Video: ASEAN explained in 5 minutes
ASEAN was preceded by an organisation formed on 31 July 1961 called the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), a group consisting of Thailand, the Philippines, and the Federation of Malaya. ASEAN itself was created on 8 August 1967, when the foreign ministers of five countries:
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, signed the ASEAN Declaration. As set out in the Declaration, the aims and purposes of ASEAN are to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region, to promote regional peace, collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest, to provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities, to collaborate for better utilisation of agriculture and industry to raise the living standards of the people, to promote Southeast Asian studies and to maintain close, beneficial co-operation with existing international organisations with similar aims and purposes.
The creation of ASEAN was motivated by a common fear of communism. The group achieved greater cohesion in the mid-1970s following a change in the balance of power after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. The region's dynamic economic growth during the 1970s strengthened the organisation, enabling ASEAN to adopt a unified response to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1979. ASEAN's first summit meeting, held in Bali, Indonesia in 1976, resulted in an agreement on several industrial projects and the signing of a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, and a Declaration of Concord. The end of the Cold War between allowed ASEAN countries to exercise greater political independence in the region, and in the 1990s ASEAN emerged as a leading voice on regional trade and security issues.
In 1984, Brunei became ASEAN's sixth member and on 28 July 1995, Vietnam joined as the seventh member. Laos and Myanmar joined two years later on 23 July 1997. Cambodia was to join at the same time as Laos and Myanmar, but an internal political struggle delayed its entry. It then joined on 30 April 1999 following the stabilisation of its government.
Nascent Economic Cooperation
In 1990, Malaysia proposed the creation of an East Asia Economic Caucus composed of the members of ASEAN, China, Japan, and South Korea. It intended to counterbalance the growing US influence in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Asia as a whole. However, the proposal failed because of strong opposition from the US and Japan. Work for further integration continued, and the ASEAN Plus Three, consisting of ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea, was created in 1997. In 1992, the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) scheme was adopted as a schedule for phasing out tariffs to increase the "region's competitive advantage as a production base geared for the world market". This law would act as the framework for the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), which is an agreement by member states concerning local manufacturing in ASEAN. It was signed on 28 January 1992 in Singapore. After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a revival of the Malaysian proposal, known as the Chiang Mai Initiative, was put forward in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It called for better integration of the economies of ASEAN as well as the ASEAN Plus Three.
Nuclear Free ASEAN
The bloc also focused on peace and stability in the region. On 15 December 1995, the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty was signed to turn Southeast Asia into a nuclear-weapon-free zone. The treaty took effect on 28 March 1997 after all but one of the member states had ratified it. It became fully effective on 21 June 2001 after the Philippines ratified it, effectively banning all nuclear weapons in the region. A similar treaty was signed in 2017, however, Singapore abstained from the vote.
The ASEAN Charter
The Secretariat of ASEAN at Jalan Sisingamangaraja No.70A, South Jakarta
On 15 December 2008, member states met in Jakarta to launch a charter, signed in November 2007, to move closer to "an EU-style community". The charter turned ASEAN into a legal entity and aimed to create a single free-trade area for the region encompassing 500 million people. President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono stated: "This is a momentous development when ASEAN is consolidating, integrating, and transforming itself into a community. It is achieved while ASEAN seeks a more vigorous role in Asian and global affairs at a time when the international system is experiencing a seismic shift". Referring to climate change and economic upheaval, he concluded: "Southeast Asia is no longer the bitterly divided, war-torn region it was in the 1960s and 1970s".
The financial crisis of 2007–2008 was seen as a threat to the charter's goals, and also set forth the idea of a proposed human rights body to be discussed at a future summit in February 2009. This proposition caused controversy, as the body would not have the power to impose sanctions or punish countries which violated citizens' rights and would, therefore, be limited in effectiveness. The body was established later in 2009 as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). In November 2012, the commission adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.