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The Introduction Of Asean Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 3948 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok by the five original Member Countries, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam joined on 8 January 1984, Vietnam on 28 July 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on 23 July 1997, and Cambodia on 30 April 1999. The institutions and processes in ASEAN have evolved gradually, building upon member countries’ great diversity – in size, levels of development, natural and human resources, histories, cultures, values and traditions, languages, religions, races, economic and social institutions, and political systems. Taking into account this diversity, ASEAN cooperates voluntarily and on a consensus basis for the common good, with peace and economic, social and cultural development as its primary purposes. This is reflected in the ASEAN Declaration of 8 August 1967:

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“The Association of Southeast Asian Nations represents the collective will of

the nations of Southeast Asia to bind themselves together in friendship and

cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples

and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity”.

It was a short, simply-worded document containing just five articles. It declared the establishment of an Association for Regional Cooperation among the Countries of Southeast Asia to be known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and spelled out the aims and purposes of that Association. These aims and purposes were about cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, technical, educational and other fields, and in the promotion of regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. It stipulated that the Association would be open for participation by all States in the Southeast Asian region subscribing to its aims, principles and purposes. It proclaimed ASEAN as representing “the collective will of the nations of Southeast Asia to bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity.”

ASEAN continues to be a dynamic region despite the economic setbacks caused by the financial crisis of 1997-1998. As ASEAN faces the challenge of achieving sustainable development in the context of today’s increasingly globalized world, it has recognized the need for greater integration and cooperation among member countries. No longer does ASEAN separate financial from commercial and investment concerns, nor the environment and social concerns or science and technology from the demands of economic growth.



Picture from AU ASEAN Community, http://www.asean-community.au.edu/

In 2006, the ASEAN region had a population of about 560 million, a combined gross domestic product of almost US$ 1,100 billion, and a total trade of about US$ 1,400 billion. The diversity of the region is apparent in the fact that the largest country in terms of land area is 2700 times larger than the smallest country; the country with the largest population has 580 times more people than the smallest country; and the richest country has a GDP per capita that is 145 times the poorest country.


As set out in the ASEAN Declaration, the aims and purposes of ASEAN are:

To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations;

To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter;

To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields;

To provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical and administrative spheres;

To collaborate more effectively for the greater utilisation of their agriculture and industries, the expansion of their trade, including the study of the problems of international commodity trade, the improvement of their transportation and communications facilities and the raising of the living standards of their peoples;

To promote Southeast Asian studies; and

To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes, and explore all avenues for even closer cooperation among themselves.


In their relations with one another, the ASEAN Member States have adopted the following fundamental principles, as contained in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) of 1976:

Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations;

The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion;

Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another;

Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner;

Renunciation of the threat or use of force; and

Effective cooperation among themselves.



ASEAN And Sustainable Development

Facing the challenges of achieving sustainable development in the context of today’s increasing globalized world, the ASEAN has recognized the need for greater integration and cooperation among member countries. ASEAN no longer separates financial from commercial and investment concerns, nor the environment and social concerns or science and technology with the demands of economic growth.

In 1997, the Heads of State and Government of ASEAN reaffirmed their commitments to the aims and purposes of the Association through ASEAN Vision 2020, which reflects the desire of ASEAN to pursue a more sustainable path to development as:

“…a clean and green ASEAN with fully established mechanisms for sustainable development to ensure the protection of the region’s environment, the sustainability of its natural resources and the high quality of life of its people”

This vision will be achieved through a series of action plans, which will set strategies and specific activities with measurable targets, outputs, means of implementation and mid-term review mechanisms. The first of such action plans is the Hanoi Plan of Action (HPA) for 1999-2004, adopted during the ASEAN Summit in 1998. The Hanoi Plan of Action (1999-2004) aims to achieve the following objectives:

1. Strengthen macroeconomic and financial cooperation

2. Enhance greater economic and integration

3. Promote science and technology development and develop information technology infrastructure

4. Promote social development and address the social impact of the financial and economic crisis

5. Promote human resource development

6. Protect the environment and promote sustainable development

7. Strengthen regional peace and security

8. Enhance ASEAN’s role as an effective force for peace, justice and moderation in Asia-Pacific

and in the world

9. Promote ASEAN awareness and its standing in the international community

10. Improve ASEAN’s structures and mechanisms

ASEAN Vision 2020 forms the sustainable development framework for the ASEAN member countries to collectively pursue ASEAN’s goals, as set forth in the Vision, by the year 2020. The ASEAN Summit in adopting this Vision decided that the goals of Vision 2020 will be achieved through a series of medium-term action plans, which will set strategies and specific activities with measurable targets and outputs, including means of implementation and mid-term review mechanisms. The first of such action plans, known as the Hanoi Plan of Action (HPA) for the years 1999 to 2004, was adopted by the ASEAN Summit in 1998. ASEAN shares and believes in the global vision for sustainable development and has the commitment and political will for integrating environmental considerations into development planning. ASEAN Vision 2020 and the HPA reflect ASEAN’s responsive integrated policy framework, which weaves together demographic dynamics, social development, economic growth, natural resource use and environmental protection, and other development initiatives.

