Thank you for your patience! This shows that despite all the little things life has thrown at me since the last episode, I was able to get another one done. Today’s episode covers another topic that a listener requested, an in-depth look at ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Again, listen and enjoy!
This episode is dedicated to Alexei K., who made a donation to the podcast last month. Alexei has also donated in two previous years, and that puts him in the elite of podcast donors. In recognition of this achievement, I have not only put Alexei’s name on the Podcast Hall of Fame page, I have also added the ever-popular Shwe Dagon Pagoda icon next to his name. I am recording this right after a devastating hurricane struck Florida, my former home state. I still have friends in Florida, and my brother lives there as well. So Alexei, may the seasonal winds in your part of the world always blow in your favor. And everyone else, thank you for your patience. Now on with the episode!
Episode 123: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations
Greetings dear listeners, for the 123rd time, from the hills of Bluegrass country in Kentucky! If you have listened to the other episodes, I’m glad to have you here again, and thank you for waiting! It has been two and a half months since the last episode, the longest I have kept you waiting so far. I said a little bit about it on the podcast’s Facebook page. The past spring and summer have been a struggle to make enough money to make ends meet, and if that hasn’t been enough, there have been computer problems, phone problems and car problems. Consequently days went by when I couldn’t get anything done on the podcast. Well, this episode shows I finally prevailed. As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait.
If this is the first episode you listened to, none of what I just said will matter much, but welcome to the show nonetheless. We hope you like what you hear, and that you will go listen to the more than a hundred episodes recorded before this one. I know, asking you to listen to all those episodes is a big demand, but’s it’s not too difficult if you have a place where you can set aside time for listening. Some people listen to podcasts to pass the time, if they have a job where they are doing nothing for long periods. Myself, I do it while driving, especially on out-of-town trips. I remember the time when I was driving home after midnight, going more than 200 miles, and I was drinking coffee and listening to podcasts to stay awake. The longest episode I listened to was from Daniele Bolelli’s “History on Fire,” where he talked about a little-known World War II battle in the Philippines. I had also covered that battle, in either Episode #52 or #53, so of course I was interested to hear Daniele’s version of the story. And the next time I saw Daniele on Facebook, I thanked him for keeping me awake that night. Now if you commit yourself to listen to one episode a day, you’ll go through them all in four months, and be done before you know it!
Before we go on, let me apologize for an error I made four years ago. Back in Episode #53, I mentioned that during the Second Battle of Corregidor in the Philippines, the 503rd Regimental Combat Team made an airborne landing on that famous island. The first time I mentioned this unit, I called it the 503rd Regimental Command Team. One listener served in the unit more recently, and he set me straight on the mistake. Sorry about that, I did put “Combat Team” in my script, but for some reason I said “Command Team” instead. It was definitely a slip of the tongue.
Also, I believe a small correction is needed for the previous episode. I gave you the names of the most important refugee camps, for the refugees who fled Vietnam in the late twentieth century, and I told you which countries they were in. For the Philippines, I said the main refugee camp was the Philippine Refugee Processing Center, on the Bataan peninsula. That was true, but I may have misled you into thinking that was the only refugee camp in the Philippines. Since finishing that episode, I have found out there was also a camp at Puerto Princesa, on Palawan Island. Being the westernmost island in the Philippines, Palawan is also the closest island to Vietnam; I suggested in one of the early episodes that the ancestors of the Chams, the people of an ancient kingdom in present-day Vietnam, came from Palawan. Therefore Puerto Princesa became a convenient place for a refugee camp; 2,700 Vietnamese refugees went there. Some of them were temporarily settled in a town next to Puerto Princesa called Santa Lourdes; today it has become a tourist attraction called Viet Ville. When the refugees found permanent places to live, some chose to stay in the Philippines, because they had married Filipinos in the meantime.
And here is something else I wish I knew when I recorded the previous episode. Last week I was directed to a podcast about obscure news stories, called Under-Understood. The third episode for this podcast, recorded in July 2019, tracks down a story about an attempt in 1975 to build a theme park called “New Vietnam” in — where else — central Florida! Yes, the park would have gone up near Cape Canaveral, about 50 miles east of where I was living at the time, and it would have re-created the Vietnam War experience. The plan was to build a fake village like the ones that were common in Vietnam during the war, and hire some of the Vietnamese refugees coming to America at the time, to act like “peasants” in the village. I’m guessing some of the refugees would have also played the part of Viet Cong guerrillas for the battle re-enactment. This project was the dream of Carl McIntire, a right-wing evangelical pastor, and the more I hear about the project and the pastor, the stranger it gets! Mind you, I never heard about the New Vietnam park when I lived in Florida — it wasn’t big news at the time — and the whole project was scrapped just after the pastor acquired the land for the park. It looks like the hired Vietnamese quit their jobs after they realized they were being exploited; good for them. If you want to check it out, go to Under-understood.com. That’s the real name of the website; I wasn’t stammering.
