A Long Journey for ASEAN Unity in Diversity

Barusan membongkar database file jaman kuliah, trus nemu satu paper yang saya buat untuk mengikuti AUN educational forum di Laos, tahun 2007 lalu. Saat membaca ini, terbesit rasa heran, bisa juga ya saya nulis full English seperti ini? hehehe… Pastinya banyak kekurangan terutama dari sisi grammar di sana sini. Terlebih, seingat saya, paper ini dibuat di sela-sela ujian tengah semester. Here, I’d like to share my writing and opinion about ASEAN at that time. Sumonggo 🙂

FACING THE CHALLENGE; A Long Journey for ASEAN Unity in Diversity

By : Retno Widyastuti – Gadjah Mada University – Indonesia

It will be 40 years old for ASEAN in next 8 August. If we compare it like the human age, 40 years can be compared with an adult person or a parent who is independent and has a productive age. Then, it continues with a question, has ASEAN become like the age of human? Has it been independent? Has it been productive? It is not as easy as that, if we simplify and makes a similarity. Of course, ASEAN and human are different. But from this analogy, we can face this thing into a mirror?. With a mirror named reality?

An ASEANs Long Journey

Forty years means a lot of thing for this special regional organization. Now, lets back to the past into the time of Bangkok Declaration 1967. Five founding countries were came together to discussed and made an ideal organization to South East Asia region named The Association of South East Asian Nations?, which have purposes to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region, to promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries in the region, and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter .

From those purposes we know that five founding countries were really serious, highly motivated to formed it and really want to reached the main purposes. Then one by one, another country in this region was joined to ASEAN, and it was completed by Cambodia in 1999. Finally, with 10 countries as the member, ASEAN starting to move forward for reaching the ASEAN Vision 2020.

Ten years ago, on the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN, the ASEAN Leaders made The ASEAN Vision 2020? which, consist of an agreement on a shared vision of ASEAN as a concert of Southeast Asian nations, outward looking living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies . It means ASEAN try to arrange its vision step by step. From now (2007), it still has 13 years more for ASEAN to realize this vision.

Another ASEANs vision is creating Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality in South East Asia region, which made on 27 November 1971. We can says that ZOPFAN is includes the basic concept of ASEAN fundamental principles and become an aim in vision 2020 ; the right of every state, large or small, to lead its national existence free from outside interference in its internal affairs as this interference will adversely affect its freedom, independence and integrity.

ASEAN Challenge or Problem; Analyzing Its Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threat

One ASEAN at the Heart of Dynamic Asia? as the theme for the 40th ASEAN anniversary has large meaning. One ASEAN means the entire members of ASEAN has to merge each other, although it has different character; various language, ethnic, lifestyle, religion, political system, social, & economy.

Like in leadership and management theories, the first step that should we do is by analyzing our own SWOT? (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threat). By using the SWOT model, it can help ASEAN to more understand about itself based on 40 years experience and experiment.

With the total population 567.390.000 peoples and total land area 4.465.500 km2, ASEAN become the potential market for the world trade and foreign direct investment. Based on the ASEAN Statistic, it shows that in year 2006 ASEAN has total Foreign Direct Investment US$ 83.082,9 million and total trade US$ 1.442.656,9 million . From this fact, ASEAN has become the most successful regional organization of developing country in the world. This achievement should be hold on and increases in next time.

There also many optimistic statement from important people with ASEAN capabilities to grow up more. In the 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Matthew P. Dalley, the head officer of ASEAN – US business, said that ASEAN can competing China and Indias economy, which both of them are the favorite destination for investment and world trade. ASEAN is the third biggest international market for USA in all over in the world. Beside of that, America also became the biggest investor for the half ASEAN countrys member. So that South East Asia region has an important role in Americas economy.

Then Kofi Annan, the former General Secretary of the United Nations, said “Today, ASEAN is not only a well-functioning, indispensable reality in the region. It is a real force to be reckoned with far beyond the region. It is also a trusted partner of the United Nations in the field of development” . Another statement also said by Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi from Malaysia. He said that, ASEAN has been successful because its members have a very strong commitment to cooperation; cooperation for the benefit of all and cooperation for stability and peace of the region. This is a very important hallmark of ASEAN?

ASEAN has many uniqueness and diversity. Almost all the big religion in the world is there in SEA (Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, & Christian), SEA also shows Asians race (Malays, Chinese, India, etc), and as tropical are, SEA has very rich natural resources. Sometimes, these differences between the ASEAN members could strengthen the unity in diversity and become a challenge, but in other side, it also possible becomes a problem. Because, almost every country in South East Asia region has complex problem in their domestic affair. It might be caused by the weakness of nation and state building. Nation building refers to how the countries in this region solving their nation-buildings issue and how they develop the socio-cultural base for their national integrity. And state building means how the countries in this region solving the political state buildings issue and how are their ways to create a role for political institution.

In this case, I will take Indonesia as the example. Indonesia has complex problem in its nation and state building. There are many problem almost in every sector such as political, economy, government, social, ethnic conflict, and fragmented area. Beside of that, Indonesia also has leadership problem, especially from the legislative member. While Indonesia was hit by many natural disaster (landslide, mud, flood, storm, wind, etc) and transportation accident (plane, ship, train) in the contrary, the legislative discussed about financial budget for new facility named laptop? for each legislator. There is no awareness from them to repair and makes a better condition for Indonesia. Of course, this matter gets many critics from the society. How come they can do that! If this condition not changed, it can threating and dangered, not just for Indonesia itself, but also the ASEANs sustainability as one community. Beside Indonesia, the other ASEAN countries also have a similar problem. These problem need to be solved as soon as possible. If not, it could be very difficult for ASEAN to move forward and reach the vision 2020.

