[CS 05 – 12/2019] Champions of the “ASEAN Miracle”: The Dreams of Development Process to Progress in the Future

Dao Manh Nghia – Ho Chi Minh City University of Law


2018 is a great year when the international community has witnessed the formation and development of ASEAN in over 50 years (8/8/1967 – 8/8/2018). In relationships our comprehensive, ASEAN is showing the innovation and development when facing the new rapid changes of the international situations. In particular, its may include efforts to promote cooperation in all fields, from political, economic to cultural between not only the internal affairs of member states but also the foreign relations with other countries or international intergovernmental organizations. ASEAN’s remarkable success after 50 years is recognized as the “ASEAN Miracle”. Such achievement is the fruit of effort and dedication committed by those who yearned for the peace and prosperity of the in Southeast Asia region. The scientific article will introduce people who are the leading figures behind the ASEAN Miracle and their contribution toward the foundation and the development of ASEAN. Then, the author gives lessons-learned by drawing their philosophies, convictions and endeavors to achieve greater development of ASEAN: “Unity is strength”. Finally, this paper calls for the understanding of value that the champions of ASEAN Miracle creating to promote global development.


Overview about ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a political, economic, cultural and social alliance of nations in Southeast Asia. It is an important and well-established international organization formed on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration (Bangkok Declaration 1967) by the “Founding Fathers” of ASEAN, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, also known as ASEAN-5, to express the spirit of solidarity among the countries in the same region and cooperate against violence and unrest in the member countries.

This organization then expanded when Brunei Darussalam became the sixth member after joining on 7 January 1984, just one week after they gained its independence on 1 January. On 28 July 1995, Viet Nam became the seventh member. Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) and Myanmar joined on 23 July 1997, two years after. Cambodia intended to join with Laos and Myanmar, but it is postponed because of internal political strife. After stabilizing the government, Cambodia then jointed on 30 April 1999, making up what is today the ten Member States of ASEAN (AMS) or ASEAN-10. Moreover, both East Timor and Papua New Guinea were the observers of this organization.

Recently, the most prominent of ASEAN is the “ASEAN Community” that was launched on 31 December 2015. The ASEAN Community is comprised of three pillars: the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). At the ASEAN Summit in November 2015, ASEAN adopted the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together with its new vision and blueprint for the ASEAN Community for the next 10 years (ASEAN – Korea Center, n.d).

After 50 years of existence and development (1967 – 2017), from a simple Association of countries in Southeast Asia, ASEAN gradually developed into a large-scale organization with deepening cooperation and comprehensive. Today, ASEAN’s cooperative activities cover all aspects of the political, economic, cultural and social life of Southeast Asian nations. Furthermore, ASEAN has been establishing itself as a platform for Asian integrations and co-operations, working with other Asian countries to promote unity in diversity, prosperity, development and sustainability of the region, as well as working on solutions to resolve disputes and international problems (such as: territorial sovereignty) between nations. By establishing communications with other nations of the world, to better promote world peace and stability, ASEAN has become the most influential regional organization in Southeast Asia and has played an important role in a lot of international organizations, especially in the United Nations.

For the world in general and the Asia-Pacific region in particular, the rule of co-operation for mutual development is the sustainable trend of current countries. Besides intra-regional cooperation, ASEAN has also strengthened its external relations such as ASEAN+1 (with its 10 dialogue partners, i.e. Republic of Korea, United States, European Union, Japan, etc.), ASEAN+3, etc. As a result, Southeast Asia region has grown steadily and held an important place in the international arena. Moreover, ASEAN has a global reputation of promoting goodwill and diplomacy among countries, shutting out any opinion or decision considered biased and carrying the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.

