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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 17 New Delhi April 16, 2016

What were the Main Incentives for Creation of ASEAN?

Friday 15 April 2016

by Shubhra Bhargava

The Association of South-East Asian Nations is an economic and political organisation with ten member-nations. The ASEAN was formed on August 8, 1967. The member-states are: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. The ASEAN was set up with the objective to bring economic, political, cultural and social integration among the nation-states and to settle the differences among them peace-fully. The ASEAN is based on the three pillars, ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

The main incentives behind the creation of the ASEAN were regional peace and stability; economic, political and socio-cultural growth; development and assistance in matters of common interest; better utilisation of resources; raising the standards of living of the people; maintaining peaceful, heathy, beneficial and cooperative relations with other nation-states as well as other international organisations; protecting the member-states from any external threat and providing them with better security.

After the Vietnam War, the ASEAN, during the 1970s, strengthened its economic conditions. And, after the end of the Cold War, in the 1980s the ASEAN greatly practised political indepen-dence and was one of the leading voices in regional trade and security issues. For example, the ASEAN adopted a declaration to resolve disputes in the South China Sea, promoted dialogue on regional security by establishing the ASEAN Regional Forum, extended member-ship to North Korea, and worked to resolve the conflict in East Timor. In 1992, the members reduced intra-regional tariffs and eased restrictions on foreign investment by creating the ASEAN Free Trade Area.1

The ASEAN came up with the purpose of strengthening its position in the international economy. The ASEAN started from a scratch and today if the ASEAN is considered as one entity, it would be the seventh largest economy in the world, with a combined GDP of $ 2.4 trillion in 2013. It is projected to rank as the fourth largest economy by 2050.2 In terms of com-parable international exchange rate, based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), the ASEAN’s GDP in 2012 reached PPP $ 3.62 trillion while the ASEAN’s GDP per capita amounted to PPP $ 5689.3 With such rapid growth the ASEAN in no time will be the hegemony.

The ASEAN has various committees, which include technical, agricultural, socio-cultural etc., headed by the Foreign Ministers, for develop-ment, betterment and prosperity of every sector as well as the nation-states. For the same, the ASEAN organises an annual summit meeting to bring together the heads of states of the member- countries. The first summit was held in Bali, Indonesia in 1976. This summit resulted in the emergence of several industrial projects and the signing of a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and a Declaration of Concord. In the early meetings it was decided that the summit would be held after every five years. In 1992, the leaders decided to meet more frequently and as a consequence the gap got reduced from five to three years. But, in the seventh meeting in 2001, it was decided to meet annually to address the urgent issues and find solutions for them as soon as possible. Other than the summit meetings, the ASEAN also has a few topic-oriented meetings which focus on topics like defence, environment, etc.

The member-states of the ASEAN believe in effective information. A committee was formed in 1978 to promote cooperation pertaining to information: the ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information (COCI). The COCI was established with the motive to promote and establish proper cooperation in information and culture through its various projects and activities. The COCI has collaborated with the ASEAN Media Cooperation during the 11th Conference in Malaysia which connected the ASEAN people and helped in removing disparities among the cultures within the region through both new and tradition media.

The primary objective of any organisation is to increase the literacy rate, educate the people, and spread awareness among them. The ASEAN has always strongly focused on education. Unlike the developing countries, the member-states of the ASEAN maximise their contribution towards public education (mainly primary and secondary) but face tough problems regarding tertiary education. South-East Asia does not possess a backbone with respect to academic salaries and research infrastructure. The ASEAN Education Ministers left no stone unturned in determining the four basic priorities towards education (in the context of the ASEAN): 1. awareness among the citizens; 2. strengthening identity through education; 3. development of human resource in the field of education; and 4. strengthening the university network. The ASEAN is currently running various educational and university network programmes to achieve the desired goals and educate the youth to sustain economic growth.

The leaders of the ASEAN member-states aimed for the ASEAN Vision 2020. This is an idea of integration of 10 member-states of the ASEAN into one nation-state. This Vision will not only ensure social and cultural unity but also strengthen political and economic integrity. The idea of integration will uplift and promote tourism in the ASEAN and thus indirectly help in economic growth and development. As discussed above, the ASEAN integration would give a competitive edge to the education side as well. Besides, the Vision will also help in conserving and preserving the rich cultural heritage of the member-states. This Vision may be a step towards increasing the standard of living by providing job opportunities to the poorer sections of the society. The ASEAN integration keeps “One Vision. One Identity. One Community” as the motive.

Happily, the leaders of the ASEAN are paying attention to the small aspects as well. The ASEAN foreign Ministers launched the ASEAN Communication Master Plan (ACMP) on November 11, 2014. The ASEAN Communication Master Plan (ACMP) provides the framework to communicate messages about the character, structure and overall vision of the ASEAN and the ASEAN community to key audiences including local communities of the ASEAN Member-States (AMS), women and children, youth, governments, businesses, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), influencers, media and global audiences. 4

Not forgetting the issues of common interest, the ASEAN lacks a good power backup or security. Major nations like the US and China are the leading hegemony in every sense (including security); their defence and security are the strong pillars for the nations. The ASEAN is continuously trying to suppress terrorism and attacks, and has also laid urgency on the waterway (South-East China Sea) issue as well.

