Unpacking ASEAN Neutrality: The Quest for Autonomy and Impartiality in Southeast Asia
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 40, Number 3, December 2018
- pp. 349-370
- Additional Information
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has preferred to avoid entanglement in Great Power competition since its inception in 1967. The 1971 Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) Declaration captured ASEAN's aspiration to keep Southeast Asia neutral and free of external interference. ZOPFAN accommodated divergent strategic outlooks within ASEAN while avoiding the legalities associated with the concept of neutrality. While no consensus was ever reached on ZOPFAN's specific application, neutrality is continually mentioned as a critical factor in ASEAN's success. The article argues that ASEAN neutrality is defined by impartiality and autonomy, and that this concept has evolved over time as its specific meaning has changed due to shifting geopolitical circumstances. At the organization's inception, and during the bipolarity of the Cold War, ASEAN's focus was on autonomy. However, since the early 2000s, the emphasis has evolved to impartiality due to increasing multipolarity in the Asia-Pacific region. The concept of neutrality has been tested in recent years with the intensification of the South China Sea dispute.