ASEAN’s achievements after 50 years

Described as the “ASEAN Miracle”

Let’s go back 50 years ago, when ASEAN was founded in 1967, almost no one believed it would last let alone succeed. Two regional groupings, the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASA) and Maphilindo[1], had already failed. Indochina had fallen to the communist wave, and the rest of Southeast Asia looked poised to fall like dominoes as well. Singapore had just split from Malaysia, in the wake of disputes and racial riots. Before that, Malaysia and Singapore had experienced Confrontation with Indonesia-a conflict that ended only in 1966 (Bahbubani, 2015). In such a difficult situation, a miracle appeared with the advent of ASEAN.  This miracle based on three motives for creating ASEAN are the purpose of building the country and its goals of economic, political and security development. Countries in the region, which have lost faith in outside world-powers, have come together in the background of the 1960s to support each other. Unlike other international organizations, ASEAN aims to protect and promote nationalism (Alagappa, 1998).

At the dawn of ASEAN Miracle, there were tensions taking place in the activities. But then the initial distrust had fallen away in meetings and they focused on the goodwill and a sense of common purpose. It can be said that from a loose association with five members in 1967, ASEAN has transformed into a rule-based regional intergovernmental organization with the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter in 2008 and earned worldwide recognition as a dynamic regional grouping. With signing and ratification of the ASEAN Charter, ASEAN cooperation has had the legal basis and institutional framework to take a new step forward.

In the field of political-security, ASEAN has launched many initiatives and mechanisms to ensure peace and security in the region, such as: The Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) Declaration in 1971, Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) in 1976, and Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ) in 1995, especially, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002, etc. Since 1994, ASEAN has also initiated and chaired the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). With comprising 27 participating nations, ARF is the place where ASEAN and its external partners conduct dialogue and cooperation on political and security issues in Asia – Pacific. In general, ASEAN Declarations and treaties above concentrate the aim of fostering peace, security and stability in what was once a very unstable part of the global.

With regard to economic, ASEAN took a significant step towards integrating the regional market through the establishment of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1992, involving gradual intra-ASEAN tariff liberalization and the signing of ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS) in 1995 which serves as a basis for services liberalization in the region (ASEAN, 2017). ASEAN also promoted the economic cooperation in other areas such as investment (through the ASEAN-AIA Investment Area Agreement), industry, agriculture, finance, transportation, customs, etc. The changes in 50 years of ASEAN economic integration and cooperation may include: the signing of the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) in 2009; the entry into force of the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) in 2012, the adoption of the ASEAN Financial Integration Framework (AFIF) in 2011 and the latest is Adoption of the AEC Blueprint 2025 and formal establishment of the AEC. As a result, the rate of economic growth expressed through GDP/capita and trade has increased considerably since 1967 (Figure 1).

ASEAN has also enjoyed functional cooperation in many areas, such as: educational cooperation for mutual understanding, exchange cultural, disaster management, environment, health, etc. Especially in external relations, ASEAN developed friendly relations and mutually beneficial dialogue, cooperation and partnerships with countries and sub-regional, regional and international organizations and institutions. It can be said that ASEAN+1, ASEAN+3 and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

The most notable achievement was that the Association had completed the idea of an ASEAN consisting of ten Southeast Asian nations; removing the divisions and confrontations between Southeast Asian countries; enhancing the mutual understanding; promoting comprehensive and coherent cooperation; focusing on dialogue, consensus, non-interference in internal affairs each other’s. ASEAN also helped transform the association into a truly regional cooperative organization, an important factor in ensuring peace, security, cooperation and development in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

On the balance, I emphasize that ASEAN is a miracle. In an era of growing cultural pessimism, there is a pervasive belief that different civilizations cannot function together. Yet the ten countries of ASEAN are a thriving counter-example of coexistence (Mahbubani & Sng, 2017). And here, ASEAN stretches over 4,32 million square kilometers and has more than 630 million people live together in peace (3rd largest globally). These 50 years of development prove the big change of many fields and have also made ASEAN to be affected object in the global (Figure 1).

