Now we’re 50

Ooi Kee Beng

The foreign ministers of Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines at the founding of ASEAN in Bangkok 1967 . Photograph: WikiCommons

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, founded on 8 August 1967, famously holds more than 1,000 meetings a year. Some say 1,400 would be a more accurate figure. Undoubtedly, a lot of time is wasted at these meetings, and a lot of vital focus that could be aimed at getting concrete results is dissipated.

How much ASEAN should have achieved since 1967 is difficult to decide, and the claim that it should have accomplished more than it has can be made of almost any institution. What is important in a discussion about how effective ASEAN is — or how effective it should be — has to do with the ontological question of what kind of creature it really is. To answer that, we must consider not only the history of ASEAN, but also the context within which the organisation evolved.

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