ASEAN countriesASEAN stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand by signing of the ASEAN declaration. Initially, it comprised of five major Southeast Asian nations – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia joined later. Today, ASEAN has 10 member states.

The creation of ASEAN was motivated by a common fear of Communism and a desire for economic development. Main objectives behind ASEAN were:

  • Promoting unity among the Southeast nations
  • Promoting economic development through formation of single market, free flow of skilled labour and free trade among the member countries.
  • To act as a potential stabilizer in Southeast and East Asia.

ASEAN’s purpose is to form a common market similar to the European Union. The ASEAN Economic Community was established in 2015. It is working toward free movement of goods and services, investment and capital, as well as skilled labor. It will also create common standards in agriculture and financial services, intellectual property rights, and consumer protection. These are all necessary to attract foreign direct investment and promote growth.

Importance of ASEAN

At first glance, it might seem like a group of still-developing countries, but, Together, ASEAN’s ten member states form an economic powerhouse. If ASEAN was to be looked at as a single country, with combined GDP of almost 3 Trillion USD it is projected to rank as the fourth largest economy of the world put it ahead of India. ASEAN has dramatically outpaced the rest of the world on growth in GDP per capita since the late 1970s. Income growth has remained strong since 2000, with average annual real gains of more than 5 percent.

ASEAN is also important other than the economic reasons; ASEAN occupies a critical geographic position straddling the sea lanes between the Indian Ocean in the west and the Pacific Ocean in the east.

ASEAN is a diverse group. That diversity extends to culture, language, and religion. Indonesia, for example, is almost 90 percent Muslim, while the Philippines is more than 80 percent Roman Catholic, and Thailand is more than 95 percent Buddhist. The region has the third largest population of the world making it world’s third-largest labor force of more than 600 million people. That’s behind China and India, but ahead of the European Union and the United States.

ASEAN is the fourth-largest exporting region in the world, trailing only the European Union, North America, and China/Hong Kong. It accounts for 7 percent of global exports—and as its member states have developed more sophisticated manufacturing capabilities, their exports have diversified. Export-processing zones, once dominated by China, have been established across ASEAN.

ASEAN Significance for India

Economic Significance

  1. 3 Cs–Culture, Connectivity and Commerce–will shape India’s ties with the ASEAN bloc.
  2. Connecting India’s North-eastern states with ASEAN.
  3. India is part of ASEAN led RCEP which aims to create the world’s largest free trade area with more than a third of the global GDP and commerce.
  4. For the first time, bilateral trade between ASEAN and India has crossed US$ 80 billion mark.
  5. Singapore has become India’s investment and trading hub in the East.

Security Significance

  1. ASEAN occupies a central place in the security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region
  2. Maritime cooperation in terms of connectivity, safety and security has gained high attention.
  3. India and ASEAN can collaborate to combat terror financing, cyber security threats, tax evasions and many more.
  4. India needs ASEAN support in achieving a rules-based regional security architecture.

Geo-Strategic Significance

  1. Partnership with ASEAN nations might help India counter the growing presence of Beijing.
  2. ASEAN is seen as the most successful regional organisation next only to the EU

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