Frequently asked questions about ASEAN- Back to basics

by admin on March 13, 2009

in ASEAN, Blog

I read this before and I find this extremely interesting and helpful for beginners to know what is ASEAN all about. The following are some of the frequently asked questions about the association. Going back to the basics is kind of fun. Hope I did not missed out anything. Do drop me a note or comment if I miss something. Cheers.

When Asean was found? Asean was founded on 8 August 1967 with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The document had five preambular and dive operative paragraphs. The five founding countries were represented by Adam Malik, Presidium Minister for Political affairs and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia; Tun Abdul Razak, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Defence and Minister for national Development of Malaysia, Narciso Ramos, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, S. Rajaratnam, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore and Thanat Kohman, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand.

What is the gist of the Bangkok Declaration? The Bangkok Declaration laid down severn “aim and purposes” for the association: 1) Economic growth, social progress, and cultural development; 2) Regional peace an stability; 3) economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative collaboration; 4) mutual assistance in training and research; 5) Collaboration in agriculture and industry; trade, transportation and communications and the improvement of living standards; 6) Promotion of Southeast Asian Studies; 7) Cooperation with regional and international organizations..

What have been the most important accomplishments of Asean? By establishing and adhering to norms for inter-state relations, forming networks of cooperation among leading policy makers, and developing a regional consciousness among increasing members of Southeast Asians, Assean has contributed to the prevention of conflicts in the region. No two asean members have ever gone to war with each other. Indeed, war has become all but unthinkable among Asean countries. Asean has succeeded in keeping the major powers engaged in Southeast Asia large thorough the system of Dialogue Partnerships, the Asean Regional Forum, the Asean plus three process and the East Asia Summit.

Why are Asean countries committed not to interfere in one another’s internal affairs? The policy of non-interference in countries’ internal affairs is neither the invention nor the monopoly of Asean. This principle dates back to as early as the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which established the notion of the sovereignty of the nation-state. It is enshrined in resolution of the United Nations General Assembly and in the constituent acts of regional associations. It underpins the entire inter-state system. However, when Asean decline to do something about a problem internal to one of its members, it does so not because of a rigid adherence to some doctrine but out of self-interest—no member would like others to interfere in its own affairs—or out of the realistic recognition that many internal problems cannot be solved b measures imposed from outside.

What is the Asean stance on human rights? The Asean position on human rights can be found in the Joint Communique of the July 1993 Asean Ministerial Meeting: “The Foreign Ministers welcomed the international consensus achieved during the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, 14-25 June 1993, and reaffirmed Asean’s commitment to and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as set out in the Vienna Declaration of 25 June 1993. They stressed that human rights are interrelated and indivisible comprising civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. These rights are of equal importance. They should be addressed in a balanced and integrated manner and protected and promoted with due regard for specific cultural, social, economic and political circumstances. They emphasized that the promotion and protection of human rights should not be politicised. The Foreign Ministers agreed that Asean should coordinate a common approach on human rights and actively participate and contribute to the application, promotion and protection of human rights. They noted that the UN Charter had place the question of universal observance and promotion of human rights within the context of international cooperation. They stressed that development in an inalienable right and that the use of human rights as a conditionality for economic cooperation and development assistance is detrimental to international cooperation and could undermine an international consensus on human rights. They emphasized that the protection and promotion of human rihts in the international community should take cognizance of the principles of respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states. They were convinced that freedom, progress and national stability are promoted by a balance between the rights of the individual and those of the community, through which many individual rights are realized, as provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

What is the Asean stance on Burma (Myanmar) issue? Asean has been urging Burma to step up the pace of the process of national reconciliation and dialogue among all concerned parties, and thus bring the country onto the path of democratic rule. Asena has called on Burma to release those in detention, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. However, Asean does not favour economic embargoes and boycotts to bring about change in the internal situation in that country, considering such measures to be ineffective, counter-productive and harmful to the people of Myanmar.

Is Asean a military alliance? Having no common enemies, actual or potential, Asean is not a military alliance or a defence pact, although individual members are free to enter into military arrangements with other countries provided that they do not threaten the security of neighbors. Nevertheless, for many years, defence ministers, armed forces chiefs, and the head of the military services and intelligence agencies have been in close contact with another. Security and defence officials take part in the Asean Region Forum. Regional armed forces units have been increasing their cooperation in such civil endeavors as disaster relief and search and rescue. Security authorities have been cooperating in anti-terrorism efforts. In May 2006, a new Asean defence ministers’ forum convened its inaugural meeting. This week, Thailand also hosts the Asean defence ministers’ forum in Pattaya. As an association, Asean does not conduct peacekeeping operations. However, several of its members take part in the UN peace keeping operations.

What is the value of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in southeast Asia? Signed by the heads of government of the Asean member-states on 24 February 1976, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia lays down the basic principles for inter-state relations in the region: 1) Respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identify of all nations; 2) Freedom from external interference, subversions or coercion; 3) Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another; 4) the peaceful settlement of dispute; 5) Renunciation of the threat or use of forces; 5) effective cooperation among themselves. As of today, there are 16 countries and one grouping have acceded to the treaty. The US has indicated that it will do so in the future.

What is Asean doing to increase jobs and poverty in Southeast Asia? Stimulating economic growth, increasing jobs and reduce poverty are primarily the responsibility of individual countries. However, Asean cooperates in this vital endeavor in several ways. One is by significantly contributing to peace and stability in the region, without which investments are discouraged, economic developement is retarded, and lives and livelihoods are disrupted. Asean has laid the foundations for regional economic integration, through which investors can be attracted by the prospect of a large regional market. Asean countries also learn form on another in matters like vocational training for young people in sill needed by a modern economy.

How are Asean decisions made? Normally, and like most other regional associations of sovereign states, Asean decides b consensus and not by taking a vote. This does not necessarily mean that every decision has to be categorically and explicitly supported by everyone of the member state. It means that no member opposes the decision strong enough to directly register its objection. In such a process, no member-state would feel “defeated” by a decision. In some cases, some Asean agreements go into effect without the ratification of all the signatories. The Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone treaty required only seven ratifications to enter into force. The Asean agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution needed only six ratifications to become effective. Some Asean projects go forward on the basis of the Asean minus X or two plus X formula; that is, two or more members—not necessarily all—may go ahead and engage in a cooperative project, which is open to the participation of the others when they are ready.

(Adapted from Know Your Asean, published by ISEA, Singapore 2007)

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