Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation

Beginning the Academic Essay

Until the arrival of the West, continental Southeast Asia was more or less under the control of three empires: Thai, Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodia) while, on the other hand,
Indonesia and Malaysia were still fragmented. Singapore and the Philippines did not exist yet; they will be consolidated into states by colonial empires. Then there is no economic integration in the region except inside the empires. With the arrival of the colonial powers towards the end of the 19th century – England, France, the Netherlands, the United States, the political landscape will change noticeably, but economic exchanges will not develop further because they will henceforth be oriented towards the metropolises. Also, the Southeast Asian states will be part of the first wave of decolonization between 1946 (Philippines) and 1957 (Malaysia). Singapore (1965) and Brunei (1984) will be the last members to achieve independence.
With the departure of the colonial powers, the old rivalries will soon resurface with the more ideological aspect of the cold war to stir them up. French Indochina will experience war until 1954 and leave a divided Vietnam with a communist regime in the north.

Brief overview of the Cold War:

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the alliance between the victors was broken and the two military and ideological blocs were formed around a part of the United States and on the other side of the Soviet Union. From now on, international relations will be conceived in a bipolar logic, the other countries having to choose a camp.

In 1949, Asia became a field of confrontation of the two superpowers (US and USSR). Indeed, Chinese communists took power under Mao Zedong. As a result, the United States is losing an important ally in the region. The Chinese joined the Soviet bloc. At the same time, in Indochina, the Vietnamese communists are at war with the French presence. Asia is destabilized. The strategy of containment then knows a serious setback.
That’s why, in 1950, the United States did not hesitate to go to war against North Korea when it, supported militarily by China, attacks South Korea. The war, very deadly, lasted three years. In 1953, an armistice was signed, sanctioning a return to the status quo ante.
This time the containment strategy was a success. The Korean War prompted the United States to sign a series of pacts to encircle Soviet power. In 1951, it was the San Francisco Pact between the United States and Japan; in 1954, the SEATOA with the countries of Southeast Asia, then the Baghdad Pact with the countries of the Near East.
The constitution of the blocs is accompanied by an arms race between the US and USSR. As early as 1949, the Soviets possessed the nuclear weapon. And in 1953, just a few months after the United States, they also owned the hydrogen bomb. The two superpowers are now in a situation of nuclear parity. Especially since both also have the necessary vectors (heavy bombers and, from the mid-1950s, thanks to the space conquest, rockets).

So, in a few years, the two Great have gone from the big alliance to the “Great mistrust”. But from the death of Stalin in 1953, the relations between the two superpowers will begin to evolve, tensions lessen. In the same period, the logic of bipolarization is more and more contested.

The Americans are politically organizing their European allies by creating NATO, the 4th of April 1949, a military pact that aims, by putting all European armies under US command, to resist a possible Soviet attack.

It is from within each block that an attempt to challenge the bipolar logic really appears. Thus, as early as 1960, the Chinese challenged the Soviet leadership. While Soviet aid to the Vietnamese war against the Americans is deliberately limited, for the sake of relaxation, the Chinese do not hesitate to increase by supporting North Vietnam. And in a general way, the People’s Republic of China will try to establish itself as a unifying pole of the Third World guerrilla movements, to the detriment of the Soviet Union. The Sino-US situation will quickly change under the Nixon administration. Indeed, US officials will take advantage of Sino-Soviet tensions by engaging a policy of rapprochement with the People’s China.

In 1985, Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in a very difficult political context. After the death of Brezhnev, the internal struggles were lively and his two successors, Andropov and Chernenko, died in a very short time, opening a crisis of major succession at the head of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev is a reformer. He is aware that the Soviet Union does not have the economic and technological means to follow the Americans in the arms race.
Everything is going so fast. In a way, bipolar logic continues to work. The Soviets thus use their influence to lead their Vietnamese allies to evacuate Cambodia they occupied. The Soviets are withdrawing themselves from Afghanistan. At the same time, they stop supporting African pro-communist guerrillas and regimes. In the space of a few months, most of the conquests of the Brezhnev era have been abandoned. But Gorbachev’s attempt to reform the system fails. The Soviet Union loses control of the people’s democracies, the Berlin Wall falls, Germany reunites and, ultimately, the Soviet Union implodes itself. Russia, the successor to the Soviet Union, is amputated territorially because of the self-proclaimed independence of several former Soviet republics. In December 1989, at the Malta Summit, the leaders of the two superpowers announce the end of the cold war. The Gulf War in 1991 saw Russia join in a war against its former ally, Iraq. US is the only superpower left.

