The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (known as ASEAN) celebrated its 50-year anniversary in early August. The regional cooperative was established in 1967 with Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore as founding members. Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia later joined.

Back in 1967, the region was filled with strife, and the association was established to help bring peace, stability and prosperity. ASEAN’s broad aim and purpose is stated as: “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.”1

Fundamental principles2 are stated as:

  • 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.

The spirit of peaceful cooperation has been dubbed the “ASEAN Way” and has been accompanied by impressive growth over the past 50 years. ASEAN today represents the world’s seventh-largest market with the third-largest labor force (behind China and India), and there are projections it will become the fourth-largest economic bloc by 2030.3

Since its founding, there has been a great deal more cooperation between countries in ASEAN and more travel interchange, even among countries which historically had been enemies. When I was recently in Myanmar, I met with executives of a Thai oil company drilling for oil and gas offshore there. They said cooperation from the Myanmar authorities had been very good and they expected positive results from their operations in the country.

Given all the challenges, I would give ASEAN an “A” grade for its efforts and the gradual introduction of various cooperation measures. Its members have been successful in cooperating to improve regional trade and investment, and also in tourism. Now, I think the next step is to move toward a common currency and common banking system.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth among its members also has achieved high marks, with 2017’s growth projections for several of its members seen outpacing that of China.4