ASEAN: History, Membership, Flag, Pillars and Everything


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) by the founding fathers of ASEAN, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Brunei Darussalam joined ASEAN on 8 January 1984, Vietnam on 28 July 1995, Lao PDR and Myanmar on 23 July 1997, and Cambodia on 30 April 1999, making up the ten Member States of ASEAN today.

ASEAN aims to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development among its members, protect regional peace and stability, and provide opportunities for member countries to discuss differences peacefully.

ASEAN was established with the following objectives:

– To accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region.

– To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law.

– To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest.

– To assist each other in the form of training and research facilities.

– To collaborate for better utilization of agriculture and industry to raise the living standards of the people.

– To promote Southeast Asian studies.

– To maintain close, beneficial cooperation with existing international organisations with similar aims and purposes.

Over the decades, ASEAN has evolved to become the backbone of the regional architecture in East Asia, having expanded its ranks to include all ten countries in Southeast Asia. ASEAN has also taken on an increasingly significant role globally, representing around 650 million people in one of the fastest growing economic region in the world.
The creation of ASEAN was inspired by a common aim: to ensure economic development and regional stability amidst the historical, political, security and socio-cultural diversity of Southeast Asia’s 10 nations.

 History of ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand. The five original member countries were Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. These founding members aimed to promote economic growth, social progress, cultural development and regional peace and stability in Southeast Asia.

Some key milestones in ASEAN’s history:

– 1967: The ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration) formally establishes ASEAN.
– 1976: Papua New Guinea becomes the first country to receive observer status.
– 1984: Brunei Darussalam joins ASEAN as the 6th member.
– 1995: Vietnam joins ASEAN as the 7th member.
– 1997: Laos and Myanmar join ASEAN as the 8th and 9th members.
– 1999: Cambodia becomes the 10th member of ASEAN.
– 2003: ASEAN agrees to create an ASEAN Community comprising three pillars – ASEAN Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.
– 2015: The ASEAN Community is formally established.
– 2017: ASEAN celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Over the decades, ASEAN has expanded from its original 5 members to become a union of 10 diverse Southeast Asian countries, united by shared goals and a vision for regional development, cooperation and integration.

Member Countries

ASEAN has 10 member states. The current member countries are:

– Brunei
– Cambodia
– Indonesia
– Laos
– Malaysia
– Myanmar
– Philippines
– Singapore
– Thailand
– Vietnam

The grouping was originally made up of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei joined on 7 January 1984, Viet Nam on 28 July 1995, Laos and Myanmar on 23 July 1997, and Cambodia on 30 April 1999.

You can also visit to the official site of ASEAN-About ASEAN – ASEAN Main Portal


The flag of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a symbol of unity and cooperation among the ten member countries in Southeast Asia. The flag features a set of ten yellow rice stalks, arranged in a circle against a blue background. Each stalk represents one of the ASEAN member states, signifying their collective strength and cooperation.

The colour blue symbolizes peace and stability, yellow denotes prosperity and wealth, and the circle represents unity and the endless potential for growth within the ASEAN community. The rice stalks are a nod to Southeast Asia’s agrarian roots and the common thread of agriculture that binds the diverse cultures and economies of the region.

Objectives of ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration in 1967. Some of ASEAN’s key objectives include:

– Promote economic, social, and cultural cooperation and collaboration among its members. This involves fostering trade relations, developing industries for regional sourcing, and promoting Southeast Asian cultures.

– Maintain peace, security, and stability in the region. ASEAN aims to resolve territorial disputes peacefully and establish itself as a zone of peace, freedom, and neutrality.

– Engage in external relations and expand collaboration. ASEAN seeks to enhance consultations and cooperation with other countries and international organizations.

– Serve as an effective engine of regional and economic growth. By coordinating policies and striving for greater efficiencies, ASEAN seeks to enhance industrial, agricultural, and transport developments in the region.

– Improve the living standards and well-being of Southeast Asian peoples. ASEAN aims to raise the quality of life, literacy rate, and development status of the diverse citizens of its member nations.

– Promote Southeast Asian studies. ASEAN strives to develop social sciences and humanities relating to Southeast Asia through university exchanges and other educational means.

