The Association of the East Asia Nations (ASEAN), the WAY I SEE IT at its 45thAnniversary

Articol apărut şi în revista Diplomat Club

                                         By Ambassador (r) Gheorghe SĂVUICĂ*


1. Personal remarks.  


The Author grew up together with ASEAN. He started his diplomatic career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the same month and year of ASEAN’s creation, i.e. August 1967.


His first important diplomatic paper has been the draft presentation of ASEAN for the Romanian Highest Authorities alongside with the proposal on Romania’s position on this new regional entity. Romania recognized ASEAN as an economic regional organization.


This position was different comparing with other European and socialist countries of the time, which viewed the Association as a possible substitute to the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).


He followed the developments in ASEAN during all current 45 years of existence of the Association in his capacity as Head of Mission to several Southeast Asian countries as well as from his position held in the Asia – Pacific Department – the last one Director General of Asia – Pacific, Middle East, Africa and Latin America Department.


2. The regional and international circumstances in the year ASEAN was born


The 60th found Southeast Asian countries confronted on international scale with the cold war and at a time when they were concerned with consolidation of their newly gained independence, ensuring sovereignty and national survival. To arrange their development as emerging forces it was absolutely needed to start as well a regional cooperation.


As in other parts of the world, in Southeast Asia region there also was, for a short time, the military bloc called SEATO. Nonetheless their choice was to refuse to further arrange their future on military block concept. Instead, they preferred economic regional association.


 ASEAN was created as an Association, with a loose status, based on the predominant features in the aria – dialogue and consultation. The Southeast Asia is a region of diversity from many points of view. No wonder, the unity in diversity is the driving force of their regional cooperation.


ASEAN was created when the nonalignment was in full spring and its principles are part of the founding document of ASEAN and of other important documents of the Association.


3. Creation of  ASEAN


ASEAN was created on August 8, 1967 based on the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration), having as five Founding Fathers – Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

The next five followed at different time – Brunei Darussalam (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos and Myanmar (1997), Cambodia (1999).

Next – very soon will be Timor Leste.


The fundamental principles of ASEAN are:  mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations; the right of every state to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion; non-interference in the internal affairs of one another; settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner; renunciation of the threat or use of force; and effective cooperation among themselves.


My personal REMARK is that these entire principles one can find it in the UN Charter as well, but due to the world developments particularly after the end of cold war these principles in the UN Charter have  suffered some interpretation adjustments; in ASEAN they have been preserved unaltered, clean and applied with real goodwill.


4. Gradual development


ASEAN has passed through three important steps: exclusive economic regional organization; primarily economic regional organization with added political, security and social –cultural dimensions; and regional organization in full process of political, security, economic and socio-cultural integration.

After the Bangkok Declaration, at the First ASEAN Summit in 1976, the ASEAN countries have signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), which proved to be a very important and significant added value to the regional cooperation.  Its role in the regional architecture is more vivid nowadays, having in mind that lately the USA, the European Union, Russia, China, Japan, and other countries, even Brazil, applied to accede to TAC. Their membership was accepted.


From the latest achievements of ASEAN I would like to underline the following steps:

 -       A chain of Free Trade Arias - ASEAN Free Trade Aria, ASEAN – China and ASEAN - Republic of KOREA is already realized.  ASEAN - Australia, New Zealand, India and Japan are on the way to be accomplished. The same situation is applied to the less developed ASEAN countries.

-       Regional integration, based on ASEAN VISION 2020, which in 2009 was decided to be accelerated so that to create the ASEAN COMMUNITY by December 2015.

-     Adoption of ASEAN Charter (2008). This was a tremendous development marking the moment of granting to ASEAN a robust legal and institutional framework.

-    Working now on Conflict resolution based on dialogue and consultations; mechanism in discussion.

-       Establishment of new organs to serve the integration process.

-   Tackling the human rights in the region in an institutionalized way (ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights)

-       Adoption of ASEAN Flag, Day and Anthem.

