Background Notes: Asean

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: Mar 15, 19923/15/92 Category: Country Data Region: South America Country: Argentina Subject: Travel, History, Trade/Economics, International Organizations, Security Assistance and Sales [TEXT] Official Name: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Member states: Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.


Area: 3 million sq. km. (1 million sq. mi.); about the size of the US east of the Mississippi River, plus Texas and Oklahoma. Major cities: Brunei Darussalam--Bandar Seri Begawan (70,000); Indonesia--Jakarta (8.8 million), Surabaya (2 million), Bandung (1.4 million), Medan (1 million); Malaysia--Kuala Lumpur (1 million); Philippines--Manila (6 million); Singapore--(2.7 million); Thailand- -Bangkok (6 million).
Total population (1990): 333 million. Avg. annual growth rate: 2%. Ethnic groups: Malay, Thai, Chinese, Indian, others. Religions: Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism. Languages: Malay, Indonesian, Filipino, Thai, Chinese, English.
Foundation and Goals
Established: August 8, 1967, with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Purpose: To strengthen regional cohesion and self- reliance, while emphasizing economic, social, and cultural cooperation and development.
Principal organs: Meetings of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers, the ASEAN Standing Committee, and the ASEAN Economic Ministers. There is an ASEAN Secretariat, located in Jakarta, with associated specialized intergovernmental committees.
Members' aggregate GDP (1990): $303 billion. GDP growth rate (1990): 7.6%. Per capita GDP (1990 avg.): About $950. Natural resources: Petroleum, natural gas, timber, tin, nickel, copper, iron, bauxite, other minerals. Agriculture (about 22% of GDP): Products--rice, rubber, cassava, sugar, coffee, corn, pineapple, bananas, coconuts, palm oil. Industry (about 32% of GDP): Types--electronics, petroleum, textiles, minerals, chemicals, food processing, wood products, fabricated steel, ships. Trade (1990): Exports--$141 billion ($27 billion to US): office machinery and electronics, petroleum, textiles, telecommunications equipment, natural rubber, processed seafood and fruits, wood products, tin, palm oil, sugar, coffee. Major markets--Japan, US, European Community (EC). Imports--$155 billion ($19 billion from US): machinery and other capital goods, chemicals, oil, food. Major sources--Japan, US, EC, Saudi Arabia.


ASEAN Secretary General: Rusli Noor. The Government of Brunei is the designated liaison channel between ASEAN and the US for the 1991-94 period. ASEAN Representation in the US: Liaison through embassies of ASEAN member countries in Washington, DC, with chairmanship on a 6-month rotating basis. To ensure comparability, single sources for statistics have been used whenever possible; therefore, figures in this Background Note may be at variance with those in the Notes on individual ASEAN countries.


Located in Southeast Asia on the Malay Peninsula and the islands to the south and east in the South China Sea, the six ASEAN states adjoin some of the most important sea lanes in the world. The ASEAN states lie astride the Equator and extend from roughly 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi.) north to 800 kilometers (500 mi.) south.


One of the most striking characteristics of ASEAN is its wide diversity in race, language, culture, and religion. Many ethnic groups coexist within ASEAN. Malayo-Polynesians make up the majority in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia (and thus in ASEAN), although Malaysia and Indonesia have significant numbers of other groups. Thailand is 84% Thai. Ethnic Chinese make up 75% of the population of Singapore, and sizable Chinese minorities are found in each of the other ASEAN nations. Derivatives of the Malayo-Polynesian linguistic family, most notably Malay, Indonesian, and Pilipino, are the dominant languages in all but Thailand and Singapore. In Thailand, 85% of the population speak Thai. Various Chinese dialects are spoken throughout the region. English is the region's most widely spoken non-indigenous language.


