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  • The Expansion of ASEAN and the Changing Dynamics of southeast Asia
  • R.M. Marty M. Natalegawa (bio)

The contributions ASEAN has made to Southeast Asia over the past five decades have been nothing short of transformative.

First, ASEAN has been critical in transforming the nature and dynamics of relations among the countries of Southeast Asia, helping to build "strategic trust" where once "trust deficits" and even open conflict abounded. Second, ASEAN has been invaluable in transforming the countries of Southeast Asia from being "pawns" and the objects of the Great Powers' direct and indirect "proxy" rivalries, to being in the "driving seat" in shaping and moulding the region's political-security and economic architecture. Third, and often least recognized, ASEAN has promoted a more people-centred and people-oriented outlook.

While it is possible to disaggregate ASEAN's three-level contributions, in practice they are interrelated. They are either positively reinforcing—a virtuous cycle—or negatively impacting on one another—a vicious cycle—depending on the adroitness of regional policymakers in promoting synergy or "equilibrium" among demands which are sometimes appear to be in conflict with one another. [End Page 232]

Thus, for example, the transformation that ASEAN has made possible in relations among Southeast Asian countries has had positive "multiplier effects" in the other two domains identified above. The cohesion and unity among Southeast Asian states have been prerequisites for ASEAN's "centrality" in the wider Asia-Pacific region. Similarly, the decades of peace and stability that the countries of Southeast Asia have enjoyed have been sine qua non for economic development.

From the vantage point of August 2017, when differing views on the South China Sea have at times scuppered ASEAN's consensus on the dispute, and the slow pace of community-building has been a constant reminder of the diversity of views and interests prevalent within ASEAN, it is all too common to lament the expansion of ASEAN from five to ten members1 on ASEAN's consensus-based decision-making. Indeed, in the face of diplomatic deadlocks, it has become increasingly common to question the continuing efficacy of consensus-based decision-making.

However, such views fail to fully appreciate the groundbreaking and transformative nature of the ASEAN project when it was conceived in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, and its subsequent expansion to include Brunei Darussalam (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), Myanmar (1997) and Cambodia (1999)—the latter four known collectively as the CLMV countries.

Prior to the establishment of ASEAN, Southeast Asia was notable for the absence of a durable region-wide organization. The 1954 Southeast Asia Treaty Organization was notable for having more non-Southeast Asian states than Southeast Asian countries,2 while both the 1963 MAPHLINDO3 and the 1961 Association of Southeast Asia4 proved short-lived.

More than the matter of inclusive membership, however, it is important to recognize the "dynamics-changing" contribution of ASEAN's establishment and its subsequent expansion on relations among Southeast Asian countries.

The hitherto conflict-ridden relations between the founding members of ASEAN were gradually transformed through the conversion of trust deficits to strategic trust. Step-by-step, the countries of the then nascent ASEAN—albeit each for its own unique reasons and motivations—began a process of trust and confidence-building, and to place at the forefront conflict prevention, management and even, resolution, mindsets.

Although intractable differences remained, the ASEAN members demonstrated increasing readiness to manage them in the interests of [End Page 233] the region as a whole, without prejudice or without abandoning each other's principled positions. This dynamics-changing contribution of ASEAN's establishment owed much to the policies of the founding members. At the same time, however, like regions elsewhere, a "conditions-conducive" for the development of effective regionalism in Southeast Asia has been the exertion of "positive" leadership by its largest member, Indonesia.

Hence, the birth of ASEAN in 1967 coincided with the fundamental shift in Indonesia's regional policies and outlook post-1965 that jettisoned the previous confrontational foreign policy. Indonesia's regional outlook has had a direct bearing on the region's fortunes: negatively and positively. Indonesia's adoption of ASEAN as the cornerstone...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1793-284X
Print ISSN
0129-797X
Pages
pp. 232-238
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-23
Open Access
No
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