An important regional organization, ASEAN, whose member countries have a population of more than 500 million, strove for regional cooperation to benefit its member countries. It encompassed the rest of the countries of Southeast Asia over time with the admission of Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos and Myanmar (1997), and Cambodia (1999). The Meeting of the ASEAN Heads of State and Government is the top decision-making body of the ASEAN.
Every year, ASEAN Summit and ASEAN Ministerial meetings are held. The term of the secretary-general is five years, and he advises on and implements various ASEAN programs. The cooperation of member countries is through specialized bodies pertaining to education, energy, police, meteorology, and other areas.
Against the changing backdrop of the geopolitical situation, the ASEAN countries saw the necessity of regional cooperation on matters of common interest. The ASEAN was established during the Vietnam War, and the member countries were bound together by fear of North Vietnam and China.
The victory of communists in Indochina in the early 1970s and diminishing American involvement made the ASEAN states fearful of communism. The Kuala Lumpur declaration of November 22, 1971, called for the creation of a Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) in Southeast Asia aimed at neutralization of the region.
The triumph of communism in the three Indochinese states of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in 1975 spurred the ASEAN into action. Fearful of a militant and expanding communism, the ASEAN countries signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation at the First ASEAN Summit held at Bali, Indonesia, on February 24, 1976.
It called for renunciation of the use of force, cooperation among the nations in Southeast Asia, and noninterference in one another’s internal affairs. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, ASEAN moved in a new direction to meet with the challenges of globalization. The three Indochinese states became members.
From the early 1990s ASEAN looked for increasing economic cooperation among member countries. At the Fourth ASEAN Summit held in Singapore in January 1992 an agreement was signed for the creation of an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) within 15 years. The 1995 Bangkok Summit passed a resolution on the Agenda for Greater Economic Integration.
The time frame of AFTA was reduced to 10 years. The ASEAN Vision 2020, adopted in 1997, envisaged an ASEAN Economic Region. There would be closer economic integration along with reduction of poverty and removal of economic disparities. The Framework Agreement for the Integration of Priority Sectors and its Protocols of 1999 called for the creation of a single market and production base.
In 1994 the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was established with non-ASEAN countries like the United States, Russia, China, India, and others to discuss security issues and take steps in confidence building. There was an agenda for an enhanced role of the ARF in matters of security dialogue and cooperation.
Meetings on this topic were held in the Cambodian capital and in Potsdam, Germany, in 2004 and 2005 respectively. The December 2005 ASEAN Summit, held in Kuala Lumpur, noted with satisfaction progress toward a Free Trade Area, with such countries as Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, India, and the Republic of Korea.
ASEAN cooperates with the East Asian nations of China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, which were accorded the special status of ASEAN Plus Three. They expected to have a free-trade agreement by the year 2010. India enjoys a special standing with ASEAN. An ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace and Progress was signed at the Third ASEAN-India Summit in November 2004.
The ASEAN and its member countries have taken steps, through treaties, conventions, and communiqués, to prevent different types of organized crime with regional and international dimensions, such as terrorism, terrorist financing, money laundering, human trafficking, and drug smuggling.
On February 24, 1976, the ASEAN countries declared that they would cooperate with one another and with international organizations to check illegal trafficking of drugs. The ASEAN Vision 2020 resolved to tackle the problems of drug trafficking, trafficking of women, and other transnational crimes.
Through organizations like the ARF, Ministerial Meetings, the ASEAN Chiefs of Police (ASEANAPOL), the ASEAN Centre for Combating Transnational Crime (ACTC), the Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime (SOMTC), and the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (AMMTC), steps were taken to prevent various forms of crimes affecting Southeast Asia in particular and the world in general. The Vientiane Action Program of November 2004 contained measures to tackle the problem of terrorism.