The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in in Bangkok in August 1967 as a regional, economic, cultural, and social cooperative organization. The original five member nations— Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand—had little in common in their culture, history, or politics. Nevertheless, after a slow start the organization flourished; by 1987 it had the fastest growing GNP of all economic groups in the world and was a key force for regional stability. [Source: Library of Congress]

ASEAN is comprised of 10 nations: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The original five members were Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The sixth member, Brunei, joined in January 1984. Vietnam was admitted in 1996. Myanmar and Laos were admitted in 1997. A coup in Cambodia kept it from admitted that year. It joined in 2000.

ASEAN was founded at a time of chaos and upheaval in Southeast Asia. Formed by five Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines , Malaysia and Singapore), it was created with the aim of realizing regional peace and stability. Set up with the signing of a document called the Bangkok Declaration, the group was originally going to be called the Southeast Asia Association of Regional Cooperation (SEAARC) until the Indonesian representative at the 1967 meeting pointed out the Bahasa Malay pronunciation of SEAARC sounds like a dirty word in that language. ASEAN grew out of the Association of Southeast Asia, which was established in 1961 but collapsed a year later. A territorial dispute known as the “konfrontasi” between Indonesia and Malaysia over Borneo and friction between Malaysia and Singapore also played a part in getting ASEAN off the ground.

ASEAN is led by a different its member nation every year. It was led by Cambodia in 2012. Brunei will head it in 2013; Myanmar in 2004. For a long time Thailand was the central member of ASEAN, formulating the agenda and working hard to keep the group together but in recent years Thailand has played less of a central role than it used to.

ASEAN holds a large annual meeting, often in March, and around 300 other meetings a years. Foreign and financial ministers of the group often meet on their own to discus pressing issues affecting the region. ASEAN has been called a top-down organization that imposes rules on its members rather than a bottom-up one that responds to needs and demands of the people of its member nations. One Indonesia diplomat told the Jakarta Post that being a member was a little bit like being the driver of car with a backseat driver (ASEAN) nagging you where to go and telling you how fast and how slow to drive. ASEAN is also very bureaucratic, with something like 58 committees involved in China issues alone.

Character of ASEAN and the Nations of ASEAN

ASEAN leaders claim the organization is strictly a geographical group and have no political criteria for membership. It has been credited with bring stability to the Southeast Asia. Moves are said to be gaining momentum to turn the association into an "ASEAN community" modeled after the European Union that would look after the economic, security and sociocultural interests of its members.

The ASEAN countries have a combined population of about 575 million people, with about 60 percent living under fairly free and democratic governments. There is a vast disparity of wealth and political freedom between the ASEAN members, with some nations mostly Buddhist (Thailand, Myanmar and Laos) while others are mostly Muslim (Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia) or Christian (the Philippines).

ASEAN members range from free-wheeling, capitalist democracies (the Philippines and Thailand) to Communist regimes (Vietnam and Laos) to authoritarian juntas (Myanmar) to monarchies (Brunei) . The organization was set up as a bulwark against communism during the Cold War. After the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union broke up the communist and former communist nations of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were invited to join. such aThe Income disparities and corruption are seen as two of the biggest problems member nations have to overcome.

The borders between the countries of Southeast Asia are very porous. In many cases getting from one country to the next involves little more than taking a 10 minute boat ride across a river. This creates opportunities for smugglers, drug couriers and human traffickers. More than a third of the world’s trade passes through waters off of Southeast Asia

ASEAN Anthem: Are We Serious?

In 2009, ASEAN officially selected its first anthem, titled “The ASEAN Way” – composed by a Thai group whose song won the most votes out of 99 finalists from ASEAN member states. The Jakarta Post reported: “The lyrics are fairly brief: Raise our flag high, sky high, /Embrace the pride in our heart. ASEAN, we are bonded as one. / Look’in out to the world. For peace, our goal from the very start, And prosperity to last./ We dare to dream. We care to share, Together for ASEAN. We dare to dream. We care to share, For it’s the way of ASEAN. [Source: Lina Alexandra, Jakarta Post, March 7 2009]

Lina Alexandra wrote in the Jakarta Post, “This majestic composition can be easily downloaded from the internet, and for about the first 60 seconds it doesn’t sound too bad. But then, listening to the words, we may begin to wonder about what is being said. Are we, the people of ASEAN, truly proud of what has been achieved by the ASEAN grouping so far?...There is nothing wrong with the anthem, but it is important we ensure it reflects the reality of what really happens within the ASEAN community.

