|Kishore Mahbubani and Jeffrey Sng recently wrote an article entitled Why Asean Deserves a Nobel Peace Prize which was published in The Straits Times. In case you are not a regular subscriber to The Straits Times, ASEAN is the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The original ASEAN was formed fifty years ago by The Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Since then, the membership has grown to ten countries with the additions of Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Brunei. The author has lived or worked in all of the countries with the exception of Brunei.
It is just a wild guess, but it would appear that the symbol of ASEAN represents ten rice stalks bound together which happens to be the common food of all ten countries. The principal aims of ASEAN include accelerating economic growth, social progress, and sociocultural evolution among its members, along with protection of regional stability and the provision of a mechanism for member countries to resolve differences peacefully. The original formation of ASEAN in 1967 was an incredible feat in itself.
The diversity of the countries is illustrated by the foreign ministers who signed the agreement on August 8, 1967-from left to right Narciso Ramos, a Christian Filipino, Adam Malik, a Muslim Indonesian, Thanat Khoman, a Thai Buddhist, Abdul Razak, a Muslim Malaysian, and S Rajaratnam of Singapore, a lapsed Hindu. All of the religious and cultural issues of the world today pale compared to the common interests and bonds formed at that signing. Moreover, Malaysia and Singapore had been one country up to their bitter separation two years prior to the signing.
Despite the fact that more bombs were dropped on Southeast Asia than any other region since World War II, the end of the Vietnam War brought about an era of peace and prosperity for the region though economic growth was interrupted for a period of time by the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. Moreover, significant populations of Muslim people are bonded peacefully with non-Muslim countries to form common objectives and policies. President Duterte of the Philