ASEAN was added in 1967 as a way of uniting against communism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ASEAN has sought to find its place in the new regional security structure with China and the United States as the most influential powers. The ASEAN countries can today be said to balance between the efforts to keep the United States in the region and at the same time maintain good relations with China. In Beijing, at the same time, it has been seen as important that ASEAN operates independently and is not drawn closer to the United States and Japan.
Striving for peace and stability remains a major goal for ASEAN which stands for Association of South East Asian Nations according to Abbreviationfinder. The goal is enshrined in the ZOPFAN peace zone from 1971 and the Declaration on Unity, as well as in the Friendship and Cooperation Treaty and the Charter from 2008. interference in the internal affairs of states. The principle of non-interference has been and still is a guide for the Southeast Asian countries – this policy has come to be known as the “Asian way”.
At the Singapore Summit in 1992, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was set up, which would provide an opportunity to discuss security issues in the region with non-members as well. The fact that the ASEAN countries finally agreed to form the disputed ARF was mainly due to China’s actions in the South China Sea in February 1992 (see below). It was realized that it was necessary to establish closer contacts with China to enable dialogue and prevent a military conflict. That the United States would also participate in the ARF was considered positive.
The conflict over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea has long been one of the most pressing security issues for ASEAN. The more than one hundred widespread and uninhabited small islands and reefs that make up the archipelago lie between Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysian Borneo. It has not stopped China and Taiwan – more than twice as far away – from claiming the entire archipelago. Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines have demanded supremacy over the islands closest to their own coast. Everyone involved except Brunei has placed soldiers or bases on some islands, making the area one of the region’s most worrying hotbeds of conflict.
But the conflict is not just about important strategic values and national pride; the area probably also has significant resources of oil, natural gas and minerals. China, like Vietnam and the Philippines, has allowed US oil companies to test drill in areas that are still controversial. Chinese laws from 1992 described the Spratly Islands as Chinese territory, which led to outraged reactions from the Asean states that claimed the islands themselves.
In 1992, the ASEAN states and China signed a declaration in Manila to resolve the dispute by peaceful means. But shortly afterwards, the conflict flared up with renewed intensity in connection with the discovery that China had built a base on one of the islands. In the summer of 1995, the Beijing government assured at the ARF meeting in Brunei that it was prepared to discuss a solution based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In 1999, ASEAN began drafting a code of conduct for states’ actions in the South China Sea, and in 2002, China and ASEAN signed a declaration to that effect. In this, the countries promised, among other things, to resolve conflicts by peaceful means and to avoid actions that could disturb other countries, such as populating uninhabited islands.
Since then, the countries have held discussions on how the declaration can be complied with. Various forms of cooperation exercises have also been carried out. In recent times, however, China and Vietnam in particular have once again raised the tone of the conflict. The United States’ increased interest in the region has also contributed to increased tension. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outraged Chinese delegates at the 2010 Hanoi summit in Hanoi when she said that maritime security in the region was in the interest of US national security. ASEAN continued to lead discussions between the parties to the conflict and in July 2011 this led to the conclusion of a new agreement which laid down guidelines for how the conflict should be handled.
Through the 1995 decision to transform the entire region into a nuclear-weapon-free zone, SEANWFZ, Asean ended up on a collision course with the great powers. The agreement bans the manufacture, acquisition or possession of nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia, but since no Asian country has or knowingly seeks to acquire nuclear weapons, it was clear that the ban is directed elsewhere. It also received a cool reception from the five official nuclear states of the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom. Both China and the United States said they supported the idea but did not want to sign a side protocol to the agreement. SEANWFZ covers not only the ASEAN countries themselves but also the continental shelf outside them and their economic sea zones. The United States saw this as a threat to the freedom of movement of its own nuclear fleet in the region. For China, there was irritation that the ban to the extent mentioned covers large parts of the South China Sea. Asean’s continued discussions with the nuclear powers have, however, borne fruit in part; In 1999, China and India promised to comply with the provisions of SEANWFZ. Some years into the 2000’s, there were also indications that China, as the first nuclear power, was prepared to sign the agreement. It was seen by observers as a way for China to strengthen its influence in the ASEAN region.
In 1998, Thailand proposed that the principle of not interfering in each other’s internal affairs should be less rigid and replaced by so-called flexible engagement. It would then be possible to discuss events in individual ASEAN countries if they could affect the situation in neighboring countries. The proposal was not well received by the majority of ASEAN countries. However, it was agreed to try to strengthen cooperation between themselves and work to maintain an open dialogue.
The East Timor crisis became an example of the negative effects of the non-intervention principle. Had the ASEAN countries chosen to criticize Indonesia for its lack of control over security in East Timor, this would have been seen as an intrusion into Indonesia’s internal affairs. Only after Indonesia agreed to send an international UN-mandated force to East Timor, a force that the Indonesians wanted to be made up of troops from many ASEAN countries, did the other ASEAN members choose to act openly by contributing troops to the force.
The Bali agreement from 2003 drew up the guidelines for a security policy community (Asean Security Community, ASC). However, there was no question that increased integration would mean that foreign policy became common to the ASEAN countries, such as within the EU. It was also carefully pointed out that some form of defense alliance was not relevant either and the principle of non-interference would continue to permeate security cooperation. The main purpose of the ASC would be to preserve peace in the region and to ensure that ASEAN members “live in peace with the rest of the world.” The ASC would primarily focus on cooperation in five main areas: political development, creating and sharing norms, preventing conflicts, conflict resolution and building peace after conflicts. The goal is for the security policy community to be a reality by 2015.