And now for the tying up of a loose end from other previous episodes. While I was working on this, the big news was that the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II finally came to an end. I am mentioning this because more than once, when I was talking about Thailand’s King Rama IX, I compared him to the British Queen, because she is the only head of state in our time with a reign as long as the Thai King. Now that both are gone, who ruled the longest? Well, Rama IX became king on June 9, 1946, and died on October 13, 2016, so he had a reign of 70 years, four months and four days. As for Elizabeth II, she became queen on February 6, 1952, and died on September 8, 2022, so her reign lasted 70 years, seven months and two days. The question is now settled; Queen Elizabeth won the conteast by almost three months, if you can call it a contest.
All right, what topic have we got for today? Starting with the previous episode, we have been looking at items that were short-shifted, when I was giving you the general historical narrative. Last time I stepped back to give an overview on the Vietnamese refugees in the late twentieth century. This time we have an organization that has been mentioned in several of the recent history episodes, but has never been covered in depth — ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Podcast footnote: Before we jump in, I should clarify how I am pronouncing the organization’s name. The first time I mentioned it in the podcast, I pronounced it “a-SEE-in,” with emphasis on the second syllable. But later on, after watching videos that mentioned the organization, I learned that “A-se-An” seems to be the more popular way to say it, so I went with that. End footnote.
Now where did people get the idea to form a club of Southeast Asian nations? It certainly didn’t happen during the colonial era, when Thailand, previously called Siam, was the only completely independent nation in the region. This was part of a world wide trend by nations to find safety in numbers, and to explain that, we will go back to the beginning of the twentieth century.
The twentieth century began with nine important nations. In no particular order, the Big Nine were the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and the Ottoman Empire, also known as Turkey. World War I knocked four of them out of the game (Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Turkey), but a few years later Germany came back under the Nazis, and Russia came back as the Soviet Union. That meant seven major powers were available to participate in World War II.
World War II ruined Germany, Italy and Japan. Britain and France were on the winning side, but not much better off than the defeated powers. By contrast, the USA and USSR came out of the war stronger than before. They faced each other in a world-threatening standoff, the so-called Cold War, for nearly half a century, which ended with the downfall of communism in the Soviet Union and its satellites.
That left the United States as the last superpower. For a few years after the Cold War, at least under the Bush and Clinton administrations, the USA used the United Nations to bring their values, meaning freedom, the rule of law, and capitalism, to the rest of the world, with the ultimate goal being to create a “Pax Americana” of sorts. Then came 9/11 and the War on Terror, and the United States got bogged down in that. The War on Terror came to resemble a game of Whack-A-Mole; for every terrorist or terrorist group the Americans got rid of, another would appear; the biggest example was how after Osama bin Laden was killed, ISIS rose up to replace Al Qaeda. Today the United States has fallen on hard times economically, its leaders are promoting other values, like green energy and LGBT rights, and the US armed forces are mainly used for social experimentation, rather than being organizations designed to kill people and break things.
What I was trying to say with all those words is that since the end of World War II, it has not been fashionable for one nation to attempt world domination; all those that tried in the twentieth century eventually failed. Instead, nations have often promoted world unity on a smaller scale, by forming regional “clubs” or blocs. Some of these clubs are defensive alliances, while others promote cooperation, especially economic cooperation. One of the first, and definitely the largest, of these organizations is the United Nations; almost every country belongs to it. After the UN, the first organization to have much success was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which contained Soviet expansion in Europe. After the Cold War, NATO remained active; now it serves as the de facto armed forces for another organization, the European Union.
Because NATO did so well, the Western nations founded two more organizations like it in the 1950s: the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, or SEATO, and the Central Treaty Organization, or CENTO, in the Middle East. Neither amounted to much. I mentioned in a previous episode that only two of SEATO’s eight members were really Southeast Asian, and that after it failed to defend South Vietnam in the Second Indochina War, it was dissolved by the mutual consent of the members. As for CENTO, it started with five members: Britain, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. Iraq withdrew from the organization after a revolution toppled its conservative monarchy in 1958. The rest of CENTO fell apart in 1979 when the Iranian Revolution took away two more members, Iran and Pakistan, leaving only Britain and Turkey to announce that the organization was going out of business. And these weren’t the only organizations that pro-Western nations tried. Other pro-Western blocs include the OAS, the Organization of American States, in Latin America; ANZUS, the Australia- New Zealand- United States pact in the South Pacific; the British Commonwealth of Nations; the EEC, the European Economic Community, better known as the Common Market; and NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union produced COMECON, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, to unify the economies of its satellites, and the Warsaw Pact to unify the armed forces of the same countries; both collapsed when the USSR did, in 1991. As for the Third World, it produced its share of blocs, chief of which are the Arab League; OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries; the OAU, the Organization of African Unity; and the one we will concentrate our attention on, ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Many of these organizations have political unity as their ultimate goal; Europeans, in particular, talked about the Common Market being the first step in forming a United States of Europe. For that reason, Common Market members established a European Parliament in 1981, and signed the Maastrict Treaty in 1992. Maastrict changed the name of the Common Market to the European Union, and it called for the unification of its members into a single economy, starting with the issuance of a new currency, the Euro, in 1999. The road to unity has been a rocky one, though; Europeans have far more languages and cultures than America’s thirteen ex-colonies had when they fused to form the United States, leading to disagreement and misunderstanding every step of the way. Likewise, the OAU became the African Union in 2002. Both the African Union and the Arab League promised future unity, but have been less successful than the European union; in fact, they have seemed like contradictions of their very names. In the case of the Arabs, there were proposals to unite Arab nations, like Gamal Abdel Nasser’s United Arab Republic, and they seemed like good ideas at first, only to abruptly disappear when the involved parties argued over something. After an attempt to unite Syria and Iraq failed in 1979, a Damascus editorial lamented that, quote, “Trying to unite the Arabs is like nailing jelly to a wall.” Unquote. Likewise, nearly ten years later a retired Egyptian diplomat expressed his scorn for other Arabs by saying, quote, “Egypt is the only real nation-state in the Middle East. The rest are just tribes with flags.” Unquote.
But I digress. In the 1950s and 1960s, most Southeast Asian nations were mainly concerned about communism. Communists conquered mainland China, and fought a war in Korea where they broke even. In Southeast Asia there were the Indochina Wars, an “emergency” involving communist guerrillas in Malaya, and communist uprisings in Burma and the Philippines. I talked about those conflicts in Episodes 62 through 69 of this podcast, so that’s where to go to refresh your memory on them. The governments in the region considered forming an anti-communist alliance, but SEATO already existed for that purpose, so when their leaders got together, economic cooperation was the main goal. In other words, they wanted to create an Asian version of the European Common Market. Accordingly, three nations — Thailand, the Philippines and the Federation of Malaya — formed an economic alliance on July 31, 1961, called the ASA, the Association of Southeast Asia. It wasn’t a very successful organization; ministers from the participating nations met periodically, but otherwise didn’t get anything done. Even more disturbing, Indonesia did not join the ASA, because the Indonesian president, Sukarno, didn’t think communism was so bad. Indonesia noted that Malaya was an ally of Britain, and the other two members were allies of the United States, while Indonesia wanted to stay neutral, and sit out the Cold War completely. Here is what the Indonesian foreign minister, Sumitro, said about the ASA. Quote: “The spirit behind the proposal is anyway anti-this and anti-that . . . and Indonesia does not want any part in a negative policy in international affairs.” Unquote. Because Indonesia is the largest Southeast Asian nation, in land area, population and resources, a Southeast Asian alliance without Indonesia would not work very well.
The ASA was discredited by the Malaysian crisis that began in 1963. The transformation of Malaya into Malaysia caused a series of problems that the ASA couldn’t handle, showing that a stronger organization was needed. We covered this crisis in Episode #98. As a refresher, the British gave up the two territories they had ruled on Borneo, Sarawak and North Borneo, also called Sabah. Instead of making them independent countries, the territories were handed over to Malaya; hence the new name of Malaysia. However, Indonesia and the Philippines had claims to those territories as well. The Philippines proposed creating a federation called “Maphilindo,” which would unite Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia into one super-state, while Indonesia launched a guerrilla war, the so-called Konfrontasi, in an attempt to take the Borneo territories. In addition, Singapore was part of Malaysia for a while, but then it declared independence; who could be sure that Singapore would be able to stand on its own? And what about Brunei, the last British protectorate in the region?
