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ASEAN: Association of South East Asian Nations

ASEAN is the most successful model of regional integration in the third world.

ASEAN countries map

Difference in approach of EU and ASEAN

EU is intrusive (it imposes lot of conditionalities) on member countries even in domestic sphere. ASEAN follow ASEAN way. It is based on Panchasheel – Non interference in domestic affairs and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.
EU is supra national, ASEAN is international. EU has introduced qualified majority whereas ASEAN follows consensus based approach.
Both EU and ASEAN are communities. ASEAN has not gone for single currency model, they have currency swap arrangement. In one way ASEAN is more advanced than EU. EU still does not have its charter, ASEAN has its own charter.
However both EU and ASEAN have been the stabilizing forces in their regions.

Comparison between ASEAN and SAARC

Both are examples of the regional integration in third world. If ASEAN is the most advanced example, SAARC is the worst example of regional integration. According to former foreign secretary S Jaishankar, SAARC is a jammed vehicle. According to C Rajamohan, Pakistan is a camel in the caravan of SAARC, which slows down the traffic.

Kishore Mahbubani on ASEAN. (Author of ASEAN MIRACLE)

ASEAN is an example of pragmatic regionalism. Means instead of blindly imitating European Union, ASEAN countries develop their own model as per the situation prevailing in the region. ASEAN went for more flexible, consensus based and informal norms. ASEAN way is slower but politically viable. ASEAN never progressed in linear manner. ASEAN movement has been like a crab, but ASEAN progress is tangible.
In his book ASEAN MIRACLE he has suggested that South East Asia has achieved very high degree of peace and stability. South East Asia is one of the most diverse region. The approximate population is 640 million out of which 240 millions are Muslims, 120 millions are Christians, 150 million Buddhist and millions of Hindus and followers of other religion. Similarly per capita income of Singapore is $ 52,936 and that of Laos is $ 1,353. In terms of size of the population Indonesia is a giant with 261 million people and Brunei is having just a population of 4,50,000.
Even the strategic environment in the region has not been peaceful. Region has been a major theatre of cold war. There have been wars between Vietnam and Cambodia, China and Vietnam, Conflicts between Singapore and Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines, territorial disputes in South China Sea. The region is full of problems from human trafficking to organised crimes.
Academic community was sceptical of success of ASEAN. British historian C A Fisher called the region as ‘Balkans of Asia’. ASEAN defied all scepticism. ASEAN is the 7th largest economy on track to become 4th largest by 2050. Its GDP was $95bn in 1970 which has become $2.5tn in 2014. ASEAN is the 7th largest market, 3rd largest source of labour. ASEAN has strengthened security in the region. ASEAN has been able to establish itself as a community by following the culture of ‘musyawarah’ (consultation) & ‘mufakat‘ (consensus).
EU was once the gold standard whereas ASEAN has become a way of future. ASEAN has not only contributed for the peace and prosperity of its own people but of the entire region in Asia Pacific.

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Milestones in ASEAN

ASEAN started in its preliminary form with Bangkok declaration in 1967. 5 original countries were Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippine & Indonesia.
ASEAN was seen as pro-US block with the exception of Indonesia which was non aligned (NAM), other countries were pro-US. India was invited to become the original member, however India refused because India didn’t want to be a part of pro-US coalition.
* In 1965 India and Pakistan had gone for war.

1971 – ASEAN countries declare ASEAN as a zone of peace, friendship and neutrality. (ZOPFAN) to avoid arms race.
* In the same year, there was a war between India and Pakistan.

1976 – Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC treaty) – All countries will resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner. ASEAN enters into TAC treaty with its partner countries also e.g. India has also signed TAC with ASEAN.
* No such treaty exists among the countries of South Asia.

1976 – Bali Concord 1. The program for social development of ASEAN region.
* No such program for South Asia.

