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What Is the Purpose of ASEAN?

Info: 5008 words (20 pages) Essay
Published: 3rd Jul 2019

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): Malaysian law

Malaysia believes strongly in active participation in international organizations to strengthen its relationship with other countries in the world. Some of these organizations include the United Nations (UN), Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), Commonwealth and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

During the early 19th century, countries in south-east Asia did not depend much on a mutual relationship with one another, since these countries were occupied by various foreign powers, with the exception of Thailand.

While Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei came under the authority of the British, the three Indochina countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam belonged to the French, and Indonesia to the Dutch. The Philippines on the other hand, was first ruled by the Spanish conquistadors and subsequently, the Americans.

As such, their common geographical locality played no role in fostering diplomatic ties during their days of foreign colonization. The Japanese invasion of south-east Asia, however, marked the beginning of some form of a relationship, particularly when the Japanese tried to merge Indonesia and Malaya, with the hope of forming “great Indonesia”.

In 1959, former Prime Minister of Malaya, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman proposed to President Garcia of the Philippines, the formation of a non-political organization to encourage economic and social cooperation among south-east Asian countries.

The idea received good response from both the Philippines and Thailand but was opposed by Indonesia. Hence, when the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) was officially formed in 1961, its was short-lived, and dissolved two years later in 1963, when Malaya proposed the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.

In July 1963, the leaders of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines met with the aim of resolving any crisis between themselves. The result of this meeting was the formation of Maphilindo, which unfortunately, lasted only a few weeks and was dissolved after Indonesia launched a confrontation towards Malaysia.

Another factor that caused Maphilindo to fail was the strain in ties between Malaya and the Philippines when the Philippine ambassador was summoned back from Malaya to voice its objection on the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.

When Indonesian president Sukarno was replaced by Suharto after a military coup and president Macapagal of the Philippines was beaten by Marcos, a new era began which marked the beginning of an improved relationship between Malaysia and the two countries.

Indonesia ended its confrontation on Malaysia and practiced more flexibility in its diplomatic ties with Malaysia and the Philippines gave its formal recognition of Malaysia in 1966.

All these marked the beginning of the formation of ASEAN. On 8th August 1967, the Bangkok declaration was signed in Thailand, Bangkok, in which five countries – Malaysia, Indonesia Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore joined together to form the Association of South-East Asian Nations, better known simply as ASEAN.

Brunei Darussalam joined ASEAN on 8th January 1984, Vietnam on 28th July 1995, while both Laos and Myanmar were admitted on 23rd July 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.

8.1.2 The Objectives of ASEAN

The aims and purposes of ASEAN as meted out in the Bangkok Declaration are as follows:

1. To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of South-East Asian Nations;

2. To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the pinciples of the United Nations Charter;

3. To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields;

4. To provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional, technical and administrative spheres;

5. To collaborate more effectively for the greater utilization of their agriculture and industries, the expansion of their trade, including the study of the problems of international commodity trade, the improvement of their transportation and communications facilities and the raising of the living standards of their people;

6. To promote South-East Asian studies;

7. To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organizations with similar aims and purposes, and explore all avenues for even closer cooperation among themselves.

8.1.3 The Functions of ASEAN

Political Co-Operation

ASEAN plays an important role safeguarding the political security of its member countries. Some of the important accords adopted by ASEAN to ensure this are the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and Treaty of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) of 1995.

All these agreements were aimed at building the resilience of the region, maintaining a peaceful and stable platform, and prevent interference from foreign powers.

ZOPFAN was declared in Kuala Lumpur on 27th November 1971 by the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and the Special Envoy of the National Executive Council of Thailand.

The aim of ZOPFAN is to ensure peace and political stability in south-east Asia with the hope that the countries of south-east Asia would be free from colonization and intervention from powerful countries like the United States of America, Soviet Union and China.

The Declaration states that:

1. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand are determined to exert initially necessary efforts to secure the recognition of, and respect for, South East Asia as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality, free from any form or manner of interference by outside Powers;

2. South East Asian countries should make concerted efforts to broaden the areas of cooperation which would contribute to their strength, solidarity and closer relationship.

