Integration of the CLMV Countries with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

By Soja, Paweł | The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs, October 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Integration of the CLMV Countries with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations


Soja, Paweł, The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs


Introduction

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, is justifiably considered as the most advanced international organisation after the European Union (EU) in terms of general cooperation between members.1 It provides a framework of institutional integration for 10 countries within the area of Southeast Asia, by adapting its agenda to three fundamental dimensions of security, economy and social and cultural field cooperation. ASEAN's history goes back to 1967, when then leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand signed the ASEAN Declaration. In 1984, only a few days after gaining independence from the United Kingdom, Brunei became a new member of the community and the sole representative of the second generation of participants. The latest extension of ASEAN took place in the 1990s, and included four Indochina's Cambodia (1999), Laos (1997), Myanmar (1997) and Vietnam (1995), which are commonly known by the acronym of CLMV. These states joined ASEAN in spite of views that they were economically underdeveloped and still slightly uneasy with their political environment. The fact that accession was conducted so smoothly was primarily due to a desire for ultimate unity between all states of the region, the vision of One Southeast Asia that ASEAN had pursued since the very beginning.2

Winning the hearts and minds of CLMV governments was not merely a romantic dream, but also had strategic importance for ASEAN diplomacy.3 The main reason behind this concept was to counter the increasing domination of the People's Republic of China, in particular after the end of the isolation imposed on Beijing as a result of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the need to strengthen ASEAN's diplomatic position in multilateral forums of cooperation. The prospect of enriching the Southeast Asian economic bloodstream was also a significant factor, as was the enhancement of safety guarantees which had become a crucial issue in the wake of U.S. military engagement in the area during Bill Clinton's tenure as president. The final argument for further development of ASEAN was related to endogenous changes and gradual modernisation in CLMV countries. Good examples of this were the economic transformations in Vietnam and Laos in the aftermath of doi moi reforms and Vientiane's implementation of the New Economic Mechanism. Cambodia's accession to ASEAN, which occurred in 1999, signified the full realisation of One Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the significant underdevelopment of the CLMV sub-region in comparison to the ASEAN64 and its historical dissimilarity made it extremely difficult to find common ground within the newly expanded organisation. Its flexible and relatively non-binding formula of integration, based on the intergovernmental model, did not favour the enforcement of the group's decisions and blocked the implementation of specific policies (i.e. guidelines concerning the creation of an ASEAN Free Trade Area). Those were the main problems ASEAN faced at the beginning of new millennium.

Meanwhile, the CLMV area underwent a complex metamorphosis, although the political, economic and social effects of this were different for each country. Therefore, one can distinguish two groups of players within the sub-region. The first category includes Vietnam. This country has a number of features which cannot be found elsewhere in Indochina. It is characterised by big demographic potential, enduring political stability and the diversification of products and services. Doi moi reforms paved the way for a blossoming free market, and adoption of the new Constitution in 1992 marked the end of orthodox communism. It also guaranteed the separation of power between the state and the Communist Party of Vietnam by introducing the rule of law.5 In 1990, Vietnam finally started to export crude oil, and over the next 20 consecutive years was one of Asia's fastest developing economies, second only to China. …

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