Background & History

Originally known as: The Bangkok Declaration

Established: 8 August, 1967

ASEAN was established with a specific vision and set of goals:

1. To accelerate 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.

Initially ASEAN’s priorities were focused on regional stability and security, rather than economic integration, and it has been widely acknowledged as having been instrumental to the peace and stability of the region in the latter half of the twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries.


ASEAN’s first major political move since its establishment was the declaration of the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) in 1971.4 ZOPFAN called for ASEAN to be “free from any form or manner of interference by outside Powers”, however no concrete implementation plans were included in the declaration as each member had its own formal defence arrangement with external forces and pursued their own foreign policies.

ASEAN’s activity remained primarily political during the 1970s. The major treaties from this period include the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation5, and the Declaration of ASEAN Concord6, which expressed political solidarity and re-avowed ASEAN’s commitments against the aggressive resolution of intra-regional conflict.

ASEAN strengthened its presence on the world stage through its reaction to Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia in 1979, primarily through leading the effort at the United Nations to deny political legitimacy of the occupation.

After Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia ASEAN embarked on an extensive process of reform. It was joined by Brunei in 1984, and formed a kernel for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), which began meeting in 1989. One significant economic development during that time was the adoption of ASEAN Investment Agreement.

ASEAN reinvented itself in the 1990s by focusing on economic and development goals. In 1992 ASEAN committed itself to creating the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) by the year 2020, a deadline they later brought forward to 2002.7

Focused on trade in manufactured goods, a key component of the AFTA was the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT), which provided a schedule by which member states were expected to phase out tariffs on imports from other member states.8

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was established in 1994, along with a range of co-operative measures against piracy and drug trafficking.9 The following year ASEAN formally declared itself a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, although this treaty would not be fully ratified until 2001.10 The ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS) was signed in 1995, and additional packages have been steadily signed to it since.11 1997 saw the introduction of the ASEAN Vision 2020, which would provide the basis of most developmental and integration initiatives up to the present day.12 In 1998 ASEAN Ministers signed the Framework Agreement on the ASEAN Investment Area, which superseded the ASEAN Investment Agreement.

ASEAN in the 21st Century

The Bali Concord II in 2003 saw ASEAN adopt its “three communities”, redefining the way its ASEAN Vision plans would operate.

It was not until 2007, however, that the three communities would receive their “blueprints”, documents providing concrete objectives, timelines and approaches. The deadlines were ambitiously brought forward to 2015, and it is for this reason that the ASEAN Economic Community is often referred to as AEC 2015. AFTA was updated through the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA), which provided the AFTA-CEPT framework with a more comprehensive legal backbone.13

AFAS was also brought under the control of the AEC. Together with the Initiative for ASEAN Integration Strategic Framework and the Initiative for ASEAN Integration Work Plan Phase II, these three documents formed the Roadmap for the ASEAN Community 2009-2015.14

In 2009 the previous investment agreements were superseded by the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) which was also put under the purview of the AEC.15

On the political and institutional front, in 2007 ASEAN members signed an ASEAN Charter, which was launched in 2008, with the intention of moving towards a model of international governance similar to the European Union.16 The Charter made ASEAN a legal entity as opposed to a political affiliation and solidified and expanded its institutional structure in an effort ultimately aimed toward creation of an ASEAN single market.

The ASEAN of the 21st century is very different from that of 1967. The ten countries which now constitute ASEAN had a combined population of 260 million in 1967; today that number is over 625 million. In 1967 their combined nominal GDPs were in the region of just $25 billion, whereas today it is just under $2.4 trillion. In 1967 their combined trade flows were worth $10 billion, a number which had grown to just over $2.5 trillion by the end of 2014.

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