Figure 1. 50 years of ASEAN in figures (ASEANstats, 2017)

In 1967: ASEAN-5 In 2016: ASEAN-10
Population: 185 million Population: 634 million
Land: 2,950 thousand km2 Land: 4,326 thousand km2
Life expectancy: 56 years Life expectancy: 71 years
GDP / capita: US$122 (current prices) GDP / capita: US$4,021 (current prices)
Trade: US$9,707 million Trade: US$2,218,534 million

The leading figures enlightens “ASEAN Miracle”

Historical background and international relations

With the special historical background of ASEAN Miracle above, on 8 August 1967, the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand struck a landmark agreement, forming ASEAN.  In the main hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok, Thailand, five Foreign Ministers signed ASEAN Declaration. The five leaders – Adam Malik (The Presidium Minister for Political Affairs/ Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia), Narciso R. Ramos (The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines), Tun Abdul Razak (The Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia), S. Rajaratnam (The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore), and Thanat Khoman (The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand) – would subsequently be hailed as the “Champions of the ASEAN Miracle”.

Actually, to carry out the task, the five Foreign Ministers were delegated power by the five heads of state (The Presidents or Kings) of the founding nations. The Foreign Ministers acted on the will and spirit of the country, headed by the head of state. Therefore, the negotiation process has been difficult when each man brought into the deliberations a historical and political perspective that had no resemblance to that of any of the others. But with goodwill and good humor, as often as they huddled at the negotiating table, they finessed their way through their differences as they lined up their shots on the golf course and traded wisecracks on one another’s game, a style of deliberation which would eventually become the ASEAN ministerial tradition (ASEAN, 2012).

Finally, The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand – Thanat Khoman made the conclusion of negotiation: “What we have decided today is only a small  beginning of what we hope will be a long and continuous sequence of accomplishments of which we ourselves, those who will join us later and the generations to come, can be proud. Let it be for Southeast Asia, a potentially rich region, rich in history, in spiritual as well as material resources and indeed for the whole ancient continent of Asia, the light of happiness and well-being that will shine over the uncounted millions of our struggling peoples.” (ASEAN, 2012). He brought up the ASEAN idea in his conversations and had the high consensus of his colleagues. Hence, the name of organization (ASEAN) was suggested by him and the ASEAN Declaration, which containing just five articles of aims and purposes of that Association, was created. It proclaimed ASEAN as representing “the collective will of the nations of Southeast Asia to bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity.” (ASEAN, 1967).

That was how ASEAN was conceived, given a name, and born. It suited the context of history and international relations at the time. Sooner or later, ASEAN will still be born.  It can be said that the achievement of ASEAN Miracle is the fruit of effort and dedication committed by five Foreign Ministers who yearned for the peace and prosperity of the region.

The contribution toward the foundation and the development of ASEAN

The five Foreign Ministers are “Founding Fathers” of probably the most successful inter-governmental organization in the world today (ASEAN, 2012). They are considered the first to lay the foundations for the success of ASEAN. The conversations and arguments in the negotiation process for reaching agreement have partly reflected the progressive ideas of development cooperation. Moreover, which can be the “doctrines” that creating the ASEAN Miracle.

The idea of the establishment of ASEAN has solved the basic instability at that time. Many disputes between ASEAN countries persist to this day. But all Member Countries are deeply committed to resolving their differences through peaceful means and in the spirit of mutual accommodation. Every dispute would have its proper season but it would not be allowed to get in the way of the task at hand (ASEAN, 2012).

The five Foreign Ministers of founding countries had realized that political and economical regional cooperation would bring greater stability and prosperity to the region. The dreams of development process to progress in the future came true. Fifty years and five additional countries later, the alliance has remained one of the world most successful collaborations. This is the greatest proof of what is called the success of regionalism.

