Follow by Email

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Look Back at the ASEAN Declaration (a rewrite)

By Mark Hefner

NOTE: The ASEAN Declaration can be found on the ASEAN website here.

In 1967, I was two years old and only starting to be aware of the world around me. My life was simple, my needs were simple and I was living safely oblivious to the ever changing world around me.

In the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson was president and dealing with the “Long Hot Summer” race riots in the United States while at the same time trying to manage the Vietnam conflict in Southeast Asia that involved China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.

Meanwhile, diplomats of Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia were meeting to solve regional disagreements between the three island nations when they realized only they could solve the problems in Southeast Asia.

ASEAN founders, considering their Southeast Asian similarities and common problems, felt the need to strengthen their existing bonds of regional solidarity and cooperation. Regionally, this was definitively needed. Indochina was a mess as the United States and U.S. allies were trying to eliminate the communist from Vietnam. The Vietnam War was impacting much of mainland Southeast Asia to include Cambodia, Laos and parts of Thailand.

Mistrust was in other places in ASEAN as well. For example, east of Indochina, the Philippines seem to be prospering under the highly controversial Ferdinand Marcos who was just starting out his 21 year reign as their president. The Marcos reign was filled with corruption, nepotism, despotism, political repression and human rights violations (Thanks Wiki). A bit southwest of the Philippines, Indonesia was recovering from a communist purge that took at least 500,000 lives following a failed coup by the 30 September Movement. Malaysia also was struggling with issues that would eventually turn into race riots in 1969 prior to the country prospering. Singapore also was struggling during this time period. At one point, Singapore was part of Malaysia and another point, expelled from Malaysia. Race riots also plagued this tiny island nation. On top of all of these problems in Southeast Asia, influences, such as the USA and China, were trying to pull the local Southeast Asian government's policies in various different directions.

ASEAN’s founding fathers needed to create an environment with which ASEAN members could respond to issues impacting the region. In 1967, this was just a dream. To borrow a phrase from the bible, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Even though they wanted to, the trust and the infrastructure were not in place yet for ASEAN to jointly react to regional trepidations that were already impacting mainland Southeast Asia.

While the task at hand was monumentous, ASEAN realized their cherished ideals of peace, freedom, social justice and economic well-being are best obtained by creating an atmosphere of understanding, good neighborliness and meaningful cooperation among the countries that are already bound together by history and similar culture.  They understood that each country share in the responsibility to strengthen the economic and social stability of the region to ensure peace and their own national development. In addition, ASEAN member states will be on guard to protect the region from any form of external influences that threaten the stability and security in order to preserve their national identities in accordance with the ideals and aspiration of their peoples.

With all of this in mind, the five original founding fathers declared 5 points they felt could be the solution for this troubled region.

The first point was that an Association for Regional Cooperation among the countries of South-East Asia, to be known as ASEAN, is hereby established.

The second point declared there would be 7 Aims and Purposes of ASEAN:
  1. Every country develops at different rates. Some countries, such as Singapore, have developed faster than any country has ever developed while others such as Laos seem to develop at a snail’s pace. The ASEAN forefathers felt that economic growth, social progress, and cultural development would be accelerated if it was done through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership. This in turn would strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of South-East Asian nations.
  2.  If the region was to be at peace and politically stable, there has to be respect for justice and the rule of law between the Southeast Asian countries. ASEAN will also adhere to the 7 principals in Article Two of the United Nations (UN) Charter. Article Two dealt with national sovereignty of individual states, fulfilling their obligations as UN members in accordance with the UN Charter, peaceful dispute resolution, refraining from threats or the use of force against another state, state support the actions of the UN, ensuring that non-UN members act peacefully and restricts the UN from involvement in domestic affairs of individual states unless an individual states actions involve any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.
  3. ASEAN will promote collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields. This would eventually open the doors for all the progress that was made at the summits and ministerial meetings after this event.
  4. ASEAN promised to help each other in the form of training and research facilities in education, professional, technical and admin areas. At this point in time, these areas seem like seeds for the ASEAN University Network ( as well as some of the current agreements they have in trade in services.
  5. ASEAN will collaborate more effectively for the greater utilization of the ASEAN member states agriculture and industries. A benefit of collaboration would be sharing best practices in order to eliminate costs and increase profits. Collaboration also will help to increase trade by, for example, identifying additional markets where to sell their products. ASEAN will also look at problems of international commodity trade. A commodity is a primary product that is either harvested, (such as wheat or corn) or mined (such as gold or silver). Bread from wheat or a ring from gold would be a secondary product. Additionally, improving the logistics involved in moving primary and secondary products from their source to their end users as well as improving communication in member states will also help to raise the living standards of their people.
  6. ASEAN will help to promote South-East Asian studies. Many in Southeast Asia are unaware of their history unless they lived through it. In the USA or Europe, most people can tell you the date their country became a nation. Not in Thailand. However, I'm not sure if this is the case across ASEAN. Those that don’t know their own history are doomed to repeat it. (Edmund Burke)
  7. ASEAN still wanted to work with existing regional and international organizations which also had similar aims and purposes and explore all avenues for even closer cooperation with them. For example, the United Nations, World Trade Organization, or even the European Union all has similar aims and purposes.
The third point said in order to carry out the second point of aims and purposes, the following machinery shall be established:

  • There will be an annual meeting of Foreign Ministers referred to as the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. This became known as the ASEAN Summit which is held by heads of the ASEAN states.
  • There will be a standing committee to carry on the work of ASEAN in between the ASEAN Ministerial Meetings of the foreign ministers. The standing committee will be under the chairmanship of the Foreign Minister who is the host of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting.
  • ASEAN will establish Ad-Hoc Committees (as needed) as well as Permanent Committees and officials on specific subjects (such as tourism).
  • Each ASEAN country will have a National Secretariat to carry out ASEAN duties and responsibilities inside the ASEAN country the National Secretariat represents. The National Secretariat will be responsible for attending all the Annual or Special Meetings of Foreign Ministers, the Standing Committees and any other committees that are hereafter established.
The fourth point made it possible for other countries in Southeast Asia to join ASEAN. Later Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam joined ASEAN. Timor-Leste is under consideration now to join ASEAN.

The fifth point said ASEAN represents the collective will of the nations of South-East Asia to bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity (future generations), the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity.

After this, the document was dated and signed by Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore and thus ASEAN was born.

It’s been almost 47 years since ASEAN was created and much has happened in between then and now. While the time that’s past might seem long, this is still only the beginning. The next 50 to 100 years can possibly see amazing changes in ASEAN as the integration of the region becomes a reality and the dreams of the ASEAN forefathers are realized.

As I was once two years old at the beginning of ASEAN, my ASEAN son will also be two years old at the beginning of the integration of ASEAN in 2015. I can only imagine the future that awaits him and the opportunities he will have because of the ASEAN Declaration. There will always be struggles but the future looks bright as ASEAN brings the hope of a new world in Southeast Asia.

Authors Note: Most of this information is from the ASEAN Declaration which can easily be found on the ASEAN website ( Information on the UN can be found on the UN website. Historical perspective at the time of signing can be found on Wikipedia, the CIA Factbook and multitude of other websites from around the world. Questions concerning this article can be emailed to Mark Hefner at