Before ASEAN, the countries of Southeast Asia had tried to establish a number of regional organizations to promote regional integration. These included, among others, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954, the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) in 1961 and MAPHILINDO, a group comprising Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia in 1963. All of them set out to strengthen relations between countries in the region and to promote cooperation in areas such as economics, science and culture.
Despite such efforts, these integrative processes yielded few results as they consisted of only 2-3 countries from the region. It was this need for a more inclusive and effective process that inspired Dr. Thanat Khoman, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, to envision an association which would more broadly represent the countries of Southeast Asia.
In 1967, Dr. Thanat invited his counterparts from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore for informal talks in the seaside resort town of Bang Saen. It was these talks that led to an agreement to establish the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration on 8 August 1967.
The Bangkok Declaration provided that the aims and purposes of ASEAN shall be to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, agriculture and industries, scientific and transport spheres and to raise the living standards of their peoples.
After the five countries signed the Bangkok Declaration in 1967, five other countries in Southeast Asia joined the Association: Brunei Darussalam became a member on 7 January 1984, Viet Nam on 28 July 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on 23 July 1997 and Cambodia on 30 April 1999. As a precursor to the expansion of ASEAN to include the current ten Member States, the first ever Summit of these ten Southeast Asian countries or the SEA-10 Summit was held in Bangkok in 1995, signifying the coming together of Southeast Asian countries. ASEAN is also considering the application of Timor-Leste to become a member.
AIMS AND PURPOSES
As set out in the ASEAN Declaration, the aims and purposes of ASEAN are:
1. To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of Southeast Asian Nations;
2. To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter;
3. To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields;
4. To provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical and administrative spheres;
5. To collaborate more effectively for the greater utilisation of their agriculture and industries, the expansion of their trade, including the study of the problems of international commodity trade, the improvement of their transportation and communications facilities and the raising of the living standards of their peoples;
6. To promote Southeast Asian studies; and
7. To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes, and explore all avenues for even closer cooperation among themselves.
In their relations with one another, the ASEAN Member States have adopted the following fundamental principles, as contained in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) of 1976:
1. Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations;
2. The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion;
3. Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another;
4. Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner;
5. Renunciation of the threat or use of force; and
6. Effective cooperation among themselves.
In 2012, Brazil has become the first Latin America country to accede to the TAC. The accession demonstrates Brazil’s strong commitment to contribute to peace and stability in the region, laying the foundation to forge closer cooperation between ASEAN and Brazil in the future.
The ASEAN Community is comprised of three pillars, namely the ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.
The ASEAN Charter serves as a firm foundation in achieving the ASEAN Community by providing legal status and institutional framework for ASEAN. It also codifies ASEAN norms, rules and values; sets clear targets for ASEAN; and presents accountability and compliance.
The ASEAN Charter entered into force on 15 December 2008. A gathering of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers was held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta to mark this very historic occasion for ASEAN.
With the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN will henceforth operate under a new legal framework and establish a number of new organs to boost its community-building process.
In effect, the ASEAN Charter has become a legally binding agreement among the 10 ASEAN Member States.