Written by Dr. Cape
Apart from Europe, Southeast Asia has demonstrated the most notable integrative development. It was in 1967 that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded by five countries in the region, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It was expanded in 1984 with the participation of Brunei. In the post-Cold War period, the group expanded with the new members of four Indochinese states – Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
The following essay reviews the history of ASEAN as an inter-governmental group whose functional and institutional capacities have greatly evolved over time. The essay specifically recounts its experiences and achievements at the time of some of the memorable milestone events.
Background Essay 1: Institutional History of ASEAN
Birth of ASEAN-5 (1967) and its membership growth
IN 1967, ASEAN – often known as ASEAN-5 – replaced the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) of Thailand, the Philippines and the Federation of Malaya. This was around the time when the involvement of the United States (US) in the Vietnam War was peaking.
The new group formed a regional security community of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Later several others in the region joined: Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), Myanmar (1997) and Cambodia (1999), thereby creating ASEAN-10. Presently, ASEAN has two regional observer members: East Timor and Papua New Guinea.
Initial Motivation to Create ASEAN-5
The most crucial motivation behind creating this group, was the prevention of regional conflicts in the midst of the Cold War. The significant concern shared by its initial ASEAN members was that their mishandlings of conflicts – for instance, border clashes – would likely invite external intervention and further exacerbate intra-regional tension. In these years, ASEAN members cohesion was built on their common fear of communism, rather than their common historical experience of exploitation by Western imperial powers.
ASEAN regionalism was a defensive wall to discourage encroachment from extra-regional sources, thereby nurturing the members’ national integrity. Then, the founders did not perceive any need for a supranational institution for their association, given that their cooperation would be pursued in an “ASEAN way”, based on consultations, consensual decision-making and flexibility. They anticipated economic cooperation among themselves, but again, the association operated to deal with their political and security concerns.
China Issue (the early 1970s)
US President Nixon’s announcement in July 1971 of impending visit to Beijing symbolized the beginning of new global politics. The rapid US-China rapprochement brought forth the US pressure to ASEAN members to soften their diplomatic attitude to China. In October 1971, the UN General Assembly accepted Beijing’s claim to China’s seat in the UN. The Philippines acquiesced in the interest of its American alliance; similarly, Malaysia and Singapore voted in favour of Beijing over Taipei; however, Thailand and Indonesia abstained.
In November 1971, ASEAN disclosed the declaration of ZOPFAN (Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality), with a campaign of neutralizing Southeast Asia free of interference of external powers. It was a compromise of different views of ASEAN members’ foreign policy, allowing the Philippines and Thailand to maintain their bilateral alliances with the US, while endorsing aspiration of the neutrality of the region by Indonesia and Malaysia.
Events in Indochinese states (1970s) and Geopolitical Consequences
Various events in the 1970s in Indochinese states – most of all, Vietnam and Cambodia – greatly affected the security environment of ASEAN. The US defeat in Vietnam in 1975 in particular raised doubts about the country’s residual security role in Southeast Asia. In 1974, Malaysia became the first ASEAN member to recognize China. Thailand and the Philippines followed suit in the following year.
First ASEAN Summit (1976)
In February 1976, the ASEAN leaders held their first summit, emphasizing that their association would uphold the maintenance of internal security and regional order as their common primary goals. Thus, they re-affirmed the principles of mutual respect, non-interference, and peaceful settlement of differences. It held out the prospect of the socialist Indochinese states becoming associated with ASEAN through a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.
AEASN & Vietnam’s Emergence (late 1970s)
Immediately after the formation of an alliance with Soviet Union (USSR) in 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia (then known as Democratic Kampuchea). Vietnam then overthrew the genocidal Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot which had enjoyed Beijing’s backing, and installed a government of their own choosing in Phnom Penh.
ASEAN Discord – Thailand vs the Rest – toward Vietnam (1980s)
Thailand – a frontline state sharing much of its border with Cambodia – viewed that an independent Cambodia should stand as a neutral buffer against Vietnam. However, Thailand’s attempt to shape ASEAN’s response to Vietnam’s actions failed. Seeing Vietnam as a buffer to prevent Indochina from becoming part of a Chinese sphere of influence, the other ASEAN members were unwilling to condemn Vietnam though rejecting the legitimacy of the new Cambodian regime.
Thailand forged in effect an alliance with China – along with its existing one with the US – that emboldened it to confront Vietnam. It helped China to assist the remnant Khmer Rouge and other resistance forces lodged in sanctuaries along the porous border with Cambodia. In 1979, China launched a punitive attack on Vietnam, and moved conventional forces to the border with the USSR.
Nevertheless, at the United Nations (UN), the ASEAN members strategically aligned with the US and China in order to effectively orchestrate the diplomatic strategy of isolating Vietnam.