Here are the table of ASEAN members condition on nation building, state building and political economy of development :

  • Nation Building State Building Political Economy of Development
  • Brunei Darussalam Absolute Monarchy Full power of Sultan Modern (petroleum-based economy)
  • Cambodia Influence from Khmer civilization and aristocrat (e.g. Prince Norodom Sihanouk) Fictionalization caused by civil war and influence from international power (in transition era to liberal democracy) Trying hard to integrated with the economy of neighbor country
  • Lao PDR Acute fragmentation Communism? In the process of changes into liberal democracy system Traditional (agricultural economy)
  • Malaysia Elite-accommodation system supported by Kesultanan Consotional democracy (Barisan Nasional alliance) Affirmative decision for Malay through NEP (New Economic Policy) since 1971
  • Myanmar Independent, (autarky) which develop a unique national resistance Military-led politicization non-formal economic sector (in gold-triangle part, marijuana trade etc)
  • Philippine Oligarchs-led nationalism (e.g. Jose Rizal) Oligarchy, personalism (especially in Marcos Era), transition to democracy Landowners-type economy (Hacendero), an effort to industrialization and export orientation (Ramos era)
  • Singapore An ethics as a small country which surrounded by big countries half-authoritarian, under the technocratic and pragmatic leadership Industry, export oriented, entre-port
  • Thailand Assimilation ; King, Religion (Buddha), and Thai ethnic BP (Bureaucratic Polity); The strong influence from bureaucracy (both civil and military) in economic development
  • Vietnam Nationalism after Chinas colonialism (1000 years), France, Japan, & USA ; national unity to solve cultural and political dichotomy between village? and city? Ho Chi Minh Communism with charismatic leadership Doi Moi System since 1980s and integration with ASEAN economy

The entire problem above must be finished by each country itself. Itself? here refers to each countrys own capability to solve their problem their selves, because based on the ASEAN fundamental principles in their relations with one another, as contained in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) , they should have;

  • Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations;
  • The right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion;
  • Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another;
  • Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner;
  • Renunciation of the threat or use of force; and
  • Effective cooperation among themselves.

From all points above, we can fully understood that each country can not interfere the others domestic problem.

Beside the domestic problems, actually there still some threats for making one ASEAN?. There are common problem facing ASEAN. It is related to international issues such as territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea (Spratly Islands) between South East Asian countries and China, self determination for East Timor which previously was the part of Indonesias region, security issues (such as terrorism issues, hijacking in Malacca strait, nuclear proliferation in Northeast Asia and South Asia, weapons of mass destruction), and the impact of globalization. Based on these facts, it can be concludes that we should hardly fight for finishing these homework?, and we also need a very strong effort, support and commitment to realize ASEAN Vision 2020.

ASEAN should be well understood for every occasion and slot which has already presented in the world. Moreover, in this Globalization era, it is possible for us to cooperate and participate with all over parties (including the other regional organizations and countries) easily. Then, to appropriate with the ASEAN Vision 2020, ASEAN has to increase cooperation within the ASEAN members itself and also with the dialogue partner and other countries to establish the three pillars of ASEAN Community by 2015 . ASEAN also playing a vital role in international community and it can gives ASEAN an opportunities to increase its interest. One of the example is the ASEAN Plus Three, where ASEAN makes a cooperation with East Asian countries (Japan, Peoples Republic of China and Republic of Korea), since the signing of Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation in 1999. For enhancing the interest, ASEAN continues to develop cooperative relations with its Dialogue Partners, such as Australia, Canada, European Union, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, and the United Nations Development Programme.

Conclusion; Its a Challenge!

With the spirit of the 40th Anniversary, One ASEAN at the Heart of Dynamic Asia, ASEAN seems to be more serious to reach the ASEAN Vision 2020. It can be seen from the statement of Chairperson in the 12th ASEAN Summit in Cebu, Philippines by the President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The commitment titled ONE CARING AND SHARING COMMUNITY? which affirmed the strong commitment to accelerate the establishment of an ASEAN Community by 2015 as envisioned in the ASEAN Vision 2020 and the ASEAN Concord II.

We should manage our mind that every problem facing us can be changed into a challenge. And of course, after we know the SWOT of ourselves, we can fully understand what is the matter possible to do? or impossible to do? for our next future. Although it will be a long journey for ASEAN unity in diversity, but Im highly sure that ASEAN can realize the ASEAN Vision 2020 step by step. We can start it from our own country first. Then, we can move together as one community in South East Asia region as the part of Asia community and world community.


  • Afani, Riza Nur. Syllabi and Course material of Political and Governmental in South East Asia. Third semester. International Relations Department, Social & Political Sciences Faculty, Gadjah Mada University; Yogyakarta. 2005.
  • ASEAN Secretariat Website (2007). http://www.aseansec.org (Access date : 10 April 2007)
  • Republika Online. (December 2005). KTT ke-11 ASEAN – ASEAN Bisa Saingi Cina dan India (the 11th ASEAN Summit ASEAN could Compete China and India). Source from: http://republika.co.id/online.asp?kat_id=248

Author: Sunu Family

We are an Indonesian family living in Bonn, Germany since 2017. Our family consists of Ayah (Radit), Umi (Retno/ Chiku), Kakak (Zahra), and Adek (Faiq). We will share our experience living in Germany, our trips, thoughts, Umi's related research on her study, etc.

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