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The Asia Foundation Releases New Report on ASEAN

September 26, 2018 — This week, The Asia Foundation released a new report, ASEAN as the Architect for Regional Development Cooperation on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. The research report examines the potential role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in shaping development assistance in Southeast Asia—a region where rising geopolitical competition is placing new pressures on ASEAN Centrality. Recent trends, including large-scale regional development initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative and early-stage initiatives by Japan, India, and the United States, illustrate how development is becoming a mechanism for geopolitical competition. A second panel discussion on the new research was held in Washington, D.C.

For the past 50 years, ASEAN has helped maintain peace and security in the region. ASEAN has also been a critical mechanism for member states to engage with major powers outside of the region.

Since ASEAN’s founding, the region’s average per capita income has risen 33 times over—from $122 in 1967 to slightly over $4,000 today. A platform for collective action central to the region’s growth and progress, ASEAN and its member states have come together to tackle difficult shared problems, including responses to natural disasters, transboundary haze, and human trafficking.

Despite pressure on ASEAN unity in recent years, the regional network remains a critical vehicle for a rules-based order in this strategic region. As geopolitical competition increases, the ASEAN regional architecture will allow the region’s smaller states to exert greater collective pressure and maintain an effective balancing strategy. Amidst this geopolitical competition for influence, there are increasing calls for ASEAN to play a more significant role.

The new Asia Foundation study explores the critical role of ASEAN in providing the regional architecture for international cooperation in Southeast Asia and expanding this role to more clearly include development. The research study is based on interviews conducted from August 2017 to June 2018 with officials of the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN member states, ASEAN-related institutions, and staff in international organizations, think tanks, and research agencies. The study team also performed quantitative analysis of development-assistance funding data, obtained from the OECD Development Assistance Committee and other sources, to analyze macro trends in funding commitments.

Government officials and NGO representatives present at the release of the Asia Foundation report in New York City included H.E. Virasakdi Futrakul, deputy minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand; H.E. Dato Lim Jock Hoi, secretary-general of ASEAN; Suriya Chindawongse, director-general, Department of ASEAN Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand; Christine Heenan, vice president, The Rockefeller Foundation; Haoliang Xu, assistant secretary-general, UNDP; and David D. Arnold, president of The Asia Foundation.

In 2019, Thailand will hold the Chairmanship of ASEAN. As the ASEAN Coordinator on Sustainable Development Cooperation, Thailand is poised to work in partnership with ASEAN member states and external partners to expand ASEAN’s proactive role on development cooperation in the region. The Asia Foundation will disseminate the timely research at a follow-on event in Bangkok, Thailand in late 2018.

This is an independent study, funded and carried out by The Asia Foundation, and has no formal association with the ASEAN Secretariat or other ASEAN bodies.

The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia. Informed by six decades of experience and deep local expertise, our work across the region addresses five overarching goals—strengthen governance, empower women, expand economic opportunity, increase environmental resilience, and promote regional cooperation.

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Related locations: New York
Related programs: Regional and International Relations

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