Essay Question:


Linda Lim quotes Singaporean Prime Goh as saying ASEAN is based on “competitive cooperation” (Lim 33). Based on the readings by Lim, Evans, Crone, Wurfel, and Ninh, discuss ASEAN’s framework for cooperation. Is it based on shared values? How does ASEAN accommodate democratizing states (i.e. Thailand, the Philippines) as well as quasi-socialist states (i.e. VN, Laos, Cambodia), and military dictatorships (i.e. Burma)?




In this paper, I will discuss two important political/economical issues in the Association of South-East Asian Nations. The first is the foundation for economical cooperation among the countries of the ASEAN. The second issue is how the ASEAN is accommodating non-democratic regimes in South-East Asia. My work is based primarily on articles by Lim, Evans, Crone, Wurfel, and Ninh. How to locate Southeast Asia in a matrix of social, economic, cultural, security, demographic and political forces is a controversial issue that has drawn very different positions.


According to Evans, the economic foundation of ASEAN is based on external and internal factors. Evans believes that while the export-oriented industrialization of Southeast Asia has relied heavily on end markets in the US and Europe, it has been the relations within Asia that have been fundamental to the transformation of industrial production and day-to-day life. Evans asserts that the economic foundation of ASEAN is multidimensional and includes important factors such as trade, investment, finance, developmental assistance flows, tourism and migration. Linda Lim refers to the region as a ‘regionally integrated production complex’. Competitive deregulation among ASEAN countries has been a welcome mat to foreign investment from such countries as Japan, the US and Europe (Evans). Behind that deregulation has mainly been the politically-active layers of the private sector firms. As concerns the role played by politics in the foundation of ASEAN, Evans is of the opinion that the economic regionalization in SE Asia has not been supported by any common political aspirations to create an Asian commonwealth. However, we show later that non-democratic regimes in the area have had to adapt to the rise of the ‘New World Order’ or as some economists put it, the Global Economy, since authoritarianism and globalization are incompatible (due to issues like human rights, free competition etc.). Security issues in  SE Asia have also been a motive for increased cooperation and dialogue in the area. The US remains the major stabilizing force but the gradual draw down of its military forces has created an atmosphere of  uncertainty that has prompted experimentation with new forms of cooperation and dialogue. External factors are not exclusive, however, in shaping ASEAN’s foundation for cooperation according to Evans. Southeast Asian coalition arrangements of competition and cooperation are manifestations of a conscious awareness of common interests in SE Asia and the will to create institutions to enhance that coalition is manifesting itself in the establishment of practices and instruments such as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and ideas like the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN).


Linda Lim on the other hand is a proponent of the view that the ASEAN’s activities have always been dominated by the influence of external events. As back as 1975, when the US military forces were defeated in Vietnam, ASEAN tried to foster closer regional cooperation in fear of Vietnamese Communist expansionism. Even when the Communist Empire collapsed in 1989, and that external factor was eliminated, new external factors came into play. This time, the “end of communism” created new economic competitors as the formerly Communist countries of the East Bloc embraced market -oriented liberal economic reforms. These countries were directly competing with ASEAN countries for foreign investment. At the same time, the European Economic Community was working toward single market integration and closer association with the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). Not to be outdone, the US, Mexico and Canada began negotiating a North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA). ASEAN feared these economic blocs could become protective of their markets and thus threaten ASEAN countries’ export markets, and that spurred more regional cooperation. The need to attract external (i.e., from non-ASEAN countries) investments is recurrently cited as the major motivating force for the ASEAN countries’ commitment to the AFTA (ASEAN Free Trade Area). However, Lim does concede to the logical idea that if domestic conditions in the ASEAN countries were not conducive, then the formation of the AFTA would have unlikely been agreed upon. Domestic liberalization, which included privatization, deregulation, and a general reduction of governmental interference accompanying an economic balance shift toward private enterprise were internal factors that encouraged the establishment of the ASEAN. When the larger private enterprises of ASEAN exhausted their home-based resources, they were willing to relinquish their old infant-industry protection policies in exchange for freer access to their neighbours’ markets. Home government policies have also become more permissive towards capital outflows in a step to encourage intra-ASEAN commerce. Thus the private sector in ASEAN countries has been a major internal activist supporting closer ties and relations among ASEAN countries.


Crone defends the position that three major factors predominate in driving ASEAN’s development: evolution in Pacific power structures (such as the emergence of new powers in the SE Asian political scene, like Japan, and the fading of the role of previously dominant powers such as the US), a new context of security concerns and a rapidly growing set of diplomatically relevant institutions (with the increase in institutional competition, ASEAN was forced to boost its own organizational coherence). Wurfel sheds light on some other external factors that have encouraged the development of ASEAN. He points to globalized culture and communications, the power of IFI’s (International Financial Institutions) and transnational corporations, and other market forces, as well as the growing influence of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s).


I now come to the second issue that this paper deals with - namely, the way ASEAN is accommodating countries that have not fully adopted democracy. The articles by Wurfel and Ninh are used to support the following arguments.

The question of whether democracy should be regarded as an essential component of the ‘New World Order’ has been asked many times. According to Wurfel, the answer is: it is not. However, it is observed that these non-democratic countries make political concessions due to the pressure of the necessity of economic adaptation. For example, in Thailand as in South Korea and Taiwan, authoritarianism is slowly being replaced as a result of economic growth. In Burma, bold initiatives for democracy were taken at the end of the 1980s in reaction to intolerable local economic and political conditions. External influence to support those initiatives was bashful because of a fear of being labeled as “Imperialist”. That is the case with Japan at least, who is reluctant, based on past experience, to pursue actions that might be understood as direct interference in domestic affairs. Thus the dominating ‘spirit’ in ASEAN is one of consensus on a ‘New World Order’ in the economic sense more than the political/democratic one. Also, political conditions in SE Asia have favored the disappearance of authoritarian regimes. For example, the gradual disappearance of Communist parties in ASEAN countries, has lessened one previous justification of anti-Communist authoritarian regimes. Strategic disputes still exist in SE Asia but they are unlikely to escalate. Cambodia continues to be one major hotspot with the Thai military supporting the Khmer Rouge. With the Japanese and US power balancing that of China, the region is politically and economically active, and stable. Another example of the intentions of non-democratic regimes to adapt to the new economic-political environment in SE Asia is the case of Vietnam. Ninh’s article portrays the political reform policies that the Vietnamese Communist leaders of today had to adopt to be able to enter the international community. The strategy of doi moi (renovation) was adopted in 1986, the Vietnamese withdrew from Cambodia, they mended their relations with China and the US and became a member of ASEAN in 1995.


In conclusion, it appears that ASEAN economic cooperation will continue to prosper as long as it bears the fruit of economic profit for the various ASEAN countries. The support of domestic enterprises with export interests will continue to encourage ASEAN integration in an atmosphere of globalization which is expected to encourage “openness” in the foreign policy of all ASEAN countries.






Economic and Security Dimensions of the Emerging Order in the Asia Pacific”, Paul M. Evans.


“ ASEAN: New Modes of Economic Cooperation”, Linda Y.C. Lim.


“ New Political Roles for ASEAN”, Donald Crone.


“The ‘New World Order’ in Southeast Asia: Some Analytical Explorations”, David Wurfel.


Articles from:

1. “Southeast Asia In the New World Order - The Political Economy of A Dynamic Region” Edited by David Wurfel and Bruce Burton.