-     Foreign Ambassadors, including the Romanian Ambassador in Jakarta, are accredited to ASEAN.

-       Diplomatic immunities.

-  Creating ASEAN Committees in third countries; so far such 30 Committees were established.


5. ASEAN Community by 2015


ASEAN Community is based on three pillars: political and security (ASEAN Political - Security Community), economic (ASEAN Economic Community) and socio-cultural (ASEAN Socio - Cultural Community). 


This reality will represent starting with 31st of December 2015 a significant component of the new regional architecture and the main pillar for maintaining the well to-day recognized role of ASEAN as driving force for integration in this part of the world.


 6.  Foreign interaction


Bilateral and multilateral links of ASEAN with regional and extra-regional countries are all institutionalized within the following forms of cooperation and dialogue:


-       ASEAN dialogue and field partners;                        

-       ASEAN +1, ASEAN +3;


-       EAST ASIA SUMMIT (EAS). It is a forum held annually by leaders of, initially, 16 countries in the East Asian region. Membership expanded to 18 countries including the United States andRussia at the Sixth EAS in 2011. EAS meetings are held after annual ASEAN leaders’ meetings. The first summit was held in Kuala Lumpur on December 14, 2005. To become a dialog partner in EAS one should sign the TAC.    


-       ASEAN DEFENCE MINISTERS’ MEETING PLUS ( established in 2010)




-       Links with other regional similar organizations and the  United Nations

The presence in the Southeast Asia architecture of all world players is based on request and acceptance. 


7. Managing the external connections


 The ASEAN member countries are engaging the foreign partners in the forms of dialogue and cooperation as it was explained above.

 They are keeping to its principles and culture and pay all efforts to achieve their objectives.


Maintaining the accepted by all partners the ASEAN Centrality in whatever matter, including the sensitive ones, represents the most important goal for the Southeast Asian countries.


Regarding the power relationships in the region, ASEAN cohesion is based on the option of “Dynamic equilibrium”, initiated by Indonesia.

Indonesia played and continues to play an important and main role in ASEAN and in the process of integration in Southeast Asia. It is in fact the driving force. Indonesia is aiming to take ASEAN to a new height by proposing a common ASEAN platform on global issues.


Indonesia has been taken as an example for an emerging economy in Southeast Asia, which is an added value to the creation of the ASEAN Community by 2015, having in mind that this is the single country from this region which became member of G-20 and which appears on all lists of markets or emerging groups elaborated by eminent economic analysts from different countries as well as from specialized international organizations. However, one should not minimize the importance in this equation of the other ASEAN member countries.


Certainly, all big and strong countries are already, with good and bad aspects, in the region. The “dynamic equilibrium” is, in my view, the very way, for ASEAN countries to remain their own masters.


8Mutual approaching tendency between Europe and Asia.


The fruitful historical bilateral dialogue and cooperation between Europe and Asia as well as the EU- ASEAN partnership have recently developed into a continent to continent approach. This tendency was shaped into a more or less institutionalized form by creating the Asia Europe Meeting – ASEM. In spite of difficulties, differences and sometime disappointments, this reality will stand and consolidate, being a good example of coexistence under an ever more globalized climate, with interdependent markets and globalized industries.


9. ASEAN’s knowledge in Romania.


The Romanian Institute for Europe – Asia Studies (IRSEA) contributed to an extraordinary scientific endeavour, being nominated to conduct a research in Romania during 2010 and 2011 about the local perceptions of the Asian continent called „ Asia in the Eyes of Europe”. The research project was developed by Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF) with the financial support of the European Commission. The Romanian Chapter was published in 2012 in the book entitled „Asia in the Eyes of Europe; Images of a Rising Giant” togher with the Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and UK Chapters, which were simultaneously elaborated in all 8 European countries.


