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Debate: ASEAN, abolition of

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Should the Association of Southeast Asian Nations be abandoned?

Background and context

ASEAN was founded in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. In 1984 Brunei Darussalam was admitted, followed by Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar/Burma in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999. Combined, they have a population of about 500 million, a total area of 4.5 million square kilometers, a combined gross domestic product of US$737 billion, and a total trade of US$ 720 billion. The ASEAN Declaration states that the aims and purposes of the Association are: (i) 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 Southeast Asian nations and (ii) 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. In 1995, the ASEAN Heads of States and Government re-affirmed that “Cooperative peace and shared prosperity shall be the fundamental goals of ASEAN.”

Contents

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Independence vs. Union: Would ASEAN member states be better off alone?

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Yes

  • ASEAN members would be better off pursuing their own national interests: It is expensive and it diverts attention from the proper efforts of members’ governments – pursuit of the national interest. It is yet another unnecessary talking shop. Members frequently disagree with one another (on important international relations issues like the war on Iraq, and on regional economic issues like labour laws), so the idea that it helps present a ‘united front’ is incorrect. Its institutions involve surprisingly high costs (especially high when they don’t achieve anything) but still complain of under-resourcing; members are unwilling to commit any more funds, so nobody is happy. Best to scrap it.
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No

  • ASEAN fosters a stronger collective voice internationally. Allowing its members to work together, makes possible achievements that they cannot easily achieve alone. When ASEAN speaks it speaks for ten countries: that offers a much greater voice on the international stage. Furthermore, the regular high-level dialogue the organisation enables between representatives of nations that have a history of antagonism and war with one another is highly beneficial. It’s true that the institutions of the organisation involve some small cost, but it’s worth it. Finally, a false choice is being offered by the proposition: it’s often the case that members are advancing their national interests by their membership.


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Burma: Was it wrong for ASEAN to include Burma?

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Yes

  • Allowing Burma to join ASEAN seemed to signal approval of that regime’s record on human rights: The forum often offers a shield for Myanmar’s regime from external criticism. Other regimes conduct questionable (at best) policies, such as Thailand’s treatment of the Karen or Indonesia’s approach in Aceh or East Timor, but go uncriticised.


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No

  • Based on geography, Burma is a part of ASEAN, though Burma has problem with the regime. However, Burma's removal from ASEAN would clearly be damaging to the state.
  • Myanmar is more likely to improve its behavior as a member of ASEAN: Prospects for improving the specific human rights problems in Myanmar/Burma – and for offending regimes in the region more generally – are better if the country is included and given incentives to improve, than if it is excluded and left as a pariah state. Much background diplomacy is done and pressure exerted through the channels of ASEAN.
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Trade: Does ASEAN promote i-trade? Is this a good thing?

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Yes

  • Unions such as ASEAN encourage their members to turn inwards instead of adopt the better principles of globalization: ASEAN replaces the traditional narrow-minded nationalist vision with a regionalist closed-mind mentality. They may also offer a false sense of participation in the international economic sphere when the great leap to world trade is at last a possibility.
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No

  • Trade blocs are stepping stones to full globalization: Smaller unions – of which ASEAN is one, the EU and NAFTA are others – may be seen as stepping stones to world trade, not stumbling blocks – they make the transition easier by encouraging the move from state-based economic thinking to wider horizons.
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Expanded membership: Has expansion damaged ASEAN?

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Yes

  • Expansion has undermined the economic solidity of the Association: Members whose economies are unsound have been admitted for political reasons.
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No

  • Including poorer countries is a long-term investment in them: It is true that countries like Cambodia may be weak economically right now, but investing in them allows other members to get in ‘on the ground floor’ as industry grows and the benefits to the new country are obvious. It should be remembered that there is no common currency like the euro, so members don’t run the same direct risk from having weaker economies on board anyway.
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Economic stability: Does ASEAN fail to promote economic stability?

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Yes

  • ASEAN is unable to fulfill its main mission of providing economic stability to its members: It was demonstrated in 1997 that ASEAN cannot achieve this. When the Asian financial crisis swept over all members, the much-vaunted Association did nothing to protect them.
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No

  • ASEAN helped its members recover from the 1997 Asian economic collapse: Everyone suffered, inside and outside of the Association. ASEAN’s members recovered more quickly than other, more developed nations, like Japan.
  • ASEAN offers its poorer countries the ability to effectively use their comparative advantages of lower worker cost under low/no tariff regimes:
  • More developed countries have new markets opened up under low/no export/import restrictions:
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Culture: Does ASEAN jeopardize the cultures of its member states, or help protect them?

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Yes

  • The southeast Asian region is one of extraordinary diversity: Faiths, cultures, traditions – its peoples vary wildly. ASEAN seeks to place over the top of all that a Western-style, suits-and-ties forum that not only encourages the already occurring, unfortunate process of westernisation; it also promotes homogeneity amongst those who should be celebrating their differences.
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No

  • ASEAN intends to protect its members from Westernization and promote a distinct Southeast Asian style: It does so by offering a platform of regional activity that is distinctly different, distinctly southeast Asian. Furthermore, the ‘heterogeneity’ of the region is an argument for both sides. Left to their own devices, these cultures often fall back on age-old rivalries and resentments. A forum that stresses the advantages and potential of the region working together is vital to prevent recurrence of this.

Motions

  • This House would abandon ASEAN
  • This House believes that ASEAN has failed
  • This House would leave ASEAN

See also

External links and resources

Books


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