ASEAN creation:

ASEAN is an organization that began in 1961. In the mid-1960s, during a ceremony marking the reconciliation between the 3 countries (Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia), Thai Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman, is proposing to Indonesia to join them in creating a regional cooperation organization.
In a context of state building, with the exception of Thailand, which has not been colonized, the other countries are all coming out of more or less violent processes of independence. There was also distrust due to regional wars (between Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia between 1962 and 1966 the confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia as well as the claim of Sabah (which belonged to the Malaysia) by the Philippines).
Finally, within each state, communist guerrillas threatened the central powers.
For each of the founding countries, the priority objective is therefore to stabilize the new regal spaces. But unlike the European Economic Community, ASEAN is a sovereignty initiative and, to a certain extent, the rest still today.

Orchestrated in the heart of the Cold War, this project aims, among other things, to promote the interests of the region through cooperation between those who live there and not by the outside powers. However, it does not have a military component. After Singapore has asked to participate in the organization, the negotiations began and quickly ended on an agreement, made concrete in August 1967 by the Bangkok Declaration.

Several reasons are behind the creation of this one. First, there is the fear of communism internally and internationally; secondly, reduced confidence in the powers external to the region; thirdly, Indonesia’s decision to pursue an active and independent foreign policy with regional cooperation; fourth, the desire of Malaysia and Singapore to coerce Indonesia into a cooperative structure; fifthly, considerations aimed at consolidating political regimes in member countries; and ultimately the desire to focus on economic development.

The desire to become a regional community is a reaction to the very busy context when it was created. Indeed, in the midst of the cold war, the countries of Southeast Asia do not want to have to choose one side against the other or to be pawns too easily manipulated by one or the other power (United States and Soviet Union). Not to be victims but beneficiaries. Each of the founding countries knows that he cannot resist alone. A common front was therefore necessary. The region is at the service of each member.

In October 1992, the trade liberalization agreement was signed by the six members of the association after only one year of negotiations.
Unlike other agreements like the EU and NAFTA, this agreement is voluntary and does not cover all products. For example, it initially excluded all agricultural products, which made up 50% of all intra-ASEAN trade.
Moreover, there is no question of giving up part of the sovereignty of the states or of making the secretariat a regional economic superstructure. Rather, it is an extension of the 1976 tariff agreement and its objective is to further promote economic cooperation. The agreement is also a way for ASEAN to assert itself in Asia and marks a significant change by placing priority on economic issues. Indeed, unlike what had happened during the 1980s, where cooperation efforts had been mobilized especially in the political field, especially because of the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam.
Indeed, starting with the creation of APEC, ASEAN feels threatened, with member countries directly facing Japan, the United States and China.

ASEAN, is an organization that respects the principles of the United Nations Charter, by promoting the rule of law, peace and equity, and regional stability. The desire to unify the economies of Southeast Asian states also stems from the desire to protect their identity and sovereignty. In order to implement these principles, mechanisms are established, such as the annual meeting of Foreign Ministers and the National Secretariat established in each Member State. The alliance will expand from 1984 with the accession of Brunei, followed by Viet Nam (1995), Laos and Burma (1997), and Cambodia (1999). In order to eliminate tariff barriers in the ASEAN zone, its six members will sign the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) on 28 January 1992.

ASEAN is part of a regional security perspective, but the notion of security in Asia does not only reflect the military aspect: indeed, we are talking about global security (comprehensive security). This approach to security links economic and military issues, internal problems and the importance of non-military means to ensure the security of the region.

In other words, only military acts cannot ensure the security of States without the contribution of other areas. This doctrine is mainly focused on the interior of the state, so it requires a stable regional environment to protect the regimes in place, allow the state to consolidate and allow the economic development of each without external intervention. These goals explain why compliance with the standard of non-interference in the affairs of other members is so strong.

New issues after the Cold War:

In Asia, as in the rest of the world, the end of the cold war has brought about major structural upheavals. First of these upheavals, the collapse of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) led to the disappearance of the Soviet threat in the region. Due to a lack of resources, Russia has abandoned all positions in Central Asia, Mongolia, South-East Asia and South Asia. Moscow is therefore no longer playing an indirect role in Asia, mainly through a lucrative arms trade, whose distribution has, at least, the merit of being carried out in a relatively balanced manner according to exclusively financial criteria.