Looking at different aspects, the ASEAN also tried its best to promote peaceful and healthy relations through sports. The leaders of the ASEAN designed a number of motives for the promotion of sports and their regional culture. Their belief was that sports enhances cooperation and develops a healthy lifestyle. Not only this, it increases the unity among the nation-states within themselves and with other nations too. For them, sports has been a means to execute regional development, peace and stability. They wanted to promote sportsman-ship, competitiveness and excellence in sports at both the regional and international levels.

The ASEAN organises cultural and educational activities as well to integrate the region, for example, the ASEAN University Network, the ASEAN Outstanding Scientist and Technologist Award, etc. The ASEAN is rich in its heritage and colourful cultural diversity. The member- states of the ASEAN help in cooperation and promotion of the above to build an ASEAN identity. The activities that the ASEAN culture includes are: conservation and preservation of cultural heritage, promotion of cultural industry with peace, and showcases of cultural production. To cite some examples, 2009 saw the production of the coffee-table book, Water: A Unifying Force in ASEAN; a workshop that gathered experts from the region to discuss the prevention of illicit transfer and illegal trafficking of cultural properties; a symposium involving ASEAN Museum Directors and their engagement with the community, and the Third Best of the ASEAN Performing Arts series (Singapore production) to raise awareness about the region’s rich and diverse cultures.5

Speaking of every aspect of the ASEAN, it would be wrong if the strength of the Association is ignored from its grassroots. In the words of Dato Ajit Singh, the then Secretary-General of the ASEAN, in his report to the Ministerial Meeting: “The elevation of Functional Cooperation to a higher plane fortifies the dynamic interactions between the three facets of ASEAN cooperation. Put simply, political cooperation brings about peace and stability which makes possible economic development and cooperation which, in turn, brings about progress and prosperity. Functional cooperation provides the means for sharing that prosperity. And shared prosperity brings about conditions conducive to peace.”6 His words clearly portray the functioning and trans-parency in the structure of the working know-how. The basic idea of the leaders of the ASEAN was to unite the citizens and strengthen the soul, identity and sense of communication. The leaders are able to cater to the needs of the organisation as also of the citizens to their maximum. Their rigorous and continuous efforts have brought the ASEAN as an organisation to such great heights; yet a lot more has to be done in various other sectors.

In conclusion, at this point of time it is appropriate to record that the ASEAN group of nations has emerged as an important entity from various points of view. Cooperation amongst these nation-states has helped and will continue to help each other. As individual nation-states it was difficult for each of them separately to keep pace with the fast changing economic environment at the global level. A collaboration amongst them has provided a platform to grow, develop and prosper individually as also collectively.

The leaders of the ASEAN members were firm in their policies regarding the political, economic and socio-cultural aspects. They have One Vision, One Identity, and One Community which enables them to stand strongly against any other nation-state. From the past to the present, from what the ASEAN was to what the ASEAN is, there has been a continually rising growth in every sector and sphere of activity.

Considering the increasing cooperation amongst the ASEAN nation-states and today’s economic scenario, it is understood that by 2050 the ASEAN’s economy shall be the leading economy and may fortunately be the hegemon. It is strongly supported and structured by the ASEAN Economic Community. Foreign affairs and annual summits too play an important role in the efficient working of the ASEAN. Major issues and matters of urgency are discussed among the nations so as to maintain harmony within the region. The ASEAN is successful in establishing cooperative and peaceful external relations with other boundaries as well.

Further, the ASEAN members managed to assemble all the technical know-how so as to realise effective communication. Their strong communication is of special value and importance, it helps in large networking programmes, integrating and connecting the citizens of the ASEAN and also helps the Ministers to exercise their power on the Communication Master Plan. It is a matter of high esteem that the cultural heritage and sport events of the ASEAN are globally recognised. They not only invite tourists but also help in economic, political and social development which facilitates foreign invest-ment. As far as sports is concerned, the only idea behind it is to keep the citizens healthy and bring them closer to each other for the sake of unity. This may in future help towards development of the human capital.

It is often said there are two sides of the same coin; in the same way if we have positive aspects of the ASEAN, we definitely have some negative aspects too. There are two major issues that the ASEAN faces, namely, Education and Security. The ASEAN is still working hard to improve its tertiary education, establish university networks, etc. The ASEAN in a few coming years may increase the salaries of the research scholars, provide them with better infrastructure and establish universities for the same. As far as the security issues are concerned, these are in an alarming state for the ASEAN to ponder over the problem. Nonetheless, the ASEAN is engaged in continuous efforts to suppress terrorism and enhance security. It is high time the ASEAN takes efficient steps with regard to the South-East China Sea issue. It should take proper action to resolve the anti-industrialisation problem in the Philippines caused due to globalisation.

As of now, if the ASEAN is analysed in the proper perspective, it is the most successful organisation among the developing nations till date. It follows utilitarianism. The ASEAN is confident enough to resolve its problems and emerge as one of the principal multilateral organisations by 2050.


Moon, Chung-in, ‘Asean International Organisation’, appearing at

Vinayak, H.V., Fraser Thompson, and Oliver Tonby. May 2014, ‘Understanding ASEAN: Seven Things You Need to Know’, appearing at

ASEAN Secretariat News. October 21, 2013, ‘Asean GDP remains robust, backed by services’, appearing at

Asean Organisation. November 11,2014, ‘Asean Communi-cation Master Plan: A Community of Opportunities’, Asean Publication, Publication Print, appearing at


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Shubhra Bhargava is currently a student of MA Final Year (Economics), Banasthali University, Rajasthan.

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