“ASEAN Way” of Interacting and Making Decisions

Lina Alexandra wrote in the Jakarta Post, “The idea of an “ASEAN Way” has for a long time been associated with the way in which ASEAN members interact and make decisions for the region. This consensus-based process, with compromise based on a lowest-common denominator mechanism, has been the hallmark of ASEAN up to now. [Source: Lina Alexandra, Jakarta Post, March 7 2009 ]

“Despite the development of the Charter – which has given a legal personality to the organization as well as adding a principle of adherence to the rule of law – it has been difficult for many member states to move forward from their old ways. The political willingness to uphold sovereignty for the sake of so-called state security has been considered more important by elites in several ASEAN states than listening to the real needs of their peoples.

“Leaders’ commitment to making ASEAN a people-based organization has been ignored, for example, in Cambodia and military-ruled Myanmar where premiers barred two human rights representatives from attending direct talks between national leaders and civil society. It has been said this was because there had been no consultation with the government as to which CSOs should attend the meeting. If the leaders have clearly rejected the voice of the people, how can we still dare to dream?

“As indicated by the Thai prime minister recently, the proposed terms of reference for the ASEAN Human Rights Body (AHRB) still need to strike a balance between ideas of promotion and protection. After eight monthly meetings, the High Level Panel (HLP) members have been unable to incorporate monitoring functions into the AHRB, which can be invoked not only from the reports of the respected government, but also based on the reports of individuals or non-governmental. The TOR, echoing similar failures of the Charter, has not elaborated on details of sanction mechanisms if there are violations of human rights principles, which has a significant impact on the protection of human rights in certain countries.

ASEAN Entertainment

The annual gala dinner of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has traditionally featured famous politicians and foreign ministers performing goofy skits and doing poor renditions of popular songs. Describing the event in 2006, Mark Bendeich of Reuters wrote: “It began with a head butt and ended with Asian domination of the world — and in between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice played piano. The annual ASEAN gala dinner lived up to its reputation as the wacky highlight of regional diplomacy. In keeping with tradition, foreign ministers from seven countries, including Dr Rice, performed away from the cameras for the amusement of their hosts, revealing both hidden talents and, in a few cases, talents that are best hidden. [Source: Mark Bendeich, Reuters, July 29, 2006]

“Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso did a Humphrey Bogart impersonation, New Zealand's Winston Peters sang like Johnny Cash, China's Li Zhaoxing led a choir and South Korea's Ban Ki-moon strutted the stage in green sequins. Canada's Peter MacKay, dressed in black referee's uniform, opened the night with a mock ASEAN-Canada football match that ended with a Zinedine Zidane-style head butt and a red card. Then Mr Aso's troupe of foreign ministry officials took the stage and the night sped from mildly amusing to plain bizarre.

“Seemingly inspired by comic books and the film Casablanca, the plot of the Japanese skit revolved around a futuristic global pandemic of giant furry frogs. As Mr Aso, wearing trench coat and hat, dragged Bogart-like on a cigarette, his officials hopped on stage in frog outfits or dressed as a fish, Power Ranger, or mutant lobster. A creature called "Aso's Assistant Robot" also made an appearance.

“China's Mr Li followed. His suited officials had not tried to compete with Japan for costumes, but were easily the best singers. Penned by Mr Li, the patriotic lyrics serenaded a China "radiating with charm". Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was one of the few not to put on a show. Mr Downer wowed them at last year's event in the Lao capital Vientiane with a rendition of It's Now or Never as his staffers twirled around him in shimmery dresses and feather boas. This year he stayed firmly in his seat. "He's done a lot of these things over the years," a spokesman said. The minister just decided that this year we would not take part."

