U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: East Asia and Pacific Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/07/27 Fact Sheet: ASEAN
Bureau of Public Affairs

Fact Sheet: Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam to promote political and economic cooperation. The Bali Treaty, signed in 1976 by ASEAN heads of state in Bali, Indonesia, formalized the principles of peace and cooperation to which ASEAN is dedicated and is considered ASEAN's foundation document. Brunei joined in 1984, shortly after its independence from the United Kingdom. Vietnam will formally join ASEAN as its seventh state on July 28, 1995.

The Association commands far greater influence on Asia-Pacific trade and political and security issues than its members could achieve individually. ASEAN's success has been based largely on its use of consultation, consensus, and cooperation. Its role in organizing international efforts to end conflict in Cambodia in 1978 led eventually to the 1993 democratic elections in Cambodia. In January 1993, ASEAN established the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) to eliminate most tariffs on manufactured goods between the member countries over the next 15 years.

Post-Ministerial Conferences (PMC)

Since 1977, ASEAN has established dialogue partner relationships with the United States, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union. It also maintains structured relationships of varied degrees with China, Russia, and other countries. The foreign ministers of the dialogue partners meet with ASEAN foreign ministers at the annual post-ministerial conferences (PMC), held immediately following the annual ASEAN ministerial meeting (AMM) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meeting, which are usually held in July. This year's AMM will be held on July 29-30, the ARF on August 1, and the PMC on August 2-3. All will be held in Brunei. Initially, the PMC agenda focused on economic issues but has gradually expanded to include political and security topics. U.S. Secretaries of State regularly have attended PMC meetings since 1979. Secretary Christopher will lead the U.S. delegation to this year's PMC. The annual PMC meetings permit a regular and comprehensive review of matters of interest to the United States and ASEAN countries and underscore the importance of the region to U.S. foreign policy.

In addition, ASEAN holds regular bilateral meetings with each of its dialogue partners as well as more than 100 other sub-dialogue and committee meetings. It maintains a small secretariat located in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Economics and Trade

The ASEAN countries have a total population of more than 400 million. Covering more than 1.4 million square miles, these countries straddle strategic sea routes linking the Pacific Ocean with the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Rich in natural resources and with skilled work forces and market-oriented development policies, the ASEAN countries' economies grew rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1994, the combined GDP of the then-six ASEAN countries grew nearly 5%, ranking ASEAN among the fastest-growing markets in the world. With the entry of Vietnam into ASEAN, it will become a larger and more attractive market.

U.S.-ASEAN Trade

U.S.-ASEAN trade reached $84 billion in 1994, making it the United States' fourth-largest export market and its third-largest source of imports. Leading U.S. imports include data processing equipment, electronic components, parts for office machinery, and telephone headsets. American companies manufacture increasingly higher technology products, particularly electronics, in ASEAN countries for re-export to the U.S. and to third-country markets.

U.S. investments in ASEAN grew to $20.4 billion in 1993. ASEAN ranks second in Asia as a destination for U.S. investment stock, behind Japan ($26.6 billion).

ASEAN and the U.S. have established several consultative groups to increase cooperation as economic integration increases. Regular meetings include the U.S.-ASEAN Dialogue, the U.S. Trade Representative-ASEAN economic ministers meeting, the annual Trade Investment Coordinating Committee (TICC), and monthly Economic Cooperation Committee (ECC) meetings in Washington, DC.

Security Issues: ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

In 1993, ASEAN took the lead in proposing the formation of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The inaugural ARF ministerial meeting, which was held July 25, 1994, in Bangkok, Thailand, successfully brought together 18 foreign ministers from the European Union (EU) and 17 Asia-Pacific countries, including ASEAN, Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Laos, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Russia, South Korea, the United States, and Vietnam to discuss regional security concerns.

The Bangkok meeting established the ARF as the first regionwide multilateral forum for consultations on Asia-Pacific security issues at the government level. The Chairman's Statement, issued by consensus following the meeting, described the ARF as a useful instrument for contributing to regional security by easing tensions, reducing suspicions, and cultivating consultation habits. A modest work program was adopted that included proposals for further study in the areas of confidence-building measures, nuclear non-proliferation, peacekeeping cooperation, exchanges of unclassified military information, maritime security issues, and preventive diplomacy.

ARF Future Work. Brunei, the incoming ARF chair, has worked informally with ARF participants to study proposals for discussion made at the May 22-24, 1995, second ARF senior officials' meeting. Since the Bangkok meeting, the United States has encouraged an active ARF work program, focusing on confidence-building measures, defense transparency, and peacekeeping cooperation. The U.S. sees the ARF as a useful forum for developing habits of consultation and dialogue to prevent future conflicts in the Asia-Pacific. The ARF and other regional security dialogues supplement, not supplant, U.S. bilateral alliances as the foundation of U.S. security policy in the Asia-Pacific.

An Australia-hosted, ARF-related seminar on confidence-building measures in Canberra last November helped advance ARF discussions on this subject by building broad support for several ideas, including a workshop to exchange views on perceptions of regional security and set the precedent for ARF inter-sessional activities. Canada co-hosted another ARF- sponsored seminar on peacekeeping experiences in March 1995, in Brunei, at which the U.S. presented a paper on peacekeeping training. South Korea hosted a seminar on preventive diplomacy in Seoul on May 8-10, 1995.

The second ARF senior officials' meeting laid the groundwork for the second ARF ministerial meeting, to be held August 1, 1995, in Brunei. This meeting agreed on recommendations to ministers for an active government-level work program for 1996, including a U.S. initiative to host an ARF search-and-rescue meeting in Hawaii early next year. At the August ARF meeting, ministers are expected to endorse the work program recommended by the senior officials' meeting. They also will discuss regional security issues such as Korea and the Spratlys/South China Sea and attempt to reflect a consensus in the Chairman's Statement. In 1995, Cambodia became an observer in ASEAN and the 19th member of the ARF. Indonesia will chair the 1996 ARF.

U.S. and the ARF. The United States is fully committed to remaining engaged in the Asia-Pacific politically, economically, and strategically. The bedrock of U.S. engagement will continue to be its bilateral alliances and network of defense relationships and access arrangements. The U.S. seeks to complement its bilateral security ties and active engagement in resolving real threats through support for enhanced regional security dialogues. The ARF is the principle multilateral regional security dialogue, and the U.S. views it as complementary to U.S. bilateral ties.



ASEAN  Members* 
Brunei             Philippines  
Indonesia        Singapore 
Malaysia          Thailand 
*Vietnam formally joined on July 28, 1995.  



ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Members -- The six ASEAN countries--Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam;

-- The seven ASEAN dialogue partners--Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, the United States, and the European Union; and

-- China, Cambodia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, and Russia.


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