Q&A on the ASEAN Summit

Q: Why should Americans care about the ASEAN Community?

Answer: More than 550 million people live in the ten ASEAN countries, roughly the same number as in all of Latin America, and more than in Western Europe. Political stability and economic prosperity in this region cannot be taken for granted. Because of its geographical position between India and China and Australia, astride a major trade artery, any serious disruption in the region would have a global impact. The ASEAN institutions are playing a critical role in knitting the region together and as the region prospers U.S. security will be enhanced.

Q: What is the significance of the ASEAN Charter?

Answer: Adopted on ASEAN’s 40th anniversary, the Charter does three important things. First, it formalizes ASEAN as an institution. Second, it accepts as a principle “respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice”. Third, it binds the countries to reach the goal of becoming a free-trade economic bloc by 2015.

Q: Why hasn’t Burma/Myanmar been suspended from ASEAN or expelled, as called for in the Concurrent Resolution recently passed by the U.S. Senate?

Answer: Burma/Myanmar is ASEAN’s biggest headache and has been for a number of years. But ASEAN is a slowly maturing regional association attempting to overcome deep historical, cultural, and religious differences among its members. It has the potential to leverage change for the better in Burma, but will be able to achieve that potential more rapidly with Burma as a signatory of the Charter. The government of Myanmar could have blocked adoption of the Charter. People around the world concerned about the mess in Burma should be applauding the skill of the other ASEAN members in getting the Charter signed by all ten members. ASEAN alone, however, cannot help Burma find “the Asian path to prosperity”. Support from other Asian partners, especially India and China will be critical. Progress is more likely to come from supporting Asian initiatives vis-à-vis Burma than from political rhetoric and broad sanctions.