1977 – ASEAN preferential trading arrangement.
* In 1997 i.e. After 20 years, SAARC countries entered into SAPTA. (South Asian Preferential Trading Agreement).

1992 – ASEAN free trade agreement.
* In 2004 SAARC countries agreed to create SAFTA (South Asian FTA) by year 2016, so far it has not materialized.

1994 – ASEAN regional forum. It is ASEAN’s initiative for regional security. This is the only security dialogue platform in Asia which includes North and South Korea, India and Pakistan.

1995 – ASEAN countries declared ASEAN as a nuclear weapon free zone.
* In 1998 India and Pakistan became nuclear weapon states.

1997 – ASEAN adopted vision 2020. They achieved target 5 years earlier, hence the new vision was adopted in 2015.
In 1997 ASEAN free trade agreement in investment.
* No such agreement in South Asia

2007 – ASEAN has adopted ASEAN charter.

2015 – ASEAN declared itself as a community with three pillars – Economic (To develop supply chains), Political and security, Social and cultural.

Overall assessment

Thus ASEAN has been a very successful model of regional integration. Intra-ASEAN trade has gone to 25% of their total trade whereas Intra-SAARC trade has stagnated to 5% of the total trade South Asian countries have with the world.
EU countries have Intra-regional trade of 64% of their total external trade.

Que. Do you think regional trading agreements are challenges to WTO or building blocks?

It can be seen in both ways.
Regional free trade agreements challenge multilateralism because they become preferential arrangements / economic block.
Regional free trade agreements are seen as the building blocks of the globalization. First free trade areas in the region and ultimately global free trade area can emerge.

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Future of ASEAN. Challenges and Opportunities

US China rivalry. Present rivalry is limited to trade war. Trade war will have global ramifications i.e. slowdown of global growth/demand.  It is predicted that there is huge possibility of war between the revisionist power and status-quoist power USA (Thucydides trap).

Effect of UN-China rivalry on ASEAN

ASEAN solidarity is breaking down. Trump’s America first policy creates uncertainty in the minds of its allies. USA’s economic decline also reduces the attraction of other countries towards USA. In such situations, it is natural for ASEAN countries to go for either bandwagoning with China (Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia). Or balancing.  To counter-balance the regional hegemon, some countries of ASEAN region are looking for greater strategic engagement with India.
In the age of multipolarity, there are greater chances of confusion and hence outbreak of wars. The region of South China Sea and Indian Ocean can become a hotspot for the war between India and China.
Besides regional security environment, ASEAN also has some internal issues
1] Regional divide e.g. Singapore is one of the most advanced economies, Myanmar is one of the weakest. 
2] According to IMF report, there are governance challenges which undermine business environment.
3] Some of the families are owning huge enterprises, crony capitalism exists. Similarly in some of the states, there are state controlled enterprises.
4] The problem of corruption and red tapism.
5] There is lack of inclusive growth.
6] Failure to control organized crimes
7] One of the two major challenges in front of ASEAN is how to deal with Rohingya issue. Rohingya issue is one of the spin off of US-China rivalry but more of a India China rivalry. One of the reason for Rohingya crisis is to defeat the Indian initiative of BIMSTEC.

South China Sea dispute. After huge tensions between China and ASEAN countries, as US pressure is increasing, China has changed its approach. China is willing to be more accommodative. Recently China and ASEAN countries have agreed on the text based negotiations with respect to the resolution dispute in South China Sea. China is also taking the initiative of BRI to attract South East Asian countries as infrastructure development connectivity is a serious concern in the region. Thus from more offensive approach, China is getting mellowed down. The experts of international relations always warn against ‘charm offensives’ of the ‘middle kingdom’.

India and ASEAN relations

If there is any region where India punches beyond its weight, it is South East Asia. Look East / Act East proved to be the most successful initiative of South Block. Today India is well placed in the economic architecture as well as the security architecture in the region. India has been inducted into East Asia Summit even before USA and Russia. A lot of credit goes to ASEAN countries in giving such centrality to India in Asia Pacific.

