(Re)Negotiating East and Southeast Asia: Region, Regionalism, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

By Alice D. BA | Go to book overview

4
The Politics and Rhetoric of “One Southeast Asia”

When [ASEAN becomes 10], the vision of our founding fathers…
will have been realized. Then we will have succeeded in redressing
five dark centuries during which a fragmented Southeast Asia all
too often served as the cockpit of internecine strife and proxy wars,
abetted and manipulated by extra-regional powers.

Ali Alatas,
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia
1

Our leaders said that politically it is good for us to be united as
one family. Never mind if economic levels are different compared
to the richer countries… We are more driven by sentiment, by
politics, than by logic and economics.

Tommy Koh,
Ambassador to the United States, Singapore
2

On April 30, 1999, Cambodia became ASEAN’s tenth member. Following the admissions of Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), and Myanmar (1997), ASEAN elites hailed Cambodia’s admission as completing the “dream” of “One Southeast Asia.” Despite the historical inevitability suggested by the ASEAN rhetoric, however, the expansion process was in fact not free of conflict or debate. As in the mid-1970s, debates revealed dual concerns about the readiness and willingness of prospective members to join and support the ASEAN process, on the one hand, and the corporate resilience of existing members, on the other. In addition to lingering divisions and suspicions about Vietnam, Myanmar—as a challenge to ASEAN’s external legitimacy vis-àvis external actors, its now-established practices and mindsets, and ultimately ASEAN’s corporate resilience—became a particularly contentious point of intra-ASEAN debate. Debates about expansion furthermore took place at a time when ASEAN was facing new existential challenges: Vietnam’s withdrawal from Cambodia, though welcomed, raised new questions about ASEAN’s ability to remain relevant to members “after Cambodia”—a point underscored by individual members’ attraction to other regional ideas. The ending of the Cold War brought with it a more competitive global economy

-103-

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