It was changes in Southeast Asia’s political situation in the mid-1960s, that made ASEAN’s creation possible. First, there was a general cooling of tensions, as the war between Malaysia and Indonesia ended, and the surrounding nations came to accept Malaysia’s right to exist. Second, Sukarno had been overthrown, and General Suharto, who was pro-Western, took his place as president of Indonesia. This made Indonesia more willing to join an organization where all the other members were pro-Western. In fact, it was while Thailand was overseeing the negotiation of the disputes between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines that they all realized that this was the time to set up a permanent organization promoting regional cooperation. Here is how the Thai foreign minister, Thanat Khoman, later described how a conversation with Adam Malik, the Indonesian foreign minister, led to ASEAN. Quote: “At the banquet marking the reconciliation between the three disputants, I broached the idea of forming another organization for regional cooperation with Adam Malik. Malik agreed without hesitation but asked for time to talk with his government and also to normalize relations with Malaysia now that the confrontation was over. Meanwhile, the Thai Foreign Office prepared a draft charter of the new institution. Within a few months, everything was ready. I therefore invited the two former members of the Association for Southeast Asia (ASA), Malaysia and the Philippines, and Indonesia, a key member, to a meeting in Bangkok. In addition, Singapore sent S. Rajaratnam, then Foreign Minister, to see me about joining the new set-up. Although the new organization was planned to comprise only the ASA members plus Indonesia, Singapore’s request was favorably considered.” End quote.
The next time the foreign ministers got together was in early August of 1967, at a relatively isolated and laid-back spot: Bang Saen, a beach resort 100 kilometers from Bangkok. Those foreign ministers were Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narcisco R. Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdal Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand.
Podcast footnote: If the name Ramos sounds familiar, it is because Narcisco Ramos was the father of someone else mentioned in this podcast, Fidel Ramos, the former general and president of the Philippines. Though Narcisco Ramos was in his 40s when World War II arrived, he joined the guerrillas to fight the Japanese. Then when the Philippines became independent, he was given the job of founding the country’s foreign service. Now with the negotiations to create ASEAN, he was 66 years old, making him one of the first elder statesmen of the Philippines.
As for the younger Ramos, I discussed his achievements in Episodes #110 and #116. While researching this episode, I learned that Fidel Ramos died recently, on July 31, 2022. He was 94 years old, and had suffered from heart disease and dementia, but it was COVID-19 that finished him off, though he had received at least two vaccinations. He was buried in the military cemetery of Manila, near the graves of three other former presidents: Elpidio Quirino, Carlos Garcia, and Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Rest in peace, General; we are thankful for what you did to save democracy in the Philippines. End footnote.
Anyway, the five Foreign Ministers spent four days at Bang Saen, negotiating over the document they were writing to create a new organization. They did it in an informal manner which they would later delightfully call “sports-shirt diplomacy.” Still, it wasn’t an easy process; among the countries, only Thailand had been independent for more than twenty years, and the rest were struggling to find their place in the modern world. Each country had a very different historical and political perspective from the others, and the men brought those perspectives to the conference. Every time they met at the conference table, they expressed goodwill and good humor, but as it turned out, they reached more agreements when they played on the golf course, where they also traded jokes on each other’s game. This style of diplomacy would become the ASEAN ministerial tradition.
Next, the ministers went to Bangkok, where on August 8, 1967, they sat down together in the main hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs building, and signed the document they had written at Bang Saen. With that event, ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was born. Because all three members of the ASA were represented here, the new organization superseded the ASA; we won’t have to talk about the ASA anymore.
The document they signed would be known as the ASEAN Declaration. This was a short, simply-worded document containing just two pages and five articles. It declared the establishment of an Association for Regional Cooperation in Southeast Asia, that would be known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN for short, and spelled out the organization’s aims and purposes: cooperation in economic, social, cultural, technical, educational and other fields, the promotion of regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law, and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. All Southeast Asian states would be eligible to join once they accepted the organization’s aims, principles and purposes. It was the Malaysian minister, Tun Abdal Razak, who first expressed the wish that someday all Southeast Asian states would belong to the new organization. Finally, the Declaration proclaimed ASEAN as representing, quote, “the collective will of the nations of Southeast Asia to bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity.” End quote.