“The South Koreans danced to Abba's Mamma Mia, though their minister only appeared at the end, dressed in green-sequined jacket, to share the curtain call. Unfortunately, there was no curtain. If there had been, it surely would have come down on the New Zealanders, who whispered their way through an adaptation of Island in the Sun. Only Mr Peters' gravelly voice could be heard.

“Then Dr Rice, wearing a red dress and pearls, gave a class in genuine musical talent, though she was in more sombre mood after her trip to the Middle East. An accomplished musician who studied the piano at college, she stole the show in a duet with a Malaysian violinist. She called the piece, a Brahms sonata, a "prayer for peace". Russia's Sergey Lavrov closed the show by lampooning his host with a skit set in a future when ASEAN, not the US, is the sole superpower. Playing himself, he pretended to be briefed by his Kremlin official on the new hegemony. The rest of the world, he was told, was being forced to sell goods free to ASEAN to stay in its favour. Lavrov: "What have our US friends offered?" Official: "They are very, very smart. They have sent Rice." The dinners are normally closed to the media, but Lao television last year infuriated participants with a live broadcast on national television.

Thailand Host a Chaotic Asian Summit Meeting in 2009

An Asian summit originally set to be held in Bangkok in December 2008 was was moved first to the northern city of Chiang Mai, then delayed and moved to the coast and scheduled to take place in February but was postponed again to April as political turmoil engulfed Thailand. When the summit was finally held in Pattaya angry Red shirt protesters stormed the buildings where the meeting were held and some Asian leaders had to be evacuated by helicopter.

AFP reported: “Thai protesters smashed their way into a major Asian summit, forcing the country's embattled prime minister to cancel the meeting and evacuate foreign leaders by helicopters. Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in the resort of Pattaya after thousands of demonstrators stormed the summit, which was supposed to focus on the financial crisis and North Korea's rocket launch. Choppers airlifted dignitaries from the roof of the luxury hotel venue after the red-shirted supporters of Thaksin breached police lines, broke down glass doors and streamed into the building unopposed. [Source: AFP, April, 2009]

“The meeting grouped the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Protesters said they had run out of patience with Abhisit's refusal to bow to their demands for his resignation, and that they were angry at the wounding of three supporters in earlier clashes with pro-government rivals.

“Hooting horns and triumphantly chanting slogans, anti-government protesters decked out in red pushed past lines of troops who carried shields and batons but offered little resistance. They toppled metal detectors, smashed reception tables and left behind small pools of blood where some had been injured by glass. About 100 demonstrators reached the driveway of an adjacent building where the ASEAN leaders where having a luncheon. Staff were forced to bustle hotel guests — including a bikini-clad female tourist — away from restaurants and the poolside.

Several foreign leaders including Philippine President Gloria Arroyo and Abhisit himself were later airlifted to a nearby military airbase where emergency planes were on standby, AFP reporters said. The so-called Red Shirts had earlier clashed with pro-government rivals armed with sticks and bottles, forcing the morning's agenda to be scrapped, including ASEAN meetings with the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea. The three East Asian leaders remained in their hotels elsewhere in Pattaya.

There was confusion over which side the injured demonstrators came from and who attacked them. Protest leader Arismun Pongreungrong said his Red Shirts had been fired on by the rival demonstrators, whom he accused of being security forces in disguise. "We found 500 blue shirts behind army checkpoints with used bullet casings, handmade bombs and sticks," Arismun, a former pop singer, said at a press conference in the hotel lobby. Later it was revealed that Abhisit’s car was surrounded by an angry Red Shirt mob in Pattaya. He managed to escape with no harm done. A similar thing happened in Bangkok when an red shirt mob surrounded his car outside the Interior Ministry.

