, but was deferred due to the country's internal political struggle. Cambodia later joined on April 30, 1999, following the stabilization of its government. Thus was completed the ASEAN-10—the organization of all countries in Southeast Asia.
Treaty of Amity and Cooperation
ASEAN has tried to sign a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with most of its neighbours. One non-signatory is Australia. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has stated in the past that Australia would not rule out a pre-emptive strike to safeguard its own regional security. This in return has created an uproar from a number of ASEAN leaders. As a result, prior to the 2004 summit in Laos, ASEAN leaders have continuously demanded that both Australia and New Zealand sign the treaty. Australia refuses to bend under the pressure while New Zealand is considering signing the treaty. 
All the original ASEAN members signed the treaty during the Bali Summit of 1976. Papua New Guinea agreed to the treaty in 1989. China and India signed in October 2003, Japan and Pakistan signed in 2004.
The treaty was amended in 1987 to include countries outside the region. It was further amended in 1998 to include new members to ASEAN.
The new nation of East Timor, previously part of Indonesia, has had a long struggle with ASEAN. East Timor, during its long process towards independence, has sought to have observer status in the ASEAN, much like Papua New Guinea, and eventually official member status. However, many countries in the ASEAN have barred support for East Timor in the late 1990s in the name of solidarity with Indonesia. Myanmar, in particular, opposed granting observer status to East Timor because of the latter's support for Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Since East Timor's independence in May 2002, the ASEAN has been more accommodating of the new nation. East Timor has already been invited to several ASEAN meetings. However, East Timor is still not an observer nation in the ASEAN.
October 2003 summit
According to the declaration, "an ASEAN Community" would be set upon three pillars, "namely political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation...for the purpose of ensuring durable peace, stability and shared prosperity in the region." The plan envisaged a region with a population of 500 million and annual trade of US$720 billion. Also, a free trade area would be established in the region by 2020. ASEAN's leaders also discussed setting up a security community alongside the economic one, though without any formal military alliance.
During the same meeting, the People's Republic of China and ASEAN have also agreed to work faster toward a mutual trade agreement, which will create the world's most populous market, with 1.7 billion consumers. Japan also signed an agreement pledging to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers with ASEAN members.
November 2004 summit
Prior to the ASEAN summit, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra publicly threatened to walk out of the meeting if any member states raised the issue of the Thai government's handling of the insurgency in south Thailand. He stated "If the topic is raised, I will fly back home" . This is notable since leaders have often shown solidarity with each other over high profile issues such as East Timor and Myanmar's handling of Aung San Suu Kyi. Furthermore, one of the principles on which ASEAN was founded is a stated principle of non-inteference in the internal affairs of other member states. Any tension has been kept from the public view and leaders have avoided confrontational statements in public.
Indonesia (the world's most populous Muslim country) and Malaysia however were particularly vehement in their condemnation over the Thai government's handling of the events in south Thailand with a former Malaysian Prime minister going to the extent of suggesting that the Southern Thai states should be given autonomy power. The Malaysian foreign minister further was quoted as saying that there is no such thing as absolute non-interference. It is thought that Thaksin's statement was made following the Malaysian government's passing of an opposition resolution condemming the Thai government for the death of at least 85 Muslim protestors in south Thailand.
Laotian spokesman Yong Chanthalangsy stated "I think we have a golden rule, that is non-interference in the internal affairs of each other." He added "It is a courtesy among the leaders, among the ministers, that if one of the leaders does not wish to discuss a question, all the leaders will respect it."
Also prior to the 2004 summit, Myanmar has taken steps to rehabilitate itself by releasing up to 9,000 prisoners who were imprisoned under the old junta. Myanmar's new leader General Soe Win will be attending the conference and foreign minister Nyan Wim has already made pre-summit press releases on Myanmar's continuing commitment for the roadmap to democracy.
Myanmar is due to hold the chair of ASEAN in 2006. This however has created criticism from various factions. The US has publicly announced that it might boycott any ASEAN related event as long as Myanmar continues to be the chair.
Apart from the US, various ASEAN lawmakers have called Myanmar's membership to be stripped due to its poor human rights record. 
China signed a trade deal with ASEAN, which further strengthens the trade ties between ASEAN and China. 
- http://www.aseansec.org ASEAN Secretariat - Official website
- http://www.asean.or.jp/eng/general/base/glance2004.html - facts about ASEAN
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