The Asian crisis
From the time when the Asean collaboration in the early 1990’s was characterized by optimism and forward-thinking spirit, the tone was much darker at the end of the decade. Asean was then faced with difficult crisis situations. It was about the devastating haze of smoke from Indonesian forest fires, which hit the region particularly hard in 1997. But even more, the region was shaken by the economic and financial crisis that began the same year.
The crisis began when the Thai baht was exposed to widespread currency speculation. The currency crisis soon spread like wildfire across Southeast Asia; to the Philippines, Malaysia and finally Indonesia. Panic arose in the financial markets, banks collapsed or were forced to stop lending money. For Thailand, the crisis forced the resignation of then-Prime Minister Chaovalit Yongchaiudh, a new government was elected by the people and democratic constitutional changes were implemented. In Indonesia, the crisis ended the 32-year authoritarian rule under President Suharto. A transition to democracy began with general elections in June 1999, but the situation remained unstable. The Asian crisis is considered to have contributed to the ASEAN countries understanding the importance of integration. At the Kuala Lumpur Summit in December 1997, the countries adopted a plan for the future, Vision 2020,
The 1999 crisis in East Timor, which was occupied by Indonesia, became another difficult issue for the ASEAN countries. In August, the East Timorese voted for independence for the region or continued Indonesian rule. When the independence alternative won, pro-Indonesian militias, backed by Indonesian military, marched and forcibly displaced East Timorese, killing people and destroying buildings.
According to theinternetfaqs, the ASEAN countries have subsequently been criticized for their inaction towards Indonesia. Only after Indonesia gave its approval for the deployment of an international force to bring order to the situation in East Timor did some member states act, but then by individually contributing troops to an international UN-authorized force under Australian leadership.
East Timor became independent in May 2002, but even ten years later, both a UN mission and an international peacekeeping force were in place in the country. In 2006, East Timor had been on the brink of civil war as a result of a series of internal political and social conflicts. The country has applied for membership in ASEAN, but has not yet joined the organization.
The fight against terrorism
With the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001, the fight against terrorism came up on Asean’s agenda. Previously, the issue was mostly seen as a national matter. Continued terrorist attacks, not least the bombings in Bali in October 2002, which killed 202 people, contributed to the focus on counter-terrorism measures in ASEAN. However, the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq split the member states (see also Operations).
At the economic level, efforts continued to deepen cooperation, although at times it was sluggish. Economic integration was seen as the only opportunity to form a counterweight to China’s and India’s record development. In January 2002, Afta formally entered into force for ASEAN’s oldest Member States: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. However, tariffs on many goods still remained and some sensitive sectors were completely outside the co-operation (see Operations).
Despite the delays and problems surrounding Afta, the ASEAN countries chose to move forward with their economic visions. At the Bali Summit in 2003, members adopted an important agreement (Asean Concord II) on enhanced cooperation. By 2020, members would create a regional community, based on three pillars: an Asean Economic Community (AEC), an Asean Security Community (ASC) and an Asean Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC).).
The virus acute sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) became a regional problem during the first half of 2003, not only from a health point of view but also given the consequences for the economy in the region. In April 2003, the ASEAN leaders met in Bangkok for a special meeting to discuss SARS. Decisions were made on various measures to prevent the spread of the disease. The sarcasm epidemic had barely begun to subside before bird flu came to call for regional attention. In 2009, ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea held a special meeting to discuss a serious outbreak of swine flu. At an international conference in Hanoi in April 2010, delegates warned that bird flu was still a threat.
The tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004 affected several ASEAN countries and put regional crisis management to a severe test. Indonesia in particular was hit hard because the earthquake that triggered the giant sea waves had its epicenter outside the province of Aceh. To coordinate relief efforts and post-disaster reconstruction, ASEAN held a special meeting in Jakarta in January 2005, which was also attended by UN Secretary-General and representatives from donor countries and international organizations.
Developments in Myanmar
In November 2007, the ten Member States agreed on a charter for the organization. The Charter, which entered into force on 15 December 2008, gave ASEAN formal status as an intergovernmental organization and now constitutes the organization’s legal framework and establishes its basic principles.
Since the autumn of 2010, the development towards increased democracy in Myanmar has received much of Asean’s attention. Admittedly, when the first general elections in more than 20 years were held in Myanmar in November 2010, it led to victory for the military-backed ruling party USDP and allegations of cheating by the opposition. But in the time following the election, developments went in a democratic direction: political prisoners were released, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and political repression diminished. By by-elections in April 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi, among others, entered parliament, which led to the United States and the EU easing sanctions against Myanmar, among others. Asean, which despite criticism from Western countries has long chosen to cooperate with Myanmar, now called on the outside world to completely lift the sanctions against the member state.