Economically and strategically, all countries formerly linked to the USSR have thus been abandoned to their limited resources. At the same time, the legacy of the divisions of the Cold War, particularly painful in the case of Vietnam, did not allow the United States, and its allies, to quickly occupy the place left vacant by the disappearance of the USSR.

Second upheaval, the end of the cold war has, at least initially, reinforced the latent isolationist temptations in the United States. Washington hoped to reap the benefits of the USSR’s disappearance in Asia by reducing its engagement in the area, which is often described as too expensive and not directly related to its security interests. The years following the end of the Cold War were marked by the withdrawal of the US presence in Southeast Asia and the closure of the Clark and Subic Bay bases in the Philippines in 1992.

But this double withdrawal from Asia – real on the part of a Russia deprived of means, probably overvalued by the United States – left a very tempting vacuum for China. For the first time in its history, for more than two centuries, Beijing had once again resources more in line with its ambitions. Indeed, if the messianic character of Maoist China strongly struck the spirits, its external intervention capabilities were very limited outside support granted to some guerrilla movements. On the other hand, the reformist China of Deng Xiaoping and his successors has more developed means of intervention.

Efforts to avoid development of Communist in South East Asia:

The proclamation of the People’s Republic of China following the victory of the “communist revolution” (taken from Beijing on January 22, 1949) is undeniably an important step in the Asian history. Indeed, after this event, the influence of China is real to the colonized peoples. It supports the struggle for decolonization and is an important player in the Bandung conference (April 1955) which marks the birth of the Third World. Also, since the death of Mao (1976), China has opened up to the world and is now the world’s second largest power.

A worrying China
Since the end of the cold war, we have witnessed in Asia not a disappearance but a transfer of bipolarization from the global system to the regional level. The actors have changed, but the risks inherent in this type of radical opposition are still present and have even increased over the past ten years. While all regional and extra-regional actors first sought to deny the reality of division into two camps at the regional level – and the resulting new problems – no effective collective security organization could be implemented.
Concern and pessimism prevail in the region, fueled by the strengths of the PRC to underpin its regional strategy. China is, indeed, the only one in the zone to have a real nuclear and ballistic capacity. Despite the end of the cold war, to which Beijing is significantly the only one to constantly refer, China has made the quantitative and qualitative development of its missiles a priority.

China has positioned the Southeast Asian countries in a dilemma that it inevitably wins: less China and the prosperity of Southeast Asia is affected, more China and its autonomy is trapped. Its goal since the early 2000s is therefore to drag the region into its dynamic because China knows that it cannot claim the status of a world power if it is criticized by Southeast Asia and the ASEAN.
She managed to impose her vision on the South China Sea despite the legal weakness of her claims. This is a transition into a political force transformed into a diplomatic success with the forthcoming signing of a Code of Conduct in this maritime area.

China has implicit pressure that is very difficult to counter. It is in constant discussion with ASEAN and thus closely follows the internal evolutions on which it will try to intervene if it does not suit its interests. For the moment, it has played a favorable role for the business community; then some regimes and leaders whose political sustainability now passes through Chinese support. But the 1Belt, 1Road project can generate a process of saturation: local companies do not want to live “Chinese”.

The enlargements and the Asian crisis

In 1995 begins an ASEAN enlargement process. Vietnam joins the association, which marks an important step since less than 10 years ago, this one and ASEAN were not on very good terms following Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1978. In 1997, Myanmar and Laos joined the association, and Cambodia in 1999. The latter was to join at the same time as Laos and
Myanmar but the 1997 coup d’état delayed its entry. The inclusion of Laos and
Cambodia was the result of both the desire to include all of Southeast Asia but also
following pressure from Vietnam.

The case of Myanmar has been more complicated because the in place was not recognized by any Western country. On the other hand, the desire to weaken Chinese influence over this country has prevailed over moral considerations, and Myanmar has been accepted. The other members believe that in the long run their influence will get the better of the political rigidity of Myanmar even if nothing suggests it in the short term. Nevertheless, ASEAN continues to be behind Myanmar even though this creates complications in its relations with the European powers and the United States.

