Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed

Five nations in Southeast Asia—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand—established a diplomatic forum to develop harmonious foreign policies in the region and to counter a growing communist expansion in Southeast Asia.

Summary of Event

The designation “Southeast Asia” first arose as a military concept during World War II. The postwar period saw proposals to establish an organization of independent countries to pressure colonial powers to leave the region. Whereas the Marshall Plan enabled European countries to recover from the devastation of the war, no such assistance was provided to Asia. In 1961, accordingly, Malaya, the Philippines, and Thailand formed the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) to identify projects for external funding, though a subtext was that all three countries were seeking to accelerate economic development in competition with communist Asia. Neutralist Burma and Indonesia refused to join. Association of Southeast Asian Nations
Foreign aid;Asia
Cold War;Asia
Bangkok Declaration (1967)
[kw]Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed (Aug. 8, 1967)
[kw]Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed, Association of (Aug. 8, 1967)
Association of Southeast Asian Nations
Foreign aid;Asia
Cold War;Asia
Bangkok Declaration (1967)
[g]Southeast Asia;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
[g]Indonesia;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
[g]Malaysia;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
[g]Philippines;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
[g]Singapore;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
[g]Thailand;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
[c]Government and politics;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
[c]Economics;Aug. 8, 1967: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Is Formed[09400]
Thanat Khoman
Malik, Adam
Rajaratnam, Sinnathamby
Ramos, Narciso R.
Abdul Razak, Tun

Indonesian president Sukarno Sukarno took offense when the United Kingdom decided later, in 1961, to cede North Borneo (Brunei, Sabah, and Sarawak) and Singapore to Malaya in 1963, thereby forming Malaysia. In 1963, Indonesian troops conducted raids into Sarawak. The Philippines also objected to the incorporation of Sabah into Malaysia, thus fracturing ASA. To resolve the dispute, Philippine president Diosdado Macapagal Macapagal, Diosdado in 1962 proposed a loose federation of all three states, an idea accepted at a meeting of foreign ministers in 1963, when a consultative arrangement called the Maphilindo plan was agreed upon, though never used subsequently.

In 1965, Indonesian president Sukarno was toppled by a coup, and General Suharto became the new acting president. Believing that communist aggression in Indochina posed a serious threat to the region, yet wishing to uphold Indonesia’s policy of neutralism in the Cold War, Sukarno dispatched his foreign minister, Adam Malik, to visit other countries in the region with a proposal for a broader organization to be known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. The idea was enthusiastically accepted. One month before a scheduled ASA meeting in 1967, five foreign ministers (Indonesia’s Malik, Malaysia’s Tun Abdul Razak, the Philippines’ Narciso R. Ramos, Singapore’s Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, and Thailand’s Thanat Khoman) met at the seaside resort of Bangsaen to agree to a common statement. When they concluded their deliberations, they traveled to Bangkok to issue the Bangkok Declaration, which formally established ASEAN on August 8. ASA, on the other hand, never again met.

ASEAN’s objectives were along the same lines as those of ASA, notably to seek external funding for critical economic development projects. Publicly, however, ASEAN began as an annual meeting of foreign ministers who were mainly interested in formulating common policy positions regarding the geopolitics of the region. ASEAN’s major early success was diplomacy among the original five members. In cases of bilateral differences, a third country would provide good offices for an amicable settlement.

While opposing communist insurgencies in Cambodia and Laos, as well as the effort of North Vietnam to absorb South Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia lobbied for the other three countries to adopt a statement proclaiming that all foreign bases in the region were temporary, thus urging colonial powers and the United States to consider their roles in the region to be limited. As a result, ASEAN, in 1971, declared the region a “Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality.”


Several organizational innovations emerged after ASEAN was unable to stop the dramatic changes in the political landscape wrought when communist forces triumphed in Indochina in 1975. At a summit meeting in 1976, heads of state formalized ASEAN by adopting the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the Declaration of ASEAN Concord; they also agreed to establish a permanent secretariat at Jakarta, Indonesia.