The original ASEAN logo was a white flag; in the middle of the flag was a yellow circle with a blue border. In the circle were five golden-brown rice stalks, tied together in a bundle, representing the union of the five original member nations, and the name “ASEAN” appeared under the bundle. For ASEAN’s 30th anniversary in 1997, the flag was revamped, to better reflect the nations and the values ASEAN promotes. The five rice stalks were increased to ten, because the organization now had ten members, and their color was changed to yellow. The yellow circle became a red circle with a white border, and the flag’s white field became a blue field. As for why those colors were chosen, blue represents peace and stability, red represents courage and dynamism, white represents purity, and yellow represents prosperity. In addition, those four colors can be found in the national flags of all ten member nations. The only colors missing are black and green; Brunei’s flag has a diagonal black bar, while the flag of Myanmar has had a horizontal green bar since 2010. Finally, usage of the word “ASEAN” has become optional; it no longer appears in the flag, but it still appears in emblems featuring the ASEAN bundle of rice stalks. The purpose of all these symbols is to make ASEAN and Southeast Asia appear as one and the same, the way its founders intended. These days, at the embassies of Southeast Asian countries, it is common to see both the country’s flag and the ASEAN flag flying outside the building.
For its first years, the organization was quiet. Remember how I mentioned that it took the end of the Malaysian Confrontation to make ASEAN possible? Well it also appears that it could not accomplish much until 1975, when the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos ended. I am saying that because it was in the next year, 1976, when the next event worth mentioning happened. That event was ASEAN’s first summit, held on Bali in Indonesia. Previously, the foreign ministers of the participating countries had dominated the meetings, but from here on, their bosses, each country’s president, prime minister or monarch, would be the most visible people at ASEAN events. At the Bali summit, the members expressed a desire to “develop fruitful relations” and mutually beneficial co-operation with other countries of the region, and they signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. The organization’s second summit was held a year and a half later, at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1977, and Japan attended the meeting. That showed another future trend for the organization, its willingness to cooperate with countries outside of Southeast Asia. After that, summits were held irregularly for the rest of the twentieth century. It was in 2001 when the summits began to take place every year, and in 2009 when the organization started to hold two summits per year.
Probably the most important summit was the 9th one, held on Bali in October 2003. Here the leaders of the member states signed a declaration known as the Bali Concord II, in which they agreed to pursue closer economic integration by 2020. According to the declaration, “an ASEAN Community” would be set upon three pillars, which are, quote, “political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation; For the purpose of ensuring durable peace, stability and shared prosperity in the region.” Unquote. The plan talked about ASEAN becoming a region with a population of 500 million and annual trade of US$720 billion. Also, a free trade area would be established among the members by 2020. Finally, ASEAN’s leaders talked about setting up a security community alongside the economic one, though without any formal military alliance.
During the same meeting, China and ASEAN also agreed to work faster toward a mutual trade agreement to create the world’s most populous market, with 1.7 billion consumers. Japan also signed an agreement pledging to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers with ASEAN members. Well if I am doing the math right, ASEAN, China and Japan now have a combined population of more than 2 billion consumers, maybe even 2.2 billion.
In 1990, Malaysia proposed that a free trade zone be created between ASEAN and China, Japan and South Korea, and called it the East Asia Economic Caucus. The purpose of this proposal was to counterbalance the growing influence of the United States on Pacific trade. Both the United States and Japan opposed it, Japan because it was suffering from the collapse of its stock market in the early 1990s, so the proposal was shelved. However, after the Asian financial crisis of 1997, everyone agreed that ASEAN should work more closely with China, Japan and South Korea, to prevent this kind of crisis from happening again. When representatives of ASEAN and these three northeast Asian nations meet, the forum is appropriately called ASEAN+3. Because this arrangement has worked well at promoting economic stability, there have also been summits where three more regional powers, India, Australia and New Zealand, take part, changing the name of the forum to ASEAN+6. Sometimes ASEAN+6 is also called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This is a fine example of how interdependent today’s nations have become.
China is ASEAN’s largest external trading partner. In 2017, 14.1% of ASEAN’s exports went to that country. The European Union came in second place at 12.0%, followed by the United States at 10.8%.