The Treaty of SEANWFZ was signed by the ministers of foreign affairs from seven ASEAN members (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and three ASEAN observer nations (Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos) on December 15, 1995, in Bangkok at the fifth Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

Its aim is to ensure that all ASEAN members do not “develop, manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess or have control over nuclear weapons; station or transport nuclear weapons by any means; or test or use nuclear weapons.”

The TAC represents a code of international conduct governing peaceful relations among countries in the region in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (UN), which is to enhance peace, friendship and mutual cooperation on matters affecting south-east Asia.

ASEAN played a vital role in providing aid for the refugee situation in Indochina and the war in Cambodia. ASEAN also led efforts in the United Nations and other forums to oppose Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia since 1979. As a result, in 1981 a UN conference was held to discuss the conflict in Cambodia. The conference was attended by 93 nations, which approved a final declaration for the establishment of an independent and neutral Cambodia.

On of ASEAN’s most successful efforts took place at an informal meeting in Jakarta on 30th September 1989, which persuaded Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia.

Apart from safeguarding its member countries and other nations in south-east Asia, ASEAN also has adopted a stand on a number of global issues of the past.

Some of these include the condemnation of South Africa’s apartheid system and its occupation of Namibia, the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan, support for the PLO-Israeli Declaration of Principles on Interim Self – Government and grave concern on the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Recently, ASEAN initiated the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) aimed at building confidence among countries with security interests in the Asia Pacific region.

Economic Cooperation

Malaysia and other ASEAN members have gained much from economic cooperation. ASEAN, being involved in the world trade market, has several important major trading partners around the world. Spanning a period of 25 years from 1970 to 1995, ASEAN’s GDP grew at an average annual rate of 7%. ASEAN has also become the fourth largest trading entity in the world after the European Union, United States and Japan.

The first milestone which marked ASEAN’s economic cooperation was the First ASEAN Summit held in Bali in 1976. Now, after three decades, economic co-operation among ASEAN has become more comprehensive.

In the 4th ASEAN Summit Meeting in 1992, ASEAN decided to establish the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) by the year 2008. Some time later, however, the time frame was reduced from 15 to 10 years.

The primary objective of AFTA is to enhance ASEAN’s position as a competitive production base geared towards servicing the global market. ASEAN is trying to achieve this by encouraging foreign direct investment and Intra-ASEAN investment.

At the same time, it is striving to achieve more effective utilization of the region’s agriculture and industries, expand its trade, study and overcome the problems of international commodity trade, improve its communication and infrastructure facilities and raise the living standards of citizens of its member countries.

In order to achieve all this, ASEAN has to co-operate with its member countries in the areas of:

• Industrial Development

ASEAN has initiated cooperation in this area to enhance the industrial competitiveness of the region. Resource pooling and market sharing have been introduced to facilitate effective exploitation of economics of scale and the region’s complementary location advantages.

• Finance and Banking

In March 1997, the First ASEAN Finance Ministers Meeting was held in Phuket. Two important documents were signed then, which were the Ministerial Understanding (MU) Finance Cooperation and the ASEAN Agreement on Customs.

The MU lays down the foundation for strengthening co-operation in Finance in which a customs agreement was signed to enhance ASEAN co-operation in customs activities. This was done to promote greater intra-regional trade and investment flow.

The Agreement also established joint efforts in anti-smuggling and cus- tomscontrolled activities, mutual technical assistance, customs modernization, and upgrade of customs skills to meet present and future challenges.

• Food, Agriculture and Forestry.

In 1968, a committee on Food Production, Supply and Fishery was formed to ensure wide production and supply of basic food stuff. ASEAN also established a Food Security Reserve and ASEAN Emergency Rice Reserve in 1979.

• Tourism

Projects which fall in this category are aimed at promoting the ASEAN region as a tourist destination, and preserving the ASEAN cultural and environmental heritage. Over a decade, ASEAN has moved from the 12th place to rank 5th among the world’s top 15 tourist destinations. ASEAN aims to be among the world’s top three destinations within the next decade.

• Science and technology.

The ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology was established in 1978 with the objective of enhancing and promoting expertise and increasing human resources in science and technology. Beside this, the committee is also responsible to facilitate the transfer of technology from advanced countries to ASEAN member countries.

In the areas of economic co-operation between ASEAN countries, ASEAN has also further strengthened ties with Europe through the Asia-Europe Meeting in March 1996, in which ASEAN sought to bridge the gap between Asia and Europe in the area of economic growth.