Significance of ASEAN in Asia Pacific.

ASEAN is called as the nucleus of Asia Pacific. ASEAN is also called as the gateway of India to the region. We should not ignore the fact that center of gravity of international politics and economy has shifted in the Asia Pacific region. ASEAN is the best ally of India in the region.

Timeline of India ASEAN relations

1967 – When ASEAN was formed and India was invited to be a part of the initiative, India ignored ASEAN
After the end of cold war, as India lost USSR and opened up its economy, there was no positive environment in immediate neighborhood, India had to look towards the extended neighborhood. If South Asia forms the first mandal, South East Asia and West Asia come in the second concentric circle.

1992 – India became sectoral dialogue partner. Same year Pakistan also became sectoral dialogue partner.
1996 – India became full dialogue partner.
2002 – India’s status was elevated and India became summit level partner.
ASEAN invited India to be a part of all of its initiatives like ASEAN regional forum, East Asia Summit, ADMM+ and RCEP.

2012 – India and ASEAN have become strategic partners. It is to be noted that Pakistan continues to be sectoral dialogue partner.

2010 – India entered into its first and only regional trading agreement with any block.
2015 – India ASEAN free trade agreement in services. Significance. There is huge imbalance in India ASEAN trade, which is tilted towards ASEAN. Inclusion of services will play in bringing the balance in the trade.
In 1990 India ASEAN trade was $9.4bn, In 2014-15 it became $76.53bn. (ASEAN China trade is $452.2bn).

India and ASEAN are also involved in sub regional initiatives like Mekong Ganga Cooperation. India and Thailand are working together for the advancement of CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam), LDCs of the region. (China also has a similar initiative known as GMR – Greater Mekong Region.)
Connectivity is the thrust area. The two major projects involving India are Kaladana Multimodal Transit and Transport Project & India Myanmar Thailand trilateral highway which will pass through Moreh (Manipur), Bagan (Myanmar), Maesot (Thailand).

Mekong Ganga initiative has been India’s strategic initiative to weaken the initiative of China. It was formed in year 2000. The four pillars of cooperation have been education, culture, tourism, transport and communication. However, like all other Indian initiatives, it has also been languishing. Thailand became too disappointed and launched its own initiative (Irrawady-Chao Pharya-Mekong initiative).
Modi govt. has given a new lease of life to the platform. In 2016, a plan of action was adopted to expand cooperation in infrastructure, IT, pharmaceuticals and intermediate goods. India has given $2bn LoC to CMLV countries. Mekong and Ganga are known as civilizational rivers, there is huge influence of India in the region, India should give strategic view to the region which is a land bridge to connect further with South East Asia.

Mekong Delta Map

Test Your Knowledge!

1] Who is the author of the book The ASEAN Miracle?
a) C Rajamohan
b) Kishore Mahbubani
c) Rajiv Sikri
d) S.Jishankar

Show Answer

Ans: b) Kishore Mahbubani

2] Which of the following consists of ASEAN members?
a) China-Indonesia-Laos-Vietnam
b) Thailand-Myanmar-Cambodia-Singapore
c) Malaysia-Brunei-Philipines-Bhutan
d) Vietnam-Indonesia-Laos-Japan

Show Answer

Ans: b) Thailand-Myanmar-Cambodia-Singapore

3] Who called South East ASEAN Region as the Balkan of Asia?
a) C.A.Fisher
b) Winston Churchil
c) S.Jaishankar
d) C.Rajmohan

Show Answer

Ans: a) C.A.Fisher

4] Bangkok Declaration is related to
b) Free Trade

Show Answer

Ans: c) ASEAN

5] Choose the correct option regarding Mekong-Ganga Cooperation. ######
a) India and China
b) India and 5 ASEAN countries
c) SAARC and ASEAN countries

Show Answer

Ans: b) India and 5 ASEAN countries

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