ASEAN was founded officially on August 8, 1967, with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration by the foreign ministers of the original five members. The organization was created to strengthen regional cohesion and self-reliance through economic, social, and cultural cooperation. It developed slowly during its first decade, partly because of diverse economic interests, varied historical experience, and the initially fragile political ties among the five original states. Brunei Darussalam, formerly a British protectorate, joined ASEAN as its sixth member state in January 1984, shortly after attainment of full independence. To curb external interference, in 1971 the ASEAN nations set as their goal the establishment of a zone of peace, freedom, and neutrality (ZOPFAN) for Southeast Asia, and this was included in the Bali Declaration signed by the ASEAN heads of government in 1976. This concept remains a long-term objective. The fall of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975 led to a new phase of ASEAN relations. In 1976, the first ASEAN summit conference was convened in Bali, Indonesia, and collaboration among ASEAN states took a major step forward with the signing of the Declaration of ASEAN Concord. Aimed at promoting cooperative activities in industry, trade, and other fields, this declaration remains the major "constitutional base" for ASEAN cooperation. It also authorized the formation of the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.
Growing Cooperation
The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, starting in December 1978, played a key role in furthering ASEAN collaboration. During the 1980s, the ASEAN nations successfully managed passage of yearly UN General Assembly resolutions calling for an end to Vietnamese occupation and were instrumental in the 1991 peace settlement in Cambodia. These accomplishments and the political cooperation thus fostered have been ASEAN's major political achievements. Diverse economic interests and levels of development have limited the extent of economic cooperation between member nations. However, the collapse of international commodity prices in the mid-1980s and the subsequent downturn in the economies of several ASEAN nations spurred regional leaders to initiate serious economic reforms and trade liberalization plans. The December 1987 ASEAN summit gave new impetus to reducing internal trade barriers and establishing joint industrial projects; it also fostered closer coordination on economic issues by ASEAN governments, particularly in international forums. The 1989 creation of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, an informal economic grouping of the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and ASEAN, which expanded in 1991 to include the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) has provided an additional important venue in which ASEAN representatives can meet and discuss issues of broader regional importance. ASEAN economic ministers in 1991 agreed to move toward an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA). The decision to create AFTA was taken by ASEAN heads of government at the fourth ASEAN summit in January 1992.


Since its inception, ASEAN gradually has developed a number of formal, regular consultative meetings and committees, but it has only a very limited permanent structure. Decisions are made by consensus and often are achieved through informal, ad hoc consultations. However, there are several formal bodies that consult and make decisions on various common issues.
Foreign Ministers' Meetings
The periodic meetings of the six foreign ministers constitute the principal decision-making body for ASEAN. In addition to their regular annual sessions in June or July, the foreign ministers gather on other occasions as needed. The venue of the ministerial meetings rotates annually among the six countries. The foreign ministers' meetings have assumed a prominent role partially as a result of events in Indochina. Recognizing the importance of a unified front on the Cambodia question, ASEAN has used the foreign ministers' consultations to reaffirm their common stand. Periodic meetings of senior officials plan for and supplement the work of the foreign ministers. In addition, an ASEAN Standing Committee, composed of ambassadors resident in the venue of the ministerial meeting and chaired by the foreign minister of the host country, meets as needed.
Economic Ministers' Meetings
The economic ministers usually meet twice a year to discuss common approaches to economic questions and to review cooperative programs. Decisions on economic questions are then referred to the foreign ministers or heads of government for final approval. Various sectoral committees, subcommittees, and working groups have been established to deal with specific economic and social issues. Regular ministerial consultations also are held in such sectors as labor, social welfare, education, energy, and information.
The ASEAN Secretariat
The ASEAN Secretariat is located in Jakarta in a headquarters building provided by the Indonesian Government. The ASEAN states have not favored development of a strong central coordinating authority. The Secretariat is limited in size and is tasked mainly with serving the various ministerial meetings and committees. It has been suggested that the Secretariat might serve as a regional research, information, and statistical center, but this and other roles have not yet been authorized. Complementing the ASEAN Secretariat, each government maintains its own National Secretariat in its Foreign Ministry; these vary in size and function. The six National Secretariats are responsible to their own governments.


In order to achieve closer relations with major developed nations, ASEAN has instituted an annual "Post-Ministerial Conference" at the foreign minister level with the United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea, the European Community, Australia, and New Zealand. Beginning in 1979, immediately following the ASEAN foreign ministers' mid-year meeting, joint and individual meetings have been held among ASEAN ministers and their counterparts from the seven "dialogue partners" named above. ASEAN's relations with Japan have strengthened steadily since the early 1970s. Links in trade, investment, and aid are particularly strong and are rapidly growing. Examples of Japan's increasing commitment to the region include the $2 billion fund established in 1987 to finance ASEAN industrial projects, joint ASEAN-Japanese industrial ventures, and Japanese-sponsored technical training institutes. ASEAN's relations with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the EC also have deepened, and other nations, including the former Soviet republics, China, and Vietnam, have sought "dialogue" roles.