In addition, the East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) was launched as an initiative to establish an informal consultative forum to provide opportunities for discussion on economic issues among prospective members.

ASEAN has shown great improvement in its economy and this rapid development has proven to the world that ASEAN countries can also stand on par with developed countries.

Social Co-Operation

ASEAN has expressed great concern for social development in their member countries to ensure that the people in this region have a higher standard of living. Among the areas of concern are:

i) Drug abuse

ii) Environment

• Drug Abuse

Concerned over the problems caused by drug abuse, ASEAN has proposed the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts, and training of dog handlers for narcotics detection.

In the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth ASEAN Summit, member countries stressed on concerted actions to curb the abuse and traffic of narcotics and drugs. ASEAN’s effort to eliminate drug abuse and trafficking are grouped into 4 major areas

¸ Prevention

¸ Education

¸ Rehabilitation

¸ Research.

• Environment

ASEAN cooperation in environmental issues began in 1977 when the ASEAN Sub-Regional Environment Programme (ASEP) initiated efforts for ASEAN members to cooperate in environmental matters. Following that, the ASEAN Experts Group on the Environment (AEGE) held its first meeting in Jakarta, sometime in December 1978.

In 1989, the AEGE was upgraded to the ASEAN Senior Officials On the Environment (ASOEN), which expanded its areas of concern to cover more than just the environment.

ASEON formed 6 working groups and focused on ASEAN Seas and Marine Environment, Environmental Economics, Native Conservation, Environmental Management, Transboundary Pollution and Education.

ASEAN is concerned with the problems of transboundary pollution and the various efforts that can be used in balancing environmental protec- tion with economic growth.

Other Forms Of Social Cooperation

Besides co-operation in the two areas of economy and social development, ASEAN encourages co-operation in the development of culture and information to support its scholars, writers, artistes and mass media representatives with the hope of enabling them to play an active role in fostering a sense of regional identity and fellowship.

With this in mind, ASEAN has established a special fund to sponsor cultural activities. Some of these activities include the ASEAN Film Festival and ASEAN Song Festival, which is held every year to expose the citizens of ASEAN countries to other cultures and languages.

The SouthEast Asia Games (SEA Games) was also established with the hope of developing co-operation and understanding among its members.

ASEAN also formed the South-East Asia Ministry of Education (SEAMOE) to encourage co-operation in education, science and culture among ASEAN members. Many projects have been launched by SEAMEO to ensure that this objective is met.

Among them are the Regional English Language Centre (RELC) in Singapore, Innovation and Technology (INNOTECH) in the Philippines and the Regional Education Centre for Science and Mathematics (RESCAM) in Penang.


ASEAN has been, and can be considered, a success. This is because the members have engaged in mutual co-operation in all aspects. To measure the success of ASEAN is to see how the association as a whole, has overcome various problems to ensure the benefit of all members. Looking at all these efforts, it is evident that political stability in the key factor in ensuring the growth of ASEAN’s economy.

Towards the end of the era of colonization, several countries in south-east Asia encountered many setbacks and faced many common problems, but it is obvious that the formation of ASEAN has provided some degree of aid to these countries due to mutual co-operation.

Even in such efforts, there will be obstacles, especially when leaders place their own national interest above that of the region. Hence, it is imperative that such leaders put aside their own interests and instead, work together with the aim of achieving prosperity and advancement, so that the people of south-east Asia may enjoy peace and a stable environment.


8.2.1 Background

The United Nations (UN) was established at the end of the Second World War to promote international peace and security, and replaced the League of Nations, which was formed in 1919, after World War 1. The League of Nations was not successful in its endeavour to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.

It was due to this that the UN came into being, thanks to the initiative of the President of United States at the time, Wooddrow Wilson and British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

After the Second World War, the world realized the need for a peaceful environment. It was with this motive in mind that the representatives of 50 countries signed the United Nations Charter on 25 April 1945 at a conference in San Francisco. Poland joined the United Nations sometime later and signed the Charter, bringing the number of countries to 51.

However, it was only on 24th October 1945, that the United Nations became official and recognized as a new body, which advocated world peace.

8.2.2 Objectives of the United Nations

In the United Nations Charter, it is stated that the aim of the UN is to maintain international peace and security. Any actions that hinder the attainment of a peaceful world should be stopped and removed.

