Since the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum began in 1989 as a regional institution for economic cooperation, momentum for regionalism in Asia has gradually developed and led to institutionalized regional progress. Regionalism may be defined as the construction and utilization of multilateral intergovernmental institutions to share information; to develop, endorse, and enforce common rules and regulations; and to settle disputes. Membership is normally based on shared geographic space.
Although promoting trade and economic cooperation was the original incentive for enhancing Asian regionalism, a hope of building a regional bloc to increase Asia’s clout in global trade talks has not materialized as yet. Regional security mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), and Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD) emerged in the 1990s, and helped not only to institutionalize regional security dialogue processes, but also strengthen the desire for regional cooperation on more varied aspects of international relations.
Asian regionalism moved forward steadily until the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Regional countries were hit hard by the multiple follow-on crises. Affected economies felt panic and were not able to cope with serious challenges, and they discovered that existing regional mechanisms were of little use in either protecting the region or helping it recover. There were two main reasons for this ineffectiveness: first, the existing mechanisms remained mostly to be regular dialogue forums and could not generate necessary resources when needed. Second was a lack of confidence; the Southeast Asian countries believed the existing regional mechanisms served American and Western interests at the expense of the regional countries.