The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

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Key Highlights

  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a regional intergovernmental organization encompassing ten Southeast Asian states to promote the intergovernmental cooperation in various sectors such as economic, political, military, educational and cultural integration amongst its members and Asian states.
  • Since its inception on 8 August 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, the organization’s membership has expanded to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.
  • Its principal objectives include accelerating economic growth, social progress, and sociocultural evolution among its members, alongside the protection of regional stability and the provision of a mechanism for member countries to resolve differences peacefully.
  • ASEAN covers a land area of 4.4 million square kilometers, 3% of the total land area of Earth.
  • ASEAN territorial waters cover an area about three times larger than its land counterpart. Member countries have a combined population of approximately 625 million people, 8.8% of the world’s population.
  • In 2015, the organization’s combined nominal GDP had grown to more than US$2.8 trillion. If ASEAN were a single entity, it would rank as the sixth largest economy in the world, behind the USA, China, Japan, India and Germany.
  • ASEAN shares land borders with India, China, Bangladesh, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea, and maritime borders with India, China, Palau, and Australia.
  • Both East Timor and Papua New Guinea are backed by certain ASEAN members for their membership in the organization.

Objectives of ASEAN

  • To accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region.
  • To promote regional peace and stability.
  • To promote 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 the better utilization of agriculture and industry to raise the living standards of the people.
  • To promote Southeast Asian studies.
  • To maintain close, beneficial co-operation with existing international organizations with similar aims and purposes


  • Critics have charged ASEAN as too soft in its approach to promoting human rights and democracy, particularly in junta-led Burma. Some scholar’s claimed that non-interference has hindered ASEAN efforts to handle the problems of Myanmar, human rights abuse, and haze pollution in the area.
  • ASEAN has also failed to abolish human rights violations in West Papua, including Irian Jaya, committed by Indonesian military officials and political authorities. It is estimated that more than 500,000 indigenous Papuans have been killed in the name of Indonesian nationalism by Indonesian authorities.
  • There are also several territorial disputes between ASEAN members that affecting the unity between ASEAN nations such as the Cambodian–Thai border dispute (Khao Phra Wihan National Park) and the continuous claim over parts of Malaysia by certain politicians in the Philippines, who also seems supporting militants raids over neighboring country.
  • Besides that, the biggest criticism ASEAN currently facing is the tensions caused by the South China Sea dispute, which involves the following four member states: the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.
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