From its original five members, ASEAN started to grow when Brunei joined in 1984, immediately after the British protectorate over that sultanate ended. Like the original members, Brunei is pro-Western, but by now there was a general consensus that communist Indochina and socialist Burma should be allowed to join as well, if, like I said, they accepted the organization’s aims, principles and purposes. Accordingly, Vietnam was admitted as a member in July 1995, Laos was admitted in July 1997, and Burma, now renamed Myanmar, was also admitted in July 1997. That left Cambodia, which had to wait until its civil war and political instability ended; it finally joined in April 1999. With these additions, ASEAN went from being a group promoting an ideology (namely capitalism), to a group promoting the interests of all Southeast Asians.
I can hear some of you now saying, “What about East Timor?” Don’t worry, I didn’t forget them. That half of an island only became independent in 2002, and in Episode #117 I talked at length about why East Timor, also called Timor Leste, hasn’t been accepted as a full member yet.
Speaking of that, two potential members, Papua New Guinea and East Timor, have been granted the right to attend ASEAN meetings with observer status. This means they can take part in discussions at the meetings, but they are not allowed to vote. In the question and answer session we had a few episodes back, I got a question about Papua New Guinea’s status in ASEAN, and here is why they are only observers. Papua New Guinea’s leaders have said more than once that they are interested in becoming a full member, and Indonesia and the Philippines have announced they would support that country’s bid to join. However, the Papuans have never applied for membership. Why? Because history and geography makes Papua New Guinea different from the countries of Southeast Asia. It’s pretty much the same factors that make the people of Western New Guinea desire independence from Indonesia. The people of Papua New Guinea are Melanesian, not Asian, and their location on the Pacific means they pay more attention to Australia and the island nations of the Pacific. Furthermore, unlike Southeast Asians, the Papuans have no heritage of a grand kingdom with an advanced culture, from the years before the Europeans colonized them; you won’t find the ruins of ancient cities like Angkor if you visit New Guinea. So like their South Pacific neighbors, New Guinea’s history begins when European explorers discovered their island.
Several key nations from beyond Southeast Asia, like China and the United States, have also been invited to send their leaders to the summits, as observers. I think I told you in previous episodes that US President Barack Obama attended the 2016 summit in Laos, and that his successor, Donald Trump, went to the second 2017 summit in the Philippines. Incidentally, this was a turbulent time for Philippine-US relations, thanks to the mercurial personality of the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte. Though Duterte’s term in office spanned the administrations of three US presidents, it was only at the 2017 summit that he got to meet with one of them.
Each year a different country acts as host to the summits. Most of the countries have hosted the summits multiple times by now, except for Myanmar, which has shown it still has an isolationist tendency by only hosting the summits once, in 2014. The most recent summit where the leaders met in person was held in Bangkok in 2019, and Thailand acted as the host. Here the main issues discussed were the trade war between the US and China, and the dispute over who owns the South China Sea. The members warned US President Trump that US protectionism is not good for them or international trade in general. Regarding the South China Sea, that issue is important because China has claimed that whole body of water and is building islands with a military base in the middle of it. In addition, half of the world’s merchant fleet tonnage goes through the South China Sea, and the area is a rich source of oil, natural gas, and fish.
Since 2019 the summits have continued, but because of the COVID pandemic, the meetings have been held online, turned into a big videoconference. The Vietnamese prime minister was chairman of the 2020 meetings, while the sultan of Brunei filled the same role in 2021. For this year, 2022, Cambodia will host the summits, but I have not heard a date for when they will take place, or if these will be online meetings as well.
Since 1976, ASEAN has been led by 14 secretary-generals. Each secretary-general is appointed to serve for a five-year term. The current secretary-general is Lim Jock Hoi; he comes from Brunei, and has held office since January 1, 2018. Since the countries go in alphabetical order regarding which one the secretary general comes from, I believe Lim Jock Hoi’s successor will come from Cambodia, and he or she will take charge at the beginning of 2023.
No member of ASEAN has ever quit or been expelled, but Myanmar chose not to take part in the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits, after its military leaders were barred from attending, because of the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, and the military leaders’ response to the protests that followed. This is the most recent event concerning ASEAN that I talked about in the podcast; it’s in Episode #118. It is also the most severe punishment given to an ASEAN member, because ASEAN has an official policy of, quote, “non-interference in the internal affairs of member nations.” Unquote. For example, in 2018, when Myanmar’s state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, asked ASEAN for help with her country’s Rohingya crisis, ASEAN’s chair refused, saying it was an “internal matter.” In fact, for this issue, the organization’s members split along religious lines, with Moslem nations taking the side of the Rohingya, while Buddhist nations initially sided more with Myanmar’s government, until the outside world started condemning the persecution of the Rohingya minority.