The Paris Peace Settlement for Cambodia (1991)
Cold War geopolitics dramatically subdued in Southeast Asia with the USSR’s policy of rapprochement with the West as well as China. The cession of its aid to Vietnam led to the country’s withdrawal from Cambodia and ultimately made possible the Paris Peace Settlement in 1991. The ASEAN members – by then ASEAN-6 with Brunei (1984) – were left to figure out how they to deal with the remaining two great powers – the US and China – with an impact on regional security.
The resolution of the Cambodian crisis left ASEAN without a clear rationale since this issue had dominated the group throughout the 1980s. The group’s search for a new role was further complicated by the transformed security environment following the end of the Cold War. The fluid nature of the regional environment was expected to create a power vacuum that Japan and China might attempt to fill as the US drew down its presence.
In the early 1990s, the ASEAN members began debates about which countries should be their principal, extra-regional partners for advancing economic cooperation. In December 1990, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia proposed an East Asian Economic Grouping (EAEG), encompassing ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea. The ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) meeting in October 1991, however, did not endorse the project, and subsequently Mahathir modified it into a water-down version of an East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC).
Arguably, Mahathir’s regionalism proposal did not take off as it failed to meet fundamental foreign policy tenets of some of the ASEAN members, particularly those that questioned strategic ramifications of excluding the US in the proposed grouping/caucus.
In 1992, the ASEAN members reaffirmed to establish an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA).
Meanwhile, other steps were taken in response to the creation of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which had been formed in 1989 on the principle of open regionalism. APEC was not to involve any distinctive regional identities so much as the drive of the “non-Asian States” of the region to consolidate links with the “open market-oriented economies” of East Asia.
In 2003, the ASEAN member states agreed to strengthen ASEAN’s institutional arrangements with new formal dispute settlement mechanisms. The role of the secretariat was also reinforced with an increased institutional involvement of the business sector.
In the context of Vietnam’s withdrawal from Cambodia and the end of the Cold War, a succession of proposals culminated in the creation of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), an institutionalized security dialogue, came into effect in 1994. Its aim was to pursue confidence-building measures, preventive diplomacy, and eventually conflict resolution.
ASEAN-10 Formation (1999)
The expansion of the ASEAN membership with four Indochinese states – Vietnam (1995), Laos and Myanmar (1997) and Cambodia (1999) – meant that the Association’s long-term goal of representing one Southeast Asia. However, some observers came to question the dwindling internal cohesion of its members. Indeed, the new members brought new problems to the Association, which tested the group’s problem-solving capacity. Thus ASEAN-10 renewed the collective efforts to revitalize the group and enhance its credibility at home and abroad.
ASEAN Community (2003) and ASEAN Charter (2007)
In 2003, ASEAN unveiled a proposal to form an ASEAN Community by 2020, which brought forward to 2015. Regional community building stands on three pillars: the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Security Community (ASC) and the ASEAN Socio-cultural Community (ASCC). The Community is expected to be supported by the ASEAN Charter, which was intended to transform the group into a rules-based organization to ensure more effective cooperation.
The Charter formally articulates a set of progressive domestic government norms, such as democratization, human rights and the rule of law. Yet, it is questionable whether these goals are comparable if ASEAN members refuse to surrender their long-cherished principle of non-interference.
This essay reviews Japan’s historic relations with ASEAN as an inter-governmental group. The essay specifically recounts some of the relevant milestone events in Japan’s foreign policy toward Southeast Asia. It should be noted that much of Japan-ASEAN relations in the recent past are due to private sector initiatives (such as trade and investment) and official initiatives (such as diplomatic relations) from Japan.
Background Essay 2: History of Japan’s Relations with ASEAN
Japan’s Diplomatic Position in the 1950s and 1960s
Soon after regaining its independence in 1952, Japan began its efforts to reestablish amiable diplomatic relations with countries in Southeast Asia. However, the legacy of painful wartime memories remained still fresh in the region, and Japan restrained its own freedom so as not to undermine the geo-strategic interests of the United States (US) in the region.
Japan’s Diplomatic Position toward ASEAN (late 1960s)
ASEAN – often known as ASEAN-5 – came to exist in 1967 as a security community intended to mitigate intra-regional disputes. Japan worried that this new regional community would negatively affect its own security and economic interest in the region. Specifically, its government, particularly the Foreign Ministry, was concerned with Malaysia’s proposal for a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) – an offshoot of the Third World’s “Non-Aligned Movement” – which appeared to clash its own policy of adhering to the security alliance with the US. Similarly, MITI (the Ministry of International Trade and Industry) was anxious that ASEAN might turn into an economic bloc that would exclude Japan and the US.