The UN also seeks to establish ties of goodwill among nations based on respect and the principle of equal rights. The UN also plays a role in solving international economy, social, cultural or humanitarian problems, with the aim of promoting respect for human rights and freedom.

To achieve the objectives of the UN, all its members are required to follow the principles meted out in the Charter. Among them is the obligation to settle peaceably any disputes arising and renounce the use of military force against other states.

8.2.3 Components Of The United Nations

To achieve its goals and objectives, the UN relies on six of its major components. There are the:

The United Nations General Assembly

The General Assembly is represented by the present 185 member countries and each is entitled to one vote. The UN General Assembly is akin to the world parliament and represents the opinions of member countries. Decisions on important issues made in the General Assembly must get support from at least a two-third majority. The General Assembly is held once every year.

The Economic and Social Council

The Economic and Social Council has 54 members, which are elected for a three-year term during the General Assembly. This body is responsible to promote higher standards of living by ensuring that its member coun- tries progress in the economic and social aspects.

The Council also strives to find solutions to social, economic, educational, health and international problems. It also aims to promote universal respect, human rights and fundamental rights of freedom of all, irrespective of race, sex, language or religion.

The Trusteeship Council

This Council is given the task of supervising the administration of territo ries under the trust of the UN. Its major goal is to promote the advancement in progressive development and eventually propel these non-independent countries towards self-governance and eventually independence.

The Trusteeship Council comprises five permanent members of the Security Council, which are China, the United States, United Kingdom, Russian Federation and France.

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice is also known as the World Court. Its functions are to settle any disputes between UN member countries and give advisory opinions to the UN and its agencies.

The International Court of Justice consists of 15 judges who are elected by the General Assembly and Security Council. All disputes which may arise are hoped to be solved through peaceful means to ensure peace and security of the world and all trials are held in Hague, Netherlands.

The Secretariat

The Secretariat serves all the other arms of the UN and administers their programmes. The Secretariat comprises the Secretary-General, who is elected by the General Assembly, with the support from the Security Council, and about 8,900 staff, who are drawn from some 170 countries. They are located in the UN’s headquarters in New York and all over the world.

The Security Council

The Security Council has 15 members; five of them are permanent mem- bers, which are China, France, the United States, United Kingdom and Russian Federation.

All of them have the power of veto and are responsible to settle any dis putes by peaceful means.

8.2.4 Agencies In The United Nations

To ensure that the UN achieves it aim of world peace and international security, several agencies that focus on specific areas. These are the:

1. International Labour Organization (ILO)

2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO)

3. UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

4. World Health Organization (WHO)

5. World Bank

6. International Monetary Fund (IMF)

7. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

8. Universal Postal Union (UPU)

9. International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

10. World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

11. International Maritime Organization (IMO)

12. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

13. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

14. UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

15. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

16. World Trade Organization (WTO)

8.2.5 Malaysia’s Role In The United Nations

Malaysia became a part of the United Nations on 17th September 1957, shortly after it achieved independence. It was then known as Malaya.

On 16th September 1963, Malaya became known as Malaysia, following its merger with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak.

However, when Singapore broke away from Malaysia to become an independent country on 9th August 1965, it became a new member of the UN. Malaysia became a member of the UN to join in the quest to attain world peace. At the same time, Malaysia hoped to obtain assistance from the many agencies in the UN.

Since its inception into the UN, Malaysia has played an active role in the organization by voicing out its concerns on important issues. In 1965 and 1989, Malaysia was elected to be a member of the Security Council. This election only demonstrated the country’s standing in the world and the respect and trust it receives from other countries.

On the issue of human rights, Malaysia believes in being vocal and has expressed its concern over several matters. Among them was the joint effort with Ireland in criticizing the Chinese Communist government, which denied the rights of the Tibetans.

Another example is Malaysia’s fight for the civil rights of the Palestinians, who are in constant disputes with the Israeli regime. As part of its contribution to the Palestinians, Malaysia organized the International Conference for Palestine, monitored by the UN. The organization channels money and food to the Palestinians.

Malaysia also strongly opposed apartheid, formerly practiced by the South African government. Most of the social and political rights of the coloured people in South Africa were denied for a very long time and this forced Malaysia to voice out its concerns on this issue, not only in the UN, but also in the Commonwealth and ASEAN.