The ‘Asia in the Eyes of Europe’ research project offered a very timely and unique opportunity for Asia and Europe to gauge their respective understanding of one another, through examining European public, media and opinion leader’s attitudes, knowledge and perceptions of Asia. The project has evolved from the ongoing ASEF initiative, ‘The EU through the Eyes of Asia’, which has carried out research looking at the perceptions of the EU in Asia across 12 research locations since 2005. The ‘Asia in the Eyes of Europe’ research project  provides valued comparability to the findings of the ‘EU through the Eyes of Asia’. The project was undertaken to improve the understanding of Asia in Europe and to create a permanent platform to enable civil society, business, researchers, students, policy makers, media gatekeepers and a broad range of cross-sectoral stakeholders to understand one another better. 

In the Romania Chapter, respondents tend to perceive the importance of regional organizations for Romania with a degree of scepticism. The EU was the only regional organization regarded as very significant for the future of Romania. Others were viewed as only marginally important.

The ASEM process is largely unknown. The same is the integration process in Asia (ASEAN Community, East Asia Summit, Asian Regional Forum, ASEAN + 3, APEC ETC)


It is obvious that both Romania and ASEAN have to work together to improve their reciprocal knowledge.


10. Romania has to accelerate its position of accommodating to the developments in Southeast Asia


The status of Romania as an EU member – one of the important dialogue partners of ASEAN, and participant at ASEM forum has opened new horizons for promoting and consolidating its bilateral and multilateral relationship with the Southeast Asian countries. Unfortunately, it continues to remain more visible the “traditional relations”, invoked with different intensity based on the occasional interests of Bucharest. With other words, it is missing a vision at least on a medium term regarding Romania’s concurrently individual engagement in the context of creation the ASEAN Community, and in general in ASEAN projects. It is hopeful that at least Bucharest is analyzing the ways to tackle the multiplication of FTA in Asia, having in mind that eventually an EU –ASEAN FTA will be formed.


Romania, in parallel with its EU membership, could also try to approach bilaterally the Asian regional architecture. In my view, Romania could analyse the possibility to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC). Based on her traditional relations with the Southeast Asian countries Romania could approach ASEAN to open its Committee in Bucharest.


11. Conclusions


I am a strong believer that ASEAN is a well-functioning and indispensable reality in the region and far beyond the region. ASEAN is the driving force in the regional multilateral architecture. ASEAN is the pillar of stability in East and Southeast Asia and one of the foundations of regional balance. There is talk for how long this role will be maintained. Naturally, this everlasting role depends on ASEAN current and future deeds.One should take into consideration that ASEAN needs a lot more efforts to cope with the additional items on the regional agenda. Deciding the top priorities is even more complicated, particularly if the matter of taking sides might come up.  


The consensus at ASEAN meetings played a vital role in the growing up process of the Association. Nowadays we witness a shift from full consensus to coalition of wiling, but still not imposing the decisions. The mediation and conciliation remain the essential ways to solve the entire spectrum of integration and conflict resolution in the region. ASEAN countries have not given up the classic diplomacy adapted to the new environment.


The day will come when ASEAN will realize the must to introduce a sanctions mechanism in implementing its agenda.


The ASEAN COMMUNITY will replace the miracle of “Asian Tigers” and in parallel with other emerging economies, as single entities, such as China, India and Brazil, by a new phenomenon, in a certain way similar but not identical to the one existing in Europe . I refer to an emerging institutionalized political and economic power at regional level.


ASEAN is the pillar of stability in East and Southeast Asia and one of the foundations of regional balance. The signing of the ASEAN Charter, the bilateral and multilateral dialogue partnerships established with major international players and ASEAN Free Trade Arias constitute the important catalysts in this direction.










* Gheorghe SĂVUICĂ is a specialist on Southeast Asia, speaking Bahasa. He was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Indonesia and Pakistan and Charge d’Affaires a.i., with Letter of Cabinet, to Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cyprus and Finland/Estonia. By retiring on pension, in 2006, after 40 years of diplomatic activity, he founded the Romanian Institute for Europe– Asia Studies (IRSEA) in the capacity as President.