– Protect the region’s natural heritage and environment. ASEAN seeks to control pollution, manage natural resources, and protect plant and animal life in Southeast Asia.

At its core, ASEAN seeks to promote economic development, social progress, and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours and mutually beneficial partnerships between its diverse member countries.

 Pillars of ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is built on three pillars:

1- Economic Pillar

The economic pillar aims to promote economic growth and regional economic integration amongst the ASEAN members. Initiatives under this pillar include the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), which eliminates tariffs on most goods traded within ASEAN, and the ASEAN Economic Community, which envisions ASEAN as a single market and production base. Closer economic ties between ASEAN members have facilitated trade and investment in the region.

2-Political-Security Pillar

The political-security pillar aims to promote peace and stability in Southeast Asia. Under this pillar, ASEAN members cooperate on political, security, and defence issues. Key initiatives include the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which promotes peaceful conflict resolution, and the ASEAN Regional Forum, which facilitates dialogue on political and security issues. ASEAN has played an important role in maintaining regional peace amid geopolitical tensions.

3-Socio-Cultural Pillar

The socio-cultural pillar aims to promote social development and cultural exchange. Efforts under this pillar include education cooperation, youth exchanges, and the preservation of Southeast Asian cultures. Binding the diverse ASEAN members together socially and culturally has been crucial for regional solidarity and unity. Shared cultural understanding has also facilitated ASEAN economic integration.


One of the defining characteristics of ASEAN is what’s known as the “ASEAN Way”. This refers to certain principles that guide how ASEAN operates:

Non-Interference –

ASEAN members avoid interfering in each other’s internal affairs. This respects national sovereignty and promotes regional stability.

Quiet Diplomacy –

ASEAN uses discreet diplomacy to resolve disputes behind-the-scenes. This avoids public confrontations.

Consensus –

Decisions are made through consensus, not by majority vote. All members must agree for something to be approved. This promotes unity.

Consultation –

Extensive consultations and discussions take place before decisions are made. This allows concerns to be addressed.

Moving at a Pace Comfortable to All –

Integration moves forward but at a pace comfortable for all members. No country is forced to move faster than it wants.

The ASEAN Way has enabled the peaceful growth of the organization. However, critics argue it can also impede quicker reforms and bold actions. The principles make it hard to punish member states that violate norms or rules. Overall, the ASEAN Way remains a defining feature of how ASEAN conducts its affairs.

 Comparison to the European Union

ASEAN and the EU share some common goals and characteristics but there are also important differences between the two organizations.


– Both ASEAN and the EU originated from a desire for economic cooperation and trade. The EU started as the European Coal and Steel Community while ASEAN began as an organization aiming to promote economic growth among Southeast Asian countries.

– Both organizations have evolved beyond just economic cooperation and now also have political and security dimensions. ASEAN has the ASEAN Political-Security Community while the EU has the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

– Both ASEAN and the EU aim to create a single market and production base among their member states. ASEAN has the goal of establishing the ASEAN Economic Community.

– Both organizations espouse principles like mutual respect, equality, consensus-based decision-making, and non-interference in members’ internal affairs.


– The EU possesses supranational authority that supersedes national sovereignty on many issues. ASEAN operates solely based on intergovernmental cooperation.

– The EU has strong, legally binding economic and political integration. ASEAN integration is looser and primarily focused on economic cooperation.

– The EU has significant institutions like the European Commission, Parliament, Council, and Court of Justice. ASEAN’s institutional structure is minimal in comparison.

– The EU requires member states to follow its common policies in areas like trade, agriculture, and competition. ASEAN allows members flexibility in implementing economic integration measures.

– The EU has strong enforcement mechanisms to ensure adherence to its rules and policies. ASEAN lacks enforcement capabilities and relies on voluntary compliance by member states.

So in summary, while ASEAN and the EU share some broad goals and principles, the EU represents much deeper and rules-based integration compared to the informal, consensus-driven model of ASEAN.

The East Asia Summit (EAS):

The EAS is a regional forum that brings together leaders from 18 countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Oceania[1]. It provides a platform for leaders to discuss important political, security, and economic issues in the region. The EAS aims to promote dialogue, cooperation, and sustainable development in East Asia, addressing challenges such as terrorism, maritime security, and climate change.

