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2017, a Special Year for ASEAN

2017 is a very special year for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This regional organization is commemorating its 50th anniversary on August 8th. This year, ASEAN is also commemorating its 40th anniversary of partnership with couples of its strategic partners, the United States of America and the European Union. Since its foundation, ASEAN has been progressing on its role in the global dynamics such as security, economy, and social aspects through the high commitment of its member and intensive cooperation with its strategic partners.

Founded on August 8th,1967, ASEAN has become a huge market as it possesses more than 626 million people within its members. Founded by five countries, ASEAN has successfully maintained its regional stability and even could engage five more countries as members. With 10 countries, ASEAN has done many things for the development of the region and the country-members and became a strategic market for the global economy through its $2.4 Trillion economies of the members.

50 years of ASEAN signifies a well-established regional organization. Although there are several obstacles and challenges like South China Sea dispute, ASEAN can prove that Southeast Asia is a peaceful region in the midst of the diversity of the members’ political systems, culture, languages, and races. ASEAN also can prove that its authentic “The ASEAN Way” through its non-intervention from each member and consensus policymaking. Even though some people think that ASEAN could do more, a peaceful, worth, and promising Southeast Asia is answering all doubts.

The peaceful region shaped a strong very commitment and partnership within 10 members. Intra-ASEAN investment is currently the largest foreign direct investment of ASEAN. The average economic growth of its member is up to 5 percent. Today, ASEAN as an economic bloc represents the fifth largest economy in the world. It is even projected improving, and become the fourth-largest economy in 2050.

Partnership with the United States

ASEAN’s success in maintaining security and improving the economy is also enhanced by its strong cooperation with strategic partners. Furthermore, ASEAN’s success story makes it a trusted organization for other countries. It is already a consequence that other countries are interested in opening cooperation with ASEAN, one of which is the United States (U.S.).

U.S.-ASEAN partnership was started in 1977 when both were becoming dialogue partners. The cooperation became more robust in the 1990s when the U.S. launched economic programs that contain education, transfer of technology, and trade and investment. Afterward, the partnership became much stronger when Barack Obama took the administration and made a strategic rebalance of US efforts towards Asia.

Realizing the importance of its huge market, the U.S. initiated several strategic diplomacies. U.S. became the first non-ASEAN country to name an Ambassador to ASEAN back in 2008. In 2010, U.S. established Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta and appointed the first resident Ambassador in the following year. At the moment, U.S. and ASEAN have several strong cooperation in five general aspects including economic integration, maritime cooperation, ASEAN as emerging leaders, the opportunity for women, and addressing traditional challenges.

40 years of partnership provides huge impacts on the economic area. U.S. provides a huge number of investments in ASEAN. In 2015, the investment value was $12 million, or equivalent to an 11.1 percent share of ASEAN foreign direct investment from 2010 to 2015. The number of U.S. global companies is also doubling, reaching over 1.500 U.S. companies operating in ASEAN. All those huge numbers caused by ASEAN stability as proof of a trusted market.

Partnership with the European Union

One of the strategic partners of ASEAN is the European Union (EU). As a well-integrated regional organization, the EU is much needed by ASEAN as its example of a good regionalization. Otherwise, ASEAN’s large market is needed by the EU, even though the EU itself has a large market with approximately 510 million people.

The EU-ASEAN partnership was initiated in the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting on July 5th-8th 1977. At that time, the forum agreed on formal cooperation and relationship with the European Economic Community (EEC). Later on, the cooperation was institutionalized in 1980 with the signing of the ASEAN-EEC Cooperation Agreement. Since then, the dialogue is rapidly growing until both produced the Nuremberg Declaration in 2007, a long-term vision and commitment to reach mutual benefits and common goals. Meanwhile, EU-ASEAN cooperation currently covers 3 areas, including political cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation.

The EU’s trust in ASEAN is shown at the high value of its investments and trades. In 2015, the EU invested around EUR 20 million, the second-largest after the Intra-ASEAN investment. That number is similar to 16.7 percent of ASEAN’s total foreign direct investment. EU is ASEAN’s second-largest trade partner after China, with a total share of 13.1 percent. Otherwise, ASEAN is the EU’s third-largest trade partner outside Europe, after the U.S. and China, with a total of EUR 201.6 billion in 2015.

The Optimism

With its commemoration of its foundation and initiation of a partnership with two strategic partners, ASEAN remains optimistic of its future. The experts consider ASEAN as the most advanced regional organization in the world after the EU. The status quo of its organization and its partnership shows that the future is very bright. 50 years of the organization shows the maturity of its operations, and 40 years of partnership with the U.S. and EU shows that ASEAN is trustable and promising.

But, the challenges will become much harder. The dynamics of international security that is harmed by terrorism, the uncertainty of the global economy, and the unpredictable political phenomenon could come every time. ASEAN should regard all of those commemorations as important preparations for future dynamics, for rapid improvement of the organization in the midst of all tough challenges, and for the maintenance and improvement of all-important relations including with the U.S. and EU.

Author: Fadhil Hazmi M, Program Development Officer of A.Y.O. Indonesia

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