ASEAN considers its Vision 2020 and the series of medium-term action plans, starting with the Hanoi Plan of Action, as part and parcel of the global effort to plan and implement national and regional sustainable development activities in the Southeast Asian region. It draws heavily upon, and ensures complementarity and synergy with, the Rio Resolutions, Agenda 21 and the various multilateral instruments agreed upon. ASEAN believes that in setting the future sustainable development framework, WSSD should draw upon the lessons, experiences, institutional settings, mechanisms, realities and dynamics of regional inter-governmental frameworks. This report offers that for the Southeast Asian region. It is within this framework that the report highlights ASEAN’s challenges in realizing sustainable development, its efforts in addressing these challenges and its future commitments towards a sustainable Southeast Asia that is able to meet “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987).

ASEAN Initiatives on Sustainable Development

Economic Development Sustained economic growth is key to sustainable development. It provides the means for nations and people to uplift their living standards and have a decent and healthy lifestyle, with adequate housing and education. More importantly, it allows measures to be taken to promote the conservation of natural resources and protection of the environment, which in turn fuels economic growth and sustains life.

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Since Rio 1992, ASEAN has experienced rapid economic growth through industrialization and export-led growth. This enabled ASEAN to move away from resource-based industries to manufacturing and service industries. Since rural communities were able to find jobs in these sectors, this eased the pressure on natural resources and member countries were able to devote more resources to environmental protection. The financial crisis of 1997-1998 set back all that. Poverty and social unrest increased. Member countries inevitably increased the exploitation of their natural resources to sustain their level of income.

Despite the setbacks and turmoil brought about by the financial crisis, the ASEAN is committed more than ever to pursue economic liberalization, promote trade and investment regimes that are increasingly integrated in ASEAN, and open to the rest of the world. Measures undertaken by ASEAN in this direction include the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA) and the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation (AICO) Scheme.

ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)

The 1992 AFTA agreement required the elimination of tariff barriers among the ASEAN member countries with a view to integrating the ASEAN economy into a single production base and creating a regional market of 500 million people. By lowering tariff rates, ASEAN hopes to enhance economic competitiveness and promote cross-border trade and investment in the region.Partly as a result of the implementation of the Agreement on the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) Scheme for the AFTA, trade between ASEAN countries has grown from $44.2 billion in 1993 to $95.2 billion in 2000, representing an average annual increase of 11.6%. One of the desired outcomes of AFTA is the rationalization of industrial production in the region, which is expected to allow for product specialization and thus avoid duplication of expensive production facilities. AFTA was substantially realised in January 2002 with six original member countries cutting their tariff barrier on almost all manufactured and agricultural products between zero and five per cent.

ASEAN’s Integrated Infrastructure Network

Economic integration requires good infrastructure facilities in the region such as regional networks of highways, railways, telecommunications, power grids and water and gas pipelines. ASEAN Vision 2020 calls for the establishment of interconnecting arrangements in the field of energy and utilities for electricity, natural gas and water within ASEAN through the ASEAN Power Grid and a Trans-ASEAN Gas Pipeline and Water Pipeline and the promotion of cooperation in energy efficiency and conservation, as well as the development of new and renewable energy resources.

1. Social Development

ASEAN recognizes that sustainable development is not only about generating wealth but also ensuring its equitable distribution. A decent quality of life for its people requires a high quality environment. The activities of the poor are not the main causes of environmental degradation and yet they are the most affected by it in terms of quality of life and health. A number of factors, including declining productivity, pollution, erosion, natural calamities (such as floods and droughts), depressed commodity prices and the influx of cheap imports, impose formidable challenges to their livelihood. These challenges lead them to exploit natural resources

unsustainably. As a result, it has been necessary for the ASEAN to address two key social development issues, poverty and health and their interrelationships with the environment.


Although poverty levels in the ASEAN have been declining, poverty levels in some of the newer member countries are still considerably high. To address poverty issues, ASEAN Vision 2020 hopes for an ASEAN where hunger, malnutrition, deprivation and poverty are no longer basic problems. A number of measures under the Hanoi Plan of Action are meant to see this vision through, including the Plan of Action on ASEAN Rural Development and Poverty and the ASEAN Plan of Action on Social Safety Nets.

The Framework Plan of Action on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication was adopted in 1997 and defined the following key actions:

• building and/or enhancing capacities for research, assessment and monitoring of poverty in ASEAN countries;

• training of facilitators on rural development and poverty eradication; and

• developing a campaign for enhancing national and regional public awareness on rural develop ment and poverty eradication.

The social impacts of the financial crisis were then addressed by the 1998 ASEAN Action Plan on Social Safety Nets. Priorities in the action plan include:

• targeting and rapid impact assessment methodologies for social programs;

• service delivery and related operational issues;

• role of central and local governments in social safety nets; and

• partnerships in social policy.