ASEAN Policies and Issues

One of the guiding policies of ASEAN has traditionally been to mind your own business and not criticize your neighbors. In recent years that policy has been changing. In the 2000s it began: 1) pressuring Myanmar to become more democratic; 2) attempting to find a solution to the Spratly Island dispute; 3) mediating on the Thai-Cambodia border dispute; 4) dealing with terrorism and Muslim insurgencies in the region; 5) combating bird flu and other diseases; 6) dealing with economic threats and opportunities presented by China; and 7) trying to persuade nuclear countries such as Russia, China and the United States to respect ASEAN’s nuclear-free zone. Other regional issues taken up by the group have included piracy, human trafficking and disaster relief.

ASEAN has proved to be somewhat feckless in handing thorny issues and forces outside the organization rather than in it have brought about change. This has been true with the democratization of Myanmar (which has occurred at the initiative of Myanmar’s leaders, perhaps because of unhappiness with China over a dam project, while repeated calls by ASEAN to free Aung San Suu Kyi were ignored) and reducing tariffs between member nations (which has come about mainly as a result of foreign companies establishing factories in the region).

One of the key issues facing ASEAN today is how to deal with China’s rise while maintaining a firm relationship with the United States while looking out for interests of each member nation which have different relationships with China and the United States. ASEAN has also called for restraint on North Korea on the issue of rocket tests that crossed over territorial waters held by its members. Since Myanmar began liberalizing in 2011 the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands has moved to the top of the agenda.

In November 2009, ASEAN created a human rights body (ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, AICHR). One year after its creation AICHR was faulted for not achieving much. Human rights groups called it toothless. In August 2011, the group was criticized by civil society representatives who walked out of the meeting because representative of such groups in five ASEAN nations were rejected by those countries. There has been some discussion about creating a an ASEAN peacekeeping force.

By 2008 all ASEAN members ratified a charter first proposed in 2003 that committed its members to democracy and human rights and set rules to transform ASEAN into legal entity and pave the way for a single free trade zone. The original plan for the charter was to include punishments for violators of the charter but this plan was dropped. The charter was seen as a way to make ASEAN more relevant, give it more teeth and mark the path for the creation of a European-Union-like grouping in Asia by 2015.

ASEAN Trade and Economic Policy

At ASEAN meetings there has been some discussion about creating a Southeast Asian Common Market European-Union-like economic community, by 2020 in part to pool resources to challenge China’s economic might. If such as union were to take place in the eral stage it would be like the European Common Market established in the 1960s. Singapore and Thailand are the ones that are pushing this set up the most.

In October 2003, plans were announced to make Southeast Asia into a giant free trade zone—the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)— by removing tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Income disparities and corruption are seen as two of the biggest problems member nations have to overcome. Irrelevancy is another problem. A 2005 survey by the Strait Times in Singapore found six of 10 Singaporeans felt ASEAN countries did not identiy with one another, seven in 10 were against the idea of a common currency and only three out 24 Singaporean teenagers knew what ASEAN stood and coud name the 10 member countries.

The ASEAN countries have a free trade pact that reduced rice tariffs from 40 percent to 20 percent in 2010.

ASEAN and Other Nations

ASEAN traditionally has had very close ties with the United States. It was founded with the encouragement of the U.S. at a time when it was embroiled in the Vietnam War. The U.S. Secretary of States sometimes attends ASEAN meetings.

ASEAN plus Three (APT) refers to ASEAN countries plus Japan, China and South Korea. Japan, China and South Korea participate in ASEAN meetings although they are not members. The United States is suspicious of the ASEAN plus three format because it seems aimed at uniting Asia at the expense of the United States.

East Asia Summit (EAS), which was created in December 2005 includes the 13 APT members plus Australia, New Zealand and India. In 2011 the group grew to embrace 18 nations with the addition of the United States and Russia. U.S. President Barack attended the 2011 EAS meeting in Bali.

Australia, New Zealand and especially India are also being courted and invited to ASEAN meetings. In 2009, the ASEAN-India Free Agreement on trade was signed, Some would like to see India—the world’s largest democracy—play a security role in ASEAN, for example, by having their navy patrol the East Chinese Sea to curtail China’s aggressive actions there.