At the 1977 summit, ASEAN economic ministers set up a structure parallel to that of the ASEAN foreign ministers, in effect stripping the latter of economic functions. Several economic projects were then launched, and the organization attracted external grants for industrial projects from Japan. Bilateral foreign-aid programs, formalized as so-called Dialog Partnerships, evolved into the establishment in 1979 of the annual Post-Ministerial Conference (PMC), in which foreign ministers or senior officials of Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand, the United States, and the Development Program of the United Nations first met.

ASEAN’s organizational structure became labyrinthine. Beyond conferences of economic and foreign ministers, there are also meetings among other ministries. The number of Dialog Partners has increased to twenty, most of whom are at the PMCs. Economic and cultural projects have mushroomed and are numerous.

In 1978, Vietnamese armies responded to aggression from Cambodia by launching a massive counteroffensive that ultimately swept the Khmer Rouge from the country by mid-1979. With the formation of a rival Indochinese Foreign Ministers Conference in 1980 under Hanoi’s leadership, ASEAN countries became concerned that communist insurgents throughout Southeast Asia would be strengthened. Economic projects were set aside while ASEAN attempted to contain Vietnam diplomatically, and the organization lobbied successfully to deny the new regime in Phnom Penh a seat in the United Nations.

Because security issues were beyond the framework of ASEAN, according to the basic agreements of the organization, in 1984 leaders decided to launch a separate entity, known as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), to bring together foreign ministers and the military of the PMC countries. ARF sought transparency in regard to military capabilities and objectives as a method of confidence building among countries of East Asia, as China’s intentions in regard to islets in the South China Sea and the island of Taiwan were considered in many quarters to be potentially aggressive.

When the economies of most Southeast Asian countries collapsed in 1997, as foreign investors pulled out due to rampant corruption, Indonesia and Thailand called upon the International Monetary Fund for emergency measures to handle short-term liquidity problems. Later in 1997, an ASEAN+3 Summit (with China, Japan, and South Korea) was held to contemplate an economic framework that would be an alternative to reliance on the World Bank Group. China, which was unaffected by developments in Southeast Asia, proposed in 2000 the establishment of an ASEAN-China Free Trade Area. In 2002, an agreement was signed, with mutual tariff reductions to be completed by 2012. If completed, the free trade area is expected to be the world’s largest, in no small measure because of the formation of ASEAN in 1967. Association of Southeast Asian Nations
Foreign aid;Asia
Cold War;Asia
Bangkok Declaration (1967)

Further Reading

  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations. http://www The association’s Web site, which offers many resources.
  • Haas, Michael. The Asian Way to Peace: A Story of Regional Cooperation. New York: Praeger, 1989. Chapter 7 treats ASEAN and its antecedents. The book provides a context for ASEAN by identifying all other regional intergovernmental organizations in Asia, including others in Southeast Asia. The final chapter explains how Asian regional organizations have gradually been affected by the organization.
  • _______. Genocide by Proxy: Cambodian Pawn on a Superpower Chessboard. New York: Praeger, 1991. Cambodia’s civil war from 1970-1990 is described as a function of the foreign policies of other countries. Efforts of ASEAN to restore peace are highlighted.
  • Narine, Shaune. Explaining ASEAN: Regionalism in Southeast Asia. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2002. A balanced analysis of the flaws and successes of ASEAN.
  • Solidum, Estrella D. The Politics of ASEAN: An Introduction to Southeast Asian Regionalism. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2003. An authoritative account of the structure of ASEAN, along with a summary of projects and accomplishments.
  • _______. Towards a Southeast Asian Community. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1974. Based primarily on interviews with the five foreign ministers who founded ASEAN in 1967.

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Afro-Asian Conference Considers Nonalignment

Asian Development Bank Is Chartered