Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a pan-regional association founded in 1967 with the aim of supporting economic, social and cultural development among its members and throughout the Southeast Asian region as a whole. The organization began with five founding members: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand but has grown over the past 40 years to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, with Cambodia being the most recent to join (in April of 1999). ASEAN also has a single candidate state, Timor-Leste or East Timor, and an observer state (Papua New Guinea, since 1976).

ASEAN is very strong and organized, having its own flag, athletic games and a host of associated groupings such as the ASEAN Plus Three, East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. The latter has 26 members, including Canada, the United States and even the European Union.

With its emphasis on regional solidarity and peace, ASEAN has occasionally had disagreements with the United States over policy towards Myanmar. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar joined ASEAN on July 23, 1997 and has been ostracized by many nations due to its repressive domestic political policies. The United States has pressured ASEAN to use its economic clout to influence Myanmar to moderate its policies, but these efforts have been mainly rebuffed. In the opinion of many geopolitical scholars, ASEAN serves as a necessary counterbalance between the influences of the United States and China, and seeks to maintain a united front in order to protect the interests of its member states.

The combined population of the ASEAN region is approximately 500 million, distributed across a far-flung continental, peninsular and island area of 1.75 million square miles. The combined GDP of the ASEAN nations is nearly US$700 billion with a total annual trade of about US$850 billion.

On the 30th anniversary of the organization in 1997, the participating ASEAN nations announced ASEAN Vision 2020, a far-seeing plan that would seek to strengthen the economic, social and security bonds between member nations. This led directly to the 2003 resolution that recommended the establishment of an ASEAN Community modeled on the European Community, even down to the formation of “three pillars”: an ASEAN Economic Community, an ASEAN Security Community and an ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

It is very likely that with the continuing growth of China as a major economic and military power, the member nations of ASEAN will continue to work more closely with each other into the future.

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