The ASEAN Regional Forum brings in Russia and the United States. North Korea and Pakistan occasionally show up at few meetings. Papua New Guinea has been an associate member of ASEAN since. East Timor has expressed interest in joining the organization and is expected to become its 11th member. Representatives from Sri Lanka were at the meeting that created ASEAN in 1967, hoping that Sri Lanka would be asked to join, something that didn’t happen because of worries over the country’s stability. In some ways ASEAN has grown into an organization that embraces all of Asia because there is no other body that does this.

ASEAN and China

Ties between the ASEAN nations and China have improved dramatically since China has been seeking better, more stable relations with the world as a whole. Many worry that if China gains too much influence in the region it could begin calling the shots for ASEAN. China and ASEAN began bilateral relations in 1992 and signed a trade agreements in 2004 (for goods) and 2007 (for services).

Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek: Over the last decade, for example, China has greatly improved its historically tense relations with Southeast Asia. It's taken a more accommodating political line, provided generous aid packages (often far outstripping those provided by the United States) and moved speedily on a free-trade deal with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Japan wanted to cut a similar deal but has dithered, racked by power struggles between political and bureaucratic factions in Tokyo. The United States can't even begin such a conversation with ASEAN because we will not talk to Burma. One result: this summer China plans to hold military exercises with some of these countries, most of which have been U.S. allies for decades. [Source: Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, April 30, 2007]

Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong told Zakaria: “The attitude of many Asian nations is that China will be here for 2,000 years. America is here today but may go away. And if you stop paying attention to us, we have only one suitor and only one option."

There are some divisions among ASEAN members in their views of China. Those with interests in the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands—namely Vietnam and the Philippines—have recently had a more adversarial relationship with China while those with ideological links (Laos and Cambodia) and ethnic links (Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore) and advocate closer, friendlier ties with China.

History of ASEAN and China

Sheng Lijun wrote on YaleGlobal online:“US rapprochement with China in 1972 forced ASEAN nations to swiftly change their respective policies on China and establish diplomatic relations with Beijing, despite no fundamental changes in China’s Southeast Asia policy and no massive increase in China’s military muscle and economic attractiveness. When Deng Xiaoping stepped into power in 1978, eager to open China up and push into Southeast Asia, a blessing in disguise soon followed – Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia from 1979 to 1989. China made good use of this “occupation” and effectively kick-started its initial cooperation with ASEAN. This engagement, lasting more than a decade, laid a solid foundation for relations in the subsequent years. The US, concerned about Soviet influence in the region, acquiesced and even encouraged this strong engagement. Once again China succeeded in going deeper into Southeast Asia without massive increase in its military muscle and economic attractiveness. [Source: Sheng Lijun, YaleGlobal, January 11, 2007, Lijun is a senior fellow and founder/convener of ASEAN-China Study Program at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. His books include “Big Powers and China’s ASEAN Policy” and “The Rise of China and Its ASEAN/East Asia Policy”]

Just as ASEAN put the Cambodia issue onto a backburner, the Cold War ended and new uncertainties emerged in the region. Deciding against a passive wait for changes, ASEAN took the initiative and actively pursued engaging all the major powers in the region. Up until the end of the Cold War, ASEAN attempted policy that would push all extra-regional big powers out of the region. Realizing that it was impossible to push them out of the region, ASEAN, from the 1990s, began what it called “constructive engagement” with all of them. Under the policy, major powers balance one another while ASEAN is the primary driving force for a constructive balance. For this purpose, ASEAN needed China’s political backing to play its role as the primary driving force in this process. Under this backdrop, China scored an easy diplomatic success by building its first official ties with the ASEAN grouping in 1991.

The ASEAN-China relationship in the early years was tentative at best. Not long after came a big push: the Asian economic crisis in late 1997. While the US, for its own reasons, was slow to come to rescue, China readily responded to ASEAN’s acute need, with an immediate promise not to devalue its currency, the Renminbi, and further destabilize the region. By November 1997, the lukewarm relationship evolved to the level of annual ASEAN+China summits.