In any case, some quarters within the Japanese government, including the Ministry of Finance, were eager to establish a multilateral development bank for Asia – the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – in order to mobilize its finance for development projects, particularly economic infrastructure – electricity supply and electrification, highways, railways, seaports and airports – in Southeast Asia. (Seemingly, Japan replicated the US initiative in 1959 for the Western hemisphere, i.e., the creation of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for financing development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.)
Anti-Japanese Demonstration (early 1970s)
From the mid-1960s to early 1970s, Japan’s economic advancement into Southeast Asia – marked by its exploitation of the region’s natural resources, export of cheap consumer products, and supplanting the US as the chief investors and trade partner – gave the country the image of an “economic animal”. This sparked off popular campaigns in the region of boycotting Japanese products, and even anti-Japanese riots.
ASEAN-Japan Forum (1973-)
Starting with dialogue with ASEAN members, Japan formalized its relations with the Association, by convening the ASEAN-Japan Forum in 1973. As follow-up actions, many ASEAN-Japan dialogue bodies were established, such as the ASEAN-Japan Forum (1977), ASEAN-Japan Foreign Ministers Conference (1978), and ASEAN-Japan Economic Ministers Conference (1979).
Fukuda Doctrine (1977-)
During the 1977 ASEAN Summit, Japan’s Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, who was invited to the meeting, revealed his country’s new ASEAN policy, dubbed later as the Fukuda Doctrine. This was Japan’s official stance of creating a more equal relationship vis-à-vis ASEAN members, emphasizing better and sympathetic understanding of economic, social and cultural issues, with the commitment to eschewing any military role in the region, thereby contributing to the region’s peace and prosperity. Needless to say, the Fukuda Doctrine was accompanied with official aid.
Japan’s Reaction to Cambodian Crisis (1970s-)
From the late 1970s, Japan’s ODA reflected the geo-strategic priority of disbursing its aid to, most of all, those US allies and countries bordering on the areas of conflict. Reacting Vietnam’s invasion into Cambodia in December 1978, Japan right away severed all aid to Vietnam. Japan continued to express its support for ASEAN opposition to the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.
More broadly, Japan viewed that Malaysia and Singapore should deserve aid for their control of the Strait of Malacca; Thailand should also receive large amounts of aid because of its status as a front-line state facing its troubled Cambodia. As noted above, Japan’s aid to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand was to promote their economic infrastructure thereby forming the foundation for relocation of Japanese export manufacturers and the development of regional production networks.
Japan’s Industrial Relocation to Southeast Asia (late 1980s)
Since the mid-1980s many Japanese firms have pushed ASEAN members to integrate their economies, where their investment – and the resulting development of the manufacturing sector – started to solidify production networks. Indeed, such regional development was a significant factor in promoting positive feedback toward ASEAN, thereby increasing the Association’s durability.
Vietnam’s Withdrawal Announcement from Cambodia (1988)
The strategic rapprochement between the USSR, China and the US was a global factor that induced Vietnam’s announcement of 1988 of withdrawing its forces from Cambodia. The reduced local tension also lowered barriers to Japan’s activities with both ASEAN members and non-members in East Asia, and began to enhance its freedom to deepen ties with the region politically and economically.
Japan’s Contribution to UNTAC
It was the global cooling-down of Cold War tension considerably that eased the task of resolving the Cambodian issue. Japan also contributed to the process of building a peace agreement by hosting the June 1990 Tokyo Conference for Cambodia, which was followed by its large financial contributions to the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).
ASEAN’s growing acceptance of Japan’s political role in Southeast Asian affairs, and its efforts to overcome of impediments emanated from its colonial past, were demonstrated by the general support for the dispatch of its Self-Defense Force (SDF) to peace-keeping operation (PKO) in Cambodia between 1992 and 1993.
Formation of ASEAN-10 (1999-)
Japan’s long-term efforts to achieve the integration of the Southeast Asian region seemed to have been vindicated by Vietnam’s accession to ASEAN in 1995, as well as the full or observer memberships of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar by 1997. In particular, Myanmar’s acceptance of observer status seemed to justify Japan’s decision to maintain trade and aid relations with the regime as the optimum method to bring it into the ASEAN regional fold.
Japan-ASEAN FTA (2008)
In October 2003, the ASEAN-10 and the Japanese government signed a general framework for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA). In November 2004 they agreed to initiate the negotiation process, and the talks started in April 2005 and completed in November 2007. Subsequently, the Japan-ASEAN FTA (officially a Comprehensive Economic Partnership), which came into force in December 2008, covers trade in goods and services, investment, rules of origin, dispute settlement, sanitary and phyto-sanitary regulations, technical barriers to trade, economic cooperation.
Upon Japan’s request, the agreement also included intellectual property rights. The agreement has made it easier for Japanese firms to move parts and components (of automobiles, electronics, etc.) from one location to another within a regional assembly line.