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF):

The ARF is the foremost security-focused multilateral forum in the Asia-Pacific region[2]. It consists of 27 member countries, including all 10 ASEAN member states and key partners such as Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States[2]. The ARF serves as a platform for dialogue and consultation on regional security issues, including non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, arms proliferation, and maritime security. The forum encourages the adoption of confidence-building measures and promotes cooperation among participants.

The ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus):

The ADMM-Plus is a platform for defense-related cooperation among ASEAN member states and eight Plus countries: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the United States[3]. It aims to enhance regional security and promote practical collaboration in areas such as maritime security, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. The ADMM-Plus conducts exercises, dialogues, and exchanges to strengthen defence ties and build mutual trust and understanding among participating countries.

 Importance of ASEAN

ASEAN is important both geopolitically and economically in the Asia-Pacific region. Geopolitically, ASEAN has aimed to encourage cooperation and prevent conflict among countries in Southeast Asia. With 10 diverse member states, ASEAN provides a forum for countries in the region to discuss key issues and build consensus. This has helped reduce tensions and disputes among members.

ASEAN has also played a key role in engaging major powers like the US, China, India, Japan, and Australia. Its central position in Asia’s regional architecture makes it critical for major powers seeking influence in the region. For example, the annual East Asia Summit brings together ASEAN states and eight dialogue partners including the US, China, and India.

Economically, ASEAN has aimed to boost trade and development in Southeast Asia. It has created the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) to establish a single market and production base among members. Intra-ASEAN trade has risen significantly, showing the benefits of economic integration. The bloc also negotiated free trade agreements with major economies like China, India, Japan, and Australia. ASEAN is collectively the 5th largest economy globally if counted as a single entity. Its market of over 600 million people offers major opportunities for trade and investment.

Overall, ASEAN occupies a strategic position that makes it an important player in Asian economic and security issues. Its growth and stability impact the wider Asia-Pacific region. Both geopolitically and economically, ASEAN has become an influential force due to its coordinating role and collective dynamics.

 India-ASEAN Relations

India was one of the first countries to establish relations with ASEAN shortly after its formation in 1967. However, engagements remained limited during the Cold War era. It was only after the Cold War ended that India launched the Look East Policy in 1991 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to strengthen economic and strategic relations with Southeast Asian nations.

Some key initiatives under India’s Look East Policy:

– Became a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1992.
– Became a full dialogue partner in 1996.
– Initiated the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) in 2000 – covers cooperation in tourism, culture, education, as well as transport and communications.
– Held annual summits with ASEAN starting in 2002.
– Signed free trade agreements in services and investments in 2014.
– Upgraded relations to Strategic Partnership in 2012.
– Proposed setting up of ASEAN-India Centre.
– Initiated the Asia-India Meet (AIM) annual dialogue in 2002.
– Hosted commemorative India-ASEAN Summits in 2017 to mark 25 years of relations.

The Look East Policy has now been upgraded to Act East Policy under Prime Minister Modi to further strengthen economic, strategic and cultural relations between India and ASEAN nations. There is tremendous scope for cooperation in areas like connectivity, maritime security, counter-terrorism, science & technology and capacity building.

ASEAN’s Role in the Indo-Pacific Region

The Indo-Pacific region has become increasingly important in global geopolitics. ASEAN has aimed to play a central role in engaging with major powers and shaping the regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific.

ASEAN centrality has been a key principle. This refers to ASEAN being positioned as the main convening power for major forums and initiatives in the region. ASEAN-led forums such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) have become important platforms for major powers like the US, China, India, Japan, Australia and others to engage on strategic issues.

The East Asia Summit in particular has emerged as a leader’s forum for strategic discussions on political, security and economic issues. EAS includes the 10 ASEAN member states along with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.

ASEAN has aimed to shape regional architecture through ASEAN-centered forums to preserve its central role. Initiatives like the Indo-Pacific Outlook aim to project ASEAN’s perspectives on Indo-Pacific cooperation. ASEAN has needed to balance between major powers and ensure its unity and centrality amid geopolitical tensions. Its role in the Indo-Pacific will be an important test of ASEAN’s relevance and impact on regional affairs.

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