An invitation was extended for Myanmar to send a “non-political representative” to the 2021 summits, but none was sent. On the podcast’s Facebook page, I shared a screen shot from the second 2021 summit. It shows a TV screen split into several panels, one for the representative of each nation, and a big panel in the center for whoever has the floor at any given time. In the panel for the Myanmar representative, all you see is an empty desk. At the time of this recording, I have not heard if Myanmar will take part in the next summit.
ASEAN’s main goal regarding the economy is to establish a single market based on the “Four Freedoms” declared by the European Union. Those four freedoms are: the free movement of goods, free movement of capital, freedom to establish and provide services, and free movement of persons. For this purpose, a committee called the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, was set up in 2015. The original deadline for the single market was also in 2015, but there was not enough trade between the nations at that date to declare the goal had been met, so a new deadline has been set for 2025. There is also a plan to unite the currencies of the ASEAN countries, China, Japan and South Korea, replacing them with a single Asian monetary unit, much like the Euro, should the single market be successfully established.
I said earlier that ASEAN would not just be about economic cooperation; it would also promote cooperation on social, cultural, technical, and educational issues. Accordingly, an Ad-hoc Committee on Science and Technology met in Jakarta in April 1970, and this led to the establishment of an ASEAN Permanent Committee on Science and Technology in 1971. In 1978, the committee was renamed the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology, or ASEAN COST. Once every three years, this committee gives away the ASEAN Outstanding Science and Technologist Award, to a Southeast Asian scientist or technologist whose achievements have been nationally and internationally recognized.
To promote cooperation in education, the ASEAN University Network, or AUN, was founded in 1995; currently it has thirty participating universities. In addition, the governments of Singapore and Australia offer scholarships, which cover accommodation, food, medical benefits, accident insurance, school fees, and examination fees for promising students in secondary schools, junior colleges, and universities.
ASEAN’s efforts to promote Southeast Asian culture include media promotions, and contests in sports, educational activities and writing. The main sporting event is the Southeast Asian Games, which are held every two years and feature the meeting of athletes from the ten member-states. One non-member state, East Timor, also participates in the games. On top of all the other activities mentioned, a group called the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, or ACB, has declared 51 national parks in the region ASEAN Heritage Parks; these parks are known for their unique biodiversity and ecosystems, and are outstanding in their scenic, cultural, educational, research, recreational and tourist values.
And finally, as the twenty-first century began, ASEAN began talking about environmental agreements on air pollution, trash dumping, deforestation, threatened or endangered species, and changes in energy production to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
And that’s where ASEAN stands, as we bring this episode to a close. Over the next few months, I plan to record two, maybe more episodes, on overlooked topics that you requested, so join me next time to hear something else that’s special concerning Southeast Asia.
I will finish by asking for donations, because we have really gone through the summer doldrums, when it comes to financial support. I want to thank all of you who made pledges on Patreon, and are still with me there, but with the one-time donations, only one, that of Alexei K., has come in over the past four months. As always, this podcast is free for you the listeners, but not for me the podcaster; whereas it shouldn’t cost you anything to download and listen to the episodes, it costs me some money, and more than a little time, to produce them. To make a one-time donation, follow the Paypal links I posted, on the Blubrry.com page where this episode is hosted, or on the podcast’s Facebook page. After you click on the link, follow the instructions. You can also support the podcast by going to the Patreon page and becoming a Patron, where you pledge to give a small amount at the beginning of each month, $1 or more. If you want to do that, there is also a Patreon link on the Blubrry page.
Those who make a one-time donation will get their first names added to the Podcast’s Hall of Fame Page. And if you donated in previous years, there’s more. Those who donate in two different years will get special recognition with the coveted water buffalo icon added, next to their name. Those who donate in three years will get the ever-popular Shwedagon Pagoda icon added next to their name, as we saw with Alexei K. And early this year I made the OUTRAGEOUS Merlion icon. If you donate in four years you will get the OUTRAGEOUS Merlion icon next to your name! So far two of you have won that honor; who will be the third?
Now it’s time to get started working on the next episode. To everyone who is still here, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!