The Association of Southeast Asian Nations – ASEAN for short, is an association that today consists of 10 Southeast Asian states. In 1967, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia founded ASEAN. The aim was to improve economic, political and social cooperation. Another objective was to balance political
conflicts between these countries that existed as a consequence of decolonization and post-colonial state-building. During Cold War, ASEAN members wanted to contain the influence of communism in their region. Times changed. Old enemies became new partners and in the second half of the 1990s, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia joined ASEAN. The collapse of the USSR, the founding of
the WTO and a financial crisis in Asia prompted members to deepen their relations and adapt to the new situation. In the 2000s, free trade agreements were concluded with India, China, South Korea, Australia, NewZealand and Japan. In the future the entire region will be merged into one large free trade zone. Since 2001, the “ASEAN Summit” takes place annually. It is a meeting of the heads of state and
government, where current problems are discussed and solutions are worked out. On 15th December, 2008, the ASEAN Charter came into force, giving the association the status of a legal person. Principles of non-intervention and consensual decision-taking remained unchanged by the Charter and became part of it. (This neutrality, being of top priority shall
protect the economic cooperation but also faces criticism, since it means that in very
few cases decisions are taken). Decisions are generally made by consensus; no member can be forced to something. As a result, the group rarely appears to be
closed. Today, ASEAN is based on three pillars:
As a political and security community to ensure peace; as an economic community with a strong domestic market; and as a social and cultural community (including a common identity) ASEAN faces a number of challenges, especially in relation to social and environmental justice. Countries such as Vietnam or the Philippines are particularly vulnerable to climate change and already feel its impacts today. Nevertheless member states plan to meet the energy demand and ensure supply primarily by making use of climate-damaging coal. Indonesia plans to build 117 new coal-fired power plants by 2025. Myanmar invests in coal and gigantic hydroelectric power plants. Laos builds dams on the Mekong.
The result is that Vietnam loses water in
the Mekong Delta. However, fossil fuels for example are not
necessary to cover the lack of energy. Renewable energy sources, ranging from solar energy to biomass and wind power, have enormous potentials in the region.
They too would promote the local economy and provide sustainable jobs. Large areas of precious rainforest are burnt down for palm oil plantations and cattle feed cultivation all over Indonesia. The haze of these fires covers large parts of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Pollution continues even though in 2003 a which should reduce forest fires, environmental degradation and air pollution. As such problems cross borders, ASEAN must tackle them in a joint effort and think beyond borders. This can be done, for example, by taking up the suggestions made by CSOs (civil society organizations) aiming at installing a fourth Pillar: the environmental pillar. It must ensure that the ecological limits
are taken into account in the growth debate.
Only in case civil society is informed transparently and gets much more involved, acting free from State repression, social and environmental justice can arise. Serve people rather than profit!