Regarding the process of establishing and operating ASEAN, Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, asserted that initially the organisation was aimed at preventing communist influence in Southeast Asia, as the five member states did not adhere to communism and were aligned with western nations such as the US and Britain.
Phea stressed that the region had many internal problems, such as the gap between economy and education.
“One of the shortcomings of ASEAN was that the economic resources and the human resources were not equivalent,” he said.
ASEAN also has shortcomings in terms of exchanges of information and mutual security between the member states, which tend to be either pro-China or pro-US due in part to their different political systems.
And even today, some member states still have territorial disputes over sovereignty and territorial integrity with no immediate end in sight, he said.
“Major controversies in ASEAN include the South China Sea disputes and the geopolitical rivalry of the superpowers: China and the US. These are the issues that cause ASEAN many challenges which can affect its stated centrality and unity,” he said.
Phea added that ASEAN is an important diplomatic channel for its member states, large and small, as it gives them equal rights to carry out regional and global affairs under the banner of a regional organisation.
Moreover, ASEAN has recently become an important economic gateway for member states to enter into trade agreements, especially the latest large-scale Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Furthermore, ASEAN has a wide range of regional and global dialogue mechanisms to help ensure its members stability and security, he said.
“These mechanisms and ASEAN’s demographics have made Southeast Asia important in the eyes of powerful countries. This has become a vital area to world trade and it cannot be overlooked whether you’re talking about the Asia-Pacific region, Indo-Pacific or ASEAN itself,” he said.
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