2. Sustainable Management of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection

ASEAN’s environment and natural resource endowments are unique and diverse. Forest cover in ASEAN is over 48%, compared to the world average of below 30%. Three of the 17 mega biodiversity countries are in ASEAN. Terrestrial protected areas in the region number 1,014 sites, protecting 418, 000 km2. The region’s aquatic and marine ecosystems are highly productive and species rich. Half a billion people in ASEAN depend on these resources for their livelihood, causing increasing stress on the natural environment. A number of factors have led to natural resource degradation, such as rapid population rise, conversion of forested and ecologically-sensitive areas for agricultural purposes, poverty and damage caused by forest fires and natural disasters.

ASEAN member countries are actively engaged in addressing global environmental issues. Almost all member countries are parties to the relevant major multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). Burdened with the onerous obligations of these MEAs without the promised substantial financial and technical support to implement them, ASEAN is taking a lead in promoting synergy and coordination among these MEAs to overcome institutional and human resources constraints, and at the same time to ensure a holistic and synergistic approach to the issues.

Forest Ecosystems and Biological Diversity

The ASEAN region has a total land area of 4.4 million sq km, most of which were once covered with forests. In the mid-1990s, regional land use patterns were detailed as:

Forest cover and deforestation vary widely across the region. From 1970 to 1990, ASEAN lost 31.4 million hectares of forest, a rate of about 15,700 km2 per year. Deforestation increased by 1990 to 2000, with annual loss estimated at 23,260 km2 a year. Forest certification has been employed to encourage sustainable forest management by promoting trade in forest products from sustainably managed forests. The ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) endorsed the Framework for ASEAN Regional Criteria and Indicators (C&I) for Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests in October 2000. The regional C&I is a guide to developing nation-specific criteria, indicators and standards, which could be used to assess sustainable forest management practices or for timber certification.

3. ASEAN’s Governance and Cooperative Mechanism

ASEAN’s governance mechanism, which has evolved gradually over the years, is now very much institutionalized and cover major sectors such as political, security, economic, social, environment and other functional areas.

The highest decision-making body of ASEAN is the Meeting of the Heads of State and Government or ASEAN Summit held every year. The Annual Meeting of Foreign Ministers, better known as the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) is responsible for the formulation of policy guidelines. The AMM is supported by the ASEAN Standing Committee (ASC) and the Senior Officials Meeting (SOM), while the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) is supported by the Senior Economic Officials Meeting (SEOM) and several working groups. Overall coordination at the national level in each of the ASEAN member countries is undertaken by a dedicated ASEAN department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

4. ASEAN Environmental Management Framework

ASEAN cooperation on the environment started in 1978 with the establishment of an ASEAN Experts Group on the Environment (AEGE), which has since been elevated as the ASEAN Senior Officials on the Environment (ASOEN). The ASOEN is composed of the heads of environmental ministries/departments/agencies that are responsible for environmental matters in their respective countries. The cooperative programmes and projects of ASOEN are guided by the ASEAN Strategic Plan of Action on the Environment (SPAE)1999-2004. The ASOEN reports to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on the Environment (AMME), which is primarily responsible for policy matters related to the environment. At the national level on the other hand, ASEAN member countries have designated specific institutions to implement Agenda 21.


Pro- Arguments

1. ASEAN serves as a regional-cooperation organization between the country members.

1.1 ASEAN has a well-established governance structure for the Southeast Asian region to effectively develop, coordinate and implement regional programs.

1.2 ASEAN also provides the forum to facilitate the development and implementation of integrated regional sustainable development policies, strategies and action plans consistent with the global framework and the needs of member countries.

2. ASEAN has the ability to advance its sustainable development goals and ambitions.

2.1 ASEAN emphasized that existing frameworks for regional inter-governmental governance such as ASEAN should be fully utilized as part of the international governance structure to promote coordinated sustainable development initiatives for that region.

2.2 ASEAN also called upon the Global Environment Facility to enhance its effectiveness by improving its operational procedures and be more responsive to the identified needs of developing countries; and accord priority to regional policies developed within the ASEAN institutional framework.

3. ASEAN has been successful in coordinating its member countries to plan a sustainable development framework in its agenda.

3.1 ASEAN called for declarations and commitments such as those contained in the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21, Millenium Declaration and the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development to be implemented expeditiously.

3.2 ASEAN called for developed countries to fulfill their commitments in financial assistance, technology transfer and capacity building in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

3.3 ASEAN also provides the forum to facilitate the development and implementation of integrated regional sustainable development policies, strategies and action plans consistent with the global framework and the needs of member countries.

• ASEAN called for the further enhancement of the international economic and trading systems to complement the ASEAN’s efforts to open trade and investment in the region, in particular, to improve market access for developing countries’ exports, eliminate trade-distorting subsidies and barriers to trade for agricultural products, and provides special and differential treatment to developing countries. ASEAN expressed its opposition to the use of environmental measures for protectionist purposes.

• ASEAN also called for the strengthening of the international financial architecture, which includes a review of the roles of the international financial institutions as well as international regulatory bodies in order to enhance their capacity to contain and resolve financial crises. Priority should be accorded to measures to protect the poor and most vulnerable segments of society. ASEAN also welcomed efforts to deal comprehensively and effectively with the debt problems of developing countries and to make the management of debt sustainable in the long term.


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