The ASEAN region is one of the world's economic success stories in agriculture, industry, and trade. The economies range from resource-rich but still largely agricultural Indonesia, with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $505, to the highly industrialized city-state of Singapore, with a per capita GDP of $12,720. The ASEAN nations are mainly committed to market- and export-oriented economic growth strategies. Their dynamic economies averaged annual GDP growth of about 7% during the 1970s but experienced stagnation or recession in the mid-1980s due to slackening world trade and deteriorating commodity and oil prices. Since the late 1980s, growth rates have increased steadily and in 1990 ranged from 2.1% for the Philippines to 12% for Thailand; the combined ASEAN economies grew 7.6% in 1990. Except for Singapore and Brunei, the ASEAN economies are still largely agricultural, producing commodities such as rubber, palm oil, rice, copra, and coffee for export, though manufacturing sectors in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia are of increasing importance in each economy. Singapore has a highly diversified commercial and industrial economy, with growing emphasis on the service sector. Commercialized cultivation and processing of primary agricultural products are important industries in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. ASEAN accounts for 72% of world exports of rubber and is the world's largest source of tropical timber. Mineral resources include 26% of the world's tin exports and significant amounts of copper, coal, nickel, and tungsten. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei are important energy exporters, producing most of East Asia's petroleum and natural gas.


Political Cooperation: The Cambodia Conflict. The common challenge to regional security posed by the events in Indochina stimulated closer political cohesion among the ASEAN countries. The war in Cambodia and the resulting flood of refugees into Thailand raised challenges to regional security that ASEAN collectively moved to meet. ASEAN led efforts in the United Nations and other forums to oppose Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia and requested the 1981 UN conference on Cambodia. The 93 nations attending the conference unanimously approved a final declaration embodying the principles on which a settlement should be based to establish an independent and neutral Cambodia: a political settlement, withdrawal of all foreign troops, and UN-supervised elections. ASEAN strongly supported the peace agreement reached in 1991 and Prince Norodom Sihanouk's election to head a coalition government. Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas served as co-chairman of the Paris International Conference on Cambodia, where the peace settlement was reached. He articulated the ASEAN "vision of one Southeast Asia, at peace within itself and with its neighboring powers, its constituent countries harmoniously cooperating with one another for common progress and prosperity." The conference was attended by foreign ministers of all six ASEAN countries. The end of hostilities in Southeast Asia has permitted discussion of the possibility that those nations will become involved in ASEAN. The "Singapore Declaration" of the 1992 summit included a pledge to play an active role in international efforts to reconstruct Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. ASEAN leaders also stated that they welcome accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation by all countries in Southeast Asia. Laos and Vietnam are reportedly interested in joining, perhaps in anticipation of being asked to a participate as observers in some ASEAN meetings. Refugees. The role of the ASEAN states has been crucial in coping with the refugee flow from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Since 1979, these nations have provided first asylum to more than 2 million refugees from these countries. Countries of first asylum for boat people--Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia--are working closely with the United States, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and European nations toward the eventual resettlement or repatriation of refugees. However, in recent years the ASEAN countries have become concerned about the continued exodus of refugees. In 1989, Malaysia ceased granting first asylum to newly arrived boat people. In May 1990, ASEAN publicly stated that the burden of providing first asylum had become intolerable and pressed for an international effort to resolve the Southeast Asian refugee problem. Economic Cooperation. ASEAN leaders agreed in 1992 to cut intra-ASEAN tariffs to 0-5% on all manufactured products and processed agricultural goods within 15 years and thus create an ASEAN Free Trade Area. This is an important step toward overcoming barriers to greater integration among the economies of the various ASEAN states. Since its inception, ASEAN has faced constraints on economic cooperation. ASEAN members, except Singapore, depend on the production and export of primary commodities and manufactured goods that tend to compete with, rather than complement, the products of their ASEAN partners. Intra-ASEAN trade, although significant and growing, is still less than 20% of total ASEAN trade. ASEAN members generally seek a common policy on commodities and on other economic issues in international forums, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The semi-annual meetings of the economic ministers constitute the key consultative mechanism on regional economic policy. In addition, ASEAN has established a number of economic committees and consultative arrangements dealing with a wide range of economic issues.


