By Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser and Director, CSIS Southeast Asia Program

Happy Birthday – ASEAN Turns 43

Forty-three years ago on August 8 in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was created as the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand signed the ASEAN Declaration.

At the time, the regional grouping was formed to bind a young and increasingly powerful Indonesia into a pact with its neighbors, encouraging it to enter the regional and world stage as a source of economic growth and diplomacy, pursuing its interests peacefully.  The other objective was to staunch the feared spread of communism from Vietnam into other newly independent nations in the region.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

ASEAN has come a long way.  And now, as a ten country grouping comprised of nearly 650 million people, and a $1.4 trillion gross domestic product, ASEAN finds itself at the center of a an effort to create a new regional architecture designed in part to encourage two regional giants – China and India – to step on the regional and global stage peacefully, contributing to growth and stability.   Will ASEAN be able to replicate its success?  Only time will tell.

On Saturday night, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung addressed a packed house of diplomats including ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan in the elegant Hanoi Opera House to mark ASEAN’s 43rd birthday.   Here was the leader of Communist Vietnam, and arguably one of ASEAN’s most forward leaning proponents, espousing the grouping’s achievements after four decades and change.  The very fact of the event is testament to ASEAN’s subtle but very real achievements.

Vietnam is providing strong leadership in its role as ASEAN Chair in 2010.  Expect that proactive leadership to continue next year as Indonesia, by far the largest country in ASEAN, takes over as Chair.  Although few noted the expert diplomatic move at the time, several months ago, Brunei Darussalam quietly stepped ceded its chairmanship in 2011 to Indonesia.  The Vietnam – Indonesia succession should help cement the trend toward the evolution of ASEAN into a more proactive regional organization.  Indonesia is clearly finding its voice as a major global player.  It must be a strong and responsible leader at home in ASEAN in order to build on a foundation from which to effectively influence the East Asia Summit (which it will host next Fall President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev attend for the first time), G-20 and other forums.

CSIS’ Birthday Gift to ASEAN

The CSIS Southeast Asia program is pleased to present ASEAN with a present on its 43rd birthday.  We are giving the middle aged regional grouping what every region wants and needs as it enters middle age – its own blog!

We are pleased to present CogitAsia, the premier policy Asia policy blog focusing on Southeast Asia.  The purpose of the blog is to urge policy makers, executives, educators, pundits and journalists and others to think about the region and US policy in Asia, act upon those thoughts and to be creative – to innovate.  Cogitate means to think deeply, meditate.  Hence the name, CogitAsia.  Please join the discussion at www.cogitasia.com.

CSIS is now recruiting experts to provide commentaries now.  If you are interested in contributing, please contact us at EditorCogitASIA@csis.org.

For those of you who are Facebook users, join CSIS Southeast Asia on Facebook – we now have over 5,000 readers commenting on trends, themes and news updated by the minute 24 hours a day.

For the ultimate wired Southeast Asianist – you can also follow development across the region from anywhere via Twitter.  Follow us on SoutheastAsiaDC on Twitter.

Happy Birthday, ASEAN!

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