This momentum receded as ASEAN countries withstood the shockwaves of the economic crisis, but then came another boost: The 9/11 terror attacks, which plunged the US into a seemingly endless war against terrorism. The increasing focus of the US on homeland security, Central Asia and the Middle East was accompanied by a negligence of Southeast Asia. In 2001, China made a diplomatic masterpiece by proposing a free-trade agreement with ASEAN to accelerate its cooperation with ASEAN, thus maintaining and even building its momentum in Southeast Asia.

The brief examination of recent history tells us that China has gained its influence in Southeast Asia less by “muscles” and more by skillfully exploiting changes in the international and regional environment, absent any wise and strong US engagement with the region – together providing strong “pulls” for ASEAN toward a China that is more than willing to “push” into the region. Many observers have noted only the Chinese “pushes” without seeing ASEAN’s “pulls” and their strategic background. Without such “pulls,” however, China’s “pushes” will not get far and may backfire.

How deep can China push into Southeast Asia? At the moment, there is an active balance in the region, and any power that seeks dominance will likely push other powers, together with ASEAN, into a stronger resistance to maintain this balance. Any success China has in pushing further is less likely due to its growing “muscles” but more due to an ever-changing international and regional strategic environment that may suddenly multiply those “muscles” for a much deeper penetration. In this sense, continued US negligence of the region and absent-mindedness to the ever-changing strategic environment in the region will cost it dearly.

Chiang Mai Initiative

The Chiang Mai Initiative, launched in 2000 and recognized by ASEAN plus Three (ASEAN countries plus Japan, China and South Korea), is a currency swap agreement designed to provide emergency dollar funds to member countries hit by a financial crisis. Set up based on lessons learned after the 1997-98 financial crisis, it is intended to serve as an Asian International Monetary Fund.

Under the scheme participating nations would pool a portion of their foreign reserves, which they could use to prop up their currencies, for example, if they came under attack from speculators or suffered some other kind of currency or economic crisis.

In 2012, the fund was doubled in size to $240 billion to help member countries deal with the European financial crisis. For a country to receive a loan that loan must be approved by at least two-thirds of member country voting rights (Japan and China have the largest voting rights of about 28 percent).

ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) is Asia’s top annual security forum. One of its key acts has been carrying forward the ASEAN nonaggression pact (the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, TAC), which has been signed by 27 nations including Russia, China, Australia and India. Among the issues taken up by the group have been terrorism, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, South China Sea disputes and disaster relief. Not all TAC members are happy with it. Some countries want to accede from the group.

Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “When the concept of an ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was first introduced back in 1992-94, it was aimed at raising the ASEAN profile and interacting with China. The hope was to engage and then contain China. Since its establishment in 2005, the ARF has served as a region-wide security platform and confidence builder among its 27-members. China has successfully used the forum to promote its regional standing with a preponderance of backing ASEAN views. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation (Thailand), August 16, 2010]

Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is an organization set up to discuss issues that affect Asia and Europe trade and security.


Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative Forum (APEC) is 21 nation organization made up of countries around the Pacific in Asia and the Americas. It deals primarily with economic and trade issues but also deals with political, environmental and terrorism issues. It serves as a formal link between the United States and the countries of Asia and has grown in stature and importance in recent years. One of the more notable features of the meetings is how silly the country leaders look dressed in the traditional clothes of the nation that hosts the APEC meeting.

APEC was launched in Australia in 1989 with 12 members including Japan. Australia, South Korea and the United States and its leaders have met annually since 1993. Its members account for 53 percent of the world’s gross national product, 44 percent of global trade and 40 percent of the world’s population. The 21 members are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile. China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zeland, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam. The members are called “economies” because of the presence of Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The forum operates on the basis of nonbiding commitments and decisions reached by consensus. In 1994 the group declared the Bogor goals for open trade and free investment by 2010 for developed countries and 2020 for developing countries. In 1997 it failed to map out ways to deal with the Asian financial crisis. In 2001, after the September 11th terrorist attacks, it took up secuirty matters, issuing ant anti-terrorism statement at the Shanghai meeting.

