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Explained: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations

By: Brian Zhou

· Global Affairs

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has recently been making headlines and has established itself as an organization with significant sway. ASEAN was founded in 1967 as the successor to the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), with the goal of promoting growth, peace, and cooperation among countries in the region. Like many treaty organizations created at the time, the original members—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand—founded ASEAN out of a mutual fear of communism. However, following the conclusion of the Cold War and expansion of the transnational organization, members began working towards creating a more “EU-style” community. 

Since then, ASEAN has voted on and passed resolutions regarding everything from nuclear weapon treaties to trade agreements. The group, whose members include five out of the top ten global plastic waste polluters, is also beginning to focus more on environmental policies. As one of the most influential organizations on the planet, especially in terms of economic issues, ASEAN often receives significant attention from world leaders and policymakers. However, it also receives heavy criticism for often being unable to take true action. Despite holding over 600 annual meetings, less than 50% of policies are actually implemented, giving the group a reputation for being indecisive. 

Currently, ASEAN consists of ten core member countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Together, they produce over 2.73 trillion dollars worth of products, making the group the fifth largest global economy, just ahead of the United Kingdom.

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