The first drastic action was taken in 1965 when Malaysia initiated an economic embargo on South Africa. It was through this effort that the UN followed through with efforts to ensure that the South African government do away with Apartheid once and for all. As a result of all these efforts, Apartheid was finally abolished in 1991 and a new democratic government formed in South Africa.

In the area of drug abuse, Malaysia plays a vital role in an aggressive fight against this menacing problem in society. Consequently, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was elected chairperson of the International Drug Conference in Australia in June 1987.

Apart from all this, Malaysia, through the efforts of Dr Mahathir, raised the issue of the Antarctic, during the UN General Assembly in September 1982. Mahathir pointed out that the Antarctic and its natural resources were part of the world’s heritage and should be put under a wider group of countries.

During that period, the Antarctic was administered by a small number of countries, which were involved in the 1959 Antarctica Treaty. Knowing very well that the Antarctic was abundant with minerals like iron, coal, cobalt, uranium and nickel, Malaysia felt that certain parties should not monopolize them.

Apart from this, the Antarctic also has a significant effect on the world’s ecological system and world temperature, and as such, all countries in the world should benefit from it in one way or another.

Malaysia also joined forces with the UN in advocating peace in many countries. It began in 1960, when Malaysia sent troops to Congo and much later to Iraq, Angola, Mozambique and Somalia.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Malaysia Battalion (MALBAT) serves under the UN protection force. Malaysia also participates in giving its views on issue like the Bosnian crisis, Gulf War and nuclear weapon tests.

8.2.6 Benefits Gained From the Work of the United Nations

Malaysia gained much from the activities of the UN. Being a significant and important world organization, the UN has enhanced the modernization of the world in all aspects, including education, health, agriculture, food etc.

Very much concerned with the preservation of lives, the UN plays an active role in the area of health and contributed much to improving the health of people all over the world.

This is done through the World Health Organization, WHO, which has successfully found ways and means of overcoming the spread of illnesses such as smallpox, parasitic diseases and many more, and stressing on immunization.

In Malaysia, the WHO’s efforts have aided the country in reducing the high rates of malaria and dengue.

In the area of food aid, the UN has contributed much to supplying food and other necessities to the poor and needy countries all over the world, mainly third world countries.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) plays its role in Malaysia by helping the country to increase its food production. The FAO encourages technical and agricultural development as one of the means to increase food production.

The FAO, together with the International Food and Agricultural Development (IFDA) has participated positively in making the world a comfortable place to live in by providing technical support and assistance.

In 1967, an agreement was signed between Malaysia and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In the agreement, UNESCO agreed to support Malaysia in the areas of economy, science and education.

UNESCO also sent scientists to Malaysia to aid in research projects. One of its contributions include the founding of the Technical College in Ipoh, Perak, to encourage Malaysia to produce more experts in this field.

In addition to that, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was chosen as the chairman for UNESCO in 1989.

Malaysia became a member of the International Monetary Fund in 1956. Through cooperation with the World Bank, Malaysia sought to actively increase the economic status of the world, mainly those developing countries.

Malaysia also received financial support from the World Bank to support several projects. Among them are the five-year Sungai Muda Irrigation Plan, Rancangan Pengairan Muda, hydroelectric plant in Cameron Highlands and FELDA land scheme projects.

In 1997, Malaysia and many other countries in Asia experienced a major economic crisis. But this time, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir refrained from accepting loans from the World Bank.

Malaysia also recommended that the IMF take the necessary steps to ensure that the developing and poor countries affected by the economic crisis receive appropriate aid, justly measured out, particularly in arresting problems caused by the fluctuating currency.

The UN also contributed to Malaysia’s efforts during its proposed merger with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore. The Cobbold Commission, which was the brainchild of the UN, administered the surveys conducted among the people of Sabah and Sarawak to gather their opinions on the merger.

The UN also assisted Malaysia in efforts to improve its relationship with Indonesia during the confrontation, and the Philippines, until both countries resumed ties with Malaysia once more.

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The Malaysian court system is based on the UK legal system familiar to those from common law jurisdictions, but it also incorporates distinct characteristics in the form of Islamic religious courts and two separate High Courts for the Peninsula and for the Borneo states.

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