While the heads of government had discussed ways to promote dialogue on regional security issues, ASEAN still has not been given a defense or security role. Cooperation among member-states has been conducted on a bilateral basis. ASEAN remains committed to its 1971 call for a zone of peace, freedom, and neutrality. ASEAN governments recognize that under current circumstances a US security presence in the area is an important stabilizing force. While no other ASEAN member has offered to replace US bases in the Philippines (or been asked by the United States to do so), several have come forward with offers to negotiate arrangements under which US military forces would have access to repair facilities, sources of supply, and training sites.
Strength In Diversity
ASEAN has shown a remarkable ability to put aside historical disputes and limited economic complementarity in order to concentrate on issues of common interest. All six members have made preservation and enhancement of regional cohesion through ASEAN a foreign policy priority. During more than 20 years of cooperation, ASEAN has grown into a dynamic group of developing countries with some of the highest growth rates in the world. It has gained the respect and acceptance of the entire international community, which are matters of great pride to its peoples, who now feel that they can determine their own destiny. ASEAN unity and cooperation have not only served regional security and development but also increased these nations' influence in international forums such as the United Nations and the GATT, and in international commodity agreements. ASEAN is recognized as a leader of the developing world, with successful, market-oriented economies. In seeking to advance its interests, ASEAN has stressed cooperation rather than confrontation with industrialized countries in international organizations and conferences.


The US-ASEAN relationship is substantial and expanding. Secretary of State Baker attended the 1989, 1990, and 1991 ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conferences, following a precedent established by his predecessors of meeting annually with the ASEAN foreign ministers. By encouraging wide-ranging discussions of issues, these meetings reinforce the value the United States places on our long-standing relationship with the ASEAN nations.
Economic Relations
With trade totalling $45 billion in 1990 ASEAN is the United States' fifth largest trading partner, and the US is ASEAN's largest single market. Principal US exports to ASEAN are capital goods, transportation equipment, chemicals, and agricultural products. The United States imports ASEAN's natural rubber, tin, petroleum, sugar, and palm oil, as well as textiles and electronics products and components. Generally favorable investment climates, market-oriented economies, relatively low labor costs, and abundant natural resources have attracted significant US investment to ASEAN. However, US investment in the region faces competition from that of Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore, among other nations. The United States is currently the largest investor in Singapore and the Philippines, second-largest in Thailand, third-largest in Malaysia, and fourth-largest in Indonesia. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a US government agency, has over $600 million of investment guarantees and loans outstanding to ASEAN as of mid- 1991. US Export-Import Bank export insurance and loans outstanding to ASEAN totaled $2.4 billion as of September 1991.
US Economic Assistance
The US Agency for International Development (AID) strategy supports strengthening the private sector and freeing financial resources, promoting democratic institutions, and sustaining the natural resource bases of member states. The Private Investment and Trade Opportunities (PITO) project is a joint effort by the US and ASEAN governments and private sectors to expand trade, investment, and technology transfer between the United States and ASEAN. The project is funded by private contributions and by the ASEAN Regional Program of AID. The most significant project developed under PITO's auspices to date is the environmental improvement project, which would use $17 million in aid over a 6-year period to lessen industrial and urban pollution. In addition to regional development assistance to ASEAN, the United States has provided substantial funding for bilateral development assistance to Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Post-World War II US bilateral economic assistance to ASEAN countries through fiscal year 1990 is more than $14 billion. There also are a number of cooperative programs with ASEAN in the educational, cultural, and scientific fields.
Political Relations
ASEAN's moderating influence in international councils, as well as its relative prosperity, have contributed to the peace and stability of the region. ASEAN cooperation also is important to the United States on the issue of long-term resettlement of refugees out of first-asylum nations and efforts to account for Americans missing and unaccounted for in Indochina. Frequent ASEAN-US consultations increase understanding of common interests and provide opportunities to consult informally on a wide range of issues. The ASEAN-US economic dialogue began in September 1977 in Manila. Subsequent dialogues have been held approximately every 18 months. Additional informal political and economic consultations have evolved over the years. The ASEAN Washington Committee (AWC) is composed of the ambassadors to the United States of the six ASEAN countries. It meets periodically with US officials to discuss common issues. The Economic Coordinating Committee (ECC) was established at the third economic dialogue in Manila and comprises senior ASEAN-nation embassy officials in Washington, DC, and their counterparts in the United States, as well as US and ASEAN private sector representatives. The ECC generally meets monthly to review cooperative activities and economic issues. The US-ASEAN Council for Business and Technology was established in 1979 to bring together US and ASEAN private sector leaders to discuss common interests and the enhancement of trade and investment and relations between the two regions. Under a program known as the ASEAN-US Initiative (AUI), the US Trade Representative and ASEAN ambassadors signed a memorandum of understanding in December 1990 to establish regular ministerial-level trade consultations and a senior officials' working group to explore mechanisms for enhancing trade and investment relations. (###)