Background Notes: Asean
Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public
Date: Mar 15, 19923/15/92
Category: Country Data
Region: South America
Subject: Travel, History, Trade/Economics,
International Organizations, Security Assistance and Sales
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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.
COOPERATION WITHIN ASEAN
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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. (###)