APEC meeting are often attended by world leaders and often serves as an opportunity for these leaders to exchange messages and hold informal talks on the sidelines. Among the issues that addressed in the main meetings are how to deal with current economic problems, trade, tariffs, protectionism, bird flu, food prices and shortages and North Korea’s nuclear program. One of the goals of the organization is to create a Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) agreement which would liberalize trade and investment in the region. In 2009 global warming

Asian Development Bank

The Asian Development Bank is headquartered in Manila and has 2,200 employees. It has an annual lending budget of $6 billion and operates under similar mandate as the World Bank: namely to fund development projects that are seen as advantageous to developing countries and their people. It has traditionally provided funding for infrastructure projects in a region where the poor live. Japan is the largest shareholder in the Asian Development Bank.

Asian Development Bank was founded in 1966. It is largely seen as a “second fiddle” to the World Bank in Asia. In recent years it has suffered from morale problems and is badly in need of an overhaul and has been associated with failed development projects.. In some cases business interests have been the primary beneficiaries of loans that were supposed to help the poor and programs classified as poverty reductio projects. One example is a $300 million, 964-kilometer railway between Xian and Hefei in China, whose primary beneficiaries are coal companies and city dwellers. The people in the poverty-stricken area the train run through who the train was supposed to help were relatively unaffected by it.

The president of Asian Development Bank appointed in 1999 aimed to restore poverty-fighting mandate of the organization but defined poverty intervention in such a way that it allowed a number of project that didn’t really fight poverty to be classified as such. At the same time there was a drive to give out more Gameen-bank style loans, which some at the bank complain were time consuming to process and argued helping government to lower inflation was a more efficient way to use the bank’s money, resources and expertise.

In May 2013, Takehiko Nakao was named the ninth Asian Development Bank president. He ran uncontested for the position. Since the bank was established in 1966 it has always been headed by a Japanese. With 67 member nations and territories, the ADB operates under the goals of reducing poverty and promoting growth in the Asia–Pacific region.

Asian Development Bank In Need of Overhaul?

Pana Janviroj wrote in The Nation in March 2004: “Morale among the 2,200-strong staff at the ADB’s headquarters in Manila is said to be woefully low. Leaks from frustrated donor and shareholder nations critical of the bank’s management have been publicised. Reform is said to be underway, though progress is slow and painful. Private management organisations have been brought in to re-engineer the bank’s so-called expert staff. [Source: Pana Janviroj, The Nation (Thailand), March 2, 2004]

Armed with an annual lending budget of about US$6 billion, the ADB continues to play second fiddle to the World Bank in Asia despite its being located in the region. While the management of the World Bank has taken the bull by the horns in reorganising and reinventing itself, the ADB appears stuck in the time warp of “factions and rivalries”, according to the Financial Times. The ADB has failed to ride Asia’s economic successes. In Thailand, for instance, during the economic boom time, the bank was said to be unable to match the services of private commercial banks. Conversely, during the tough times, the bank’s interest rates were said to be too high. Moreover, the ADB has picked up where the World Bank left off in its battle against environmentalists by getting caught up in a triangular conspiracy relating to the failed, corrupt Klong Dan waste water treatment project.

The ADB opened a sub-regional office in Bangkok in the mid 2000s. “The office’s mission is not so much to manage development loans and other financial services to Thailand, but to hasten the development of the Mekong area, as the bank is the prime sponsor of both strategies and funding for the area. The priority areas are road construction and other infrastructure projects that will increase economic activity in the sub-region.The ADB’s Bangkok office will have a small staff, giving it the potential to act with unity and speed, safely removed from the internal politics of the Manila headquarters. “We should have done this a long time ago. It is a dream come true to have a presence in Bangkok,” said one ADB staff member. If given a clear mission and mandate, the ADB’s Bangkok office will have the opportunity to display the kind of versatility and professionalism that the headquarters lacks. The ADB can use this opportunity to cut red tape and be more responsive to local needs.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2014

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