The philosophies, convictions and endeavors to achieve greater development of ASEAN

The value of lessons-learned 

Through the Champions of the ASEAN Miracle, their philosophies, convictions and endeavors bring many value things to humanity: Although countries may have differences in political institutions, the legal systems, economic and social, cooperation to create an alliance is a common tendency for the world’s great efficiency. And ASEAN is no exception. At the beginning period of ASEAN Miracle, the nations of region must first free themselves from the material impediments of ignorance, hunger and disease. New ASEAN ideas have confirmed that each of these countries can not accomplish that alone, but by joining together and cooperating with those who have the same aspirations and visions, these objectives become easier to attain in the future.

In international relations, linking with countries that are close together in the region and have certain similarities is considered a future development trend, instead of establishing an alliance with countries that are far from the realm. Assume that if a single ASEAN country performs foreign policy with countries, it is very difficult to face superpowers or major international government organizations. Therefore, being overwhelmed as well as failing to power of the partners. This inequality is unacceptable. Instead, the ASEAN countries have agreed to build a strong and unified ASEAN to be able to hold a key position in international relations. The ideological value of the champions of ASEAN Miracle is “Unity is strength”.  Which mean that encouraging weak nations to rely more on neighborly mutual support than on stronger states that serve their own national interests rather than those of smaller partners (Khoman, 1992).

Nowadays, with the role as a forum that promotes and fosters trust and confidence between member countries, ASEAN brings the peace and stability not only for Southeast Asian region but also all over the world. ASEAN countries understood their roles and responsibilities in implementing the future goals and directions of the alliance.

For ASEAN’s leaders in general and member states in particular, understanding the value of philosophies above will help ASEAN move in the right direction in the future. Basing on the foundation that ASEAN Miracle innovators have created, the next generation of leaders has continued to apply and consolidate the coherence. In addition, if the people in the ASEAN community have the knowledge of the value of ASEAN lessons-learned, the organization’s top goals will be achieved by consistency. After all, what ASEAN is trying to create is to serve the life of the ASEAN’s citizens. Moreover, it motivates other international organizations to co-ordinate the development of the whole of humanity.

In the current world context, ASEAN has been a successful model of regional integration and is at the heart of multilateralism. In the recent years, however, the international community has witnessed a trend against multilateralism through Brexit, America’s withdrawals from Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and Paris Climate Accord (PCA). The value doctrines of the leading figures behind the ASEAN Miracle will help countries and intergovernmental organizations around the world take a more active view at multilateralism – comprehensive cooperation.

The philosophies, convictions and endeavors of five Foreign Ministers in order to achieve greater development of ASEAN will last forever by time. They have been maintained and promoted when the ASEAN Community was established. This is concretized in the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 to realise “a rules-based, people-oriented and people-centred ASEAN Community, where our peoples enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms, higher quality of life and the benefits of community building, reinforcing our sense of togetherness and common identity, guided by the purposes and principles of the ASEAN Charter.” (ASEAN, 2015).


Being an ASEAN’s citizen witnessed the change and development of this organization. I feel proud and honored to enjoy the achievements in the common development of ASEAN. I learned a lot from the experiences and draw on the progressive philosophies, convictions and endeavors of the leading figures behind the ASEAN Miracle. We must remember and praise the champions of the ASEAN Miracle for their great contribution to realize the dreams of development process to progress in the future.

With the achievements made in the last 50 years, the association has shown the value of ASEAN Miracle through ASEAN’s increasingly important role in the international arena. The current leaders of ASEAN need to follow the philosophies values that the founders have created. The current leaders of ASEAN need to follow the ideological values that the founders have created. ASEAN should make greater efforts to cooperate comprehensively and to expand its influence in the world. That requires that every member countries, in particular every ASEAN’s citizens, has the responsibility to contribute to the common development of the community: “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”.


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[1] ASEAN is not the first regional organization that is established in Southeast Asia. In 1961, the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) was established, connecting the Federation of Malaya (Malaysia and Singapore now), the Philippines, and Thailand. In 1963, Indonesia, the Federation of Malaya and the Philippines established Maphilindo, in an attempt to promote cooperation between the three countries.