In addition to this enlargement, which has led to multiple changes and more complex decision-making (consensus is needed), ASEAN has also had to weather the 1997-98 crisis.
Of the three worst-hit countries, two were members of ASEAN, Thailand and Indonesia (the third being South Korea). At the beginning of the crisis, there was talk of delaying the implementation of the free trade agreement, but soon the opposite happened. This change in direction is mainly due to the effects of IMF programs that forced Indonesia to open its markets, which had dragged on since the beginning of the process.

The idea of an Asian monetary fund was also revived in 1999. The need for a lender of last resort was demonstrated by the 1997 Asian crisis while the IMF, because of its limited resources, could not help these countries as much as they would have
The United States opposed the project for fear of duplication with the IMF, at least officially. An Asian fund would have been run by Asians rather than Washington, which really explains the US opposition to the project.

The crisis has illustrated the dependence of the countries of the region to the great powers. Indeed, the crisis was curbed quickly thanks to the help of foreign powers. Thus, China helped greatly by not devaluing its currency, and Japan, which was also affected by the crisis, but relied on it before Southeast Asia then helped them to put it back. In addition, IMF assistance was needed to stem the economic crisis. In short, the crisis has been a major challenge for ASEAN and has demonstrated its weaknesses.
While the world was so amazed by the economic miracle that was taking place in Southeast Asia, the weaknesses of this region appeared suddenly. The miracle turned to debacle in a few weeks, Thailand falling first to lead in its wake the entire region. In general, the crisis has highlighted weaknesses in financial systems and, at another level, government controls. Other factors, however, appeared quickly. First, the booming economic growth experienced by these countries has been largely fueled by foreign investment in these countries. The problem is that these portfolio investments were not due to lower production costs than elsewhere but to the anticipated high returns on foreign exchange. Money entered these countries to speculate and not to invest in production.53 This led to a second problem, namely that Investments could be withdrawn very easily and quickly (unlike productive investments).
When profits on capital (the combined result of interests and the depreciation of currencies) have become lower than elsewhere, it has been easy and tempting for investors to send their investments elsewhere, which has provoked major capital flight to countries outside Asia.


ASEAN is often compared to the European Union. Yet, from this comparison, conclusions are often unflattering for ASEAN. Although the criticisms addressed to it are often justified, the two organizations are in fact difficult to compare.
ASEAN and European construction started in regions that do not have the same history. If the goal of creating the conditions for peace is present in both projects, the method and actors differ profoundly. European construction was initiated by Democratic leaders of war-torn countries, convinced that nationalism was the cause of the bloody conflicts that tore the continent apart. ASEAN, on the other hand, was desired by leaders of authoritarian regimes who perceived nationalism as a means to consolidate their power. Where the founding fathers of Europe were striving to deconstruct the sovereignty of nation-states, Southeast Asian leaders saw (and still see) the nation-state as the model of their nation’s construction * .
In contrast to the European construction, ASEAN has the vocation to sanctify the sovereignty of its Member States and presents itself – as its name suggests – as an “association of nations”. To supranational institutions and the so-called “community” method that characterize the integrated functioning of part of the European Union, ASEAN opposes the ASEAN method, or the “ASEAN way” (brings together all the principles on which the Association is based).

ASEAN nowadays:

Today, ASEAN is 11 countries that are not alike (the 11th, Timor Leste, has applied for membership): neither in terms of level of development (Singapore is incomparable with Laos), nor in religious terms (Buddhist countries, Muslim countries, a Christian country …), nor in political terms (communist countries, authoritarian regimes, semi-democracies) … On the other hand, stuck between India and China, they always knew how to make proof of an aptitude for syncretism, negotiation and compromise.

With more than 500 million people, a gross national product of more than 540 billion and an area of 4 million square kilometers, Southeast Asia is a region with a lot of potential. Since 1999, it has been entirely regrouped within the association of nations of Southeast Asia (ASEAN), and since 1992 is working on a free trade area.
From 2.2% in 1970, the share of ASEAN exports in the world rose to 6.5% in 19961, and before the economic crisis everyone was talking about the extraordinary growth rates of some of the member countries. Despite efforts to increase intra-regional trade, it seems to have capped around 20-25%. In addition, these countries are still competitors for external markets after thirty-three years of cooperation.

Single Market:

ASEAN has reached important milestones in recent years, such as the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Free Trade Area, first steps towards a single market.
A single market would help raise the incomes of people in the ASEAN region and provide a great opportunity for Australia to export its technologies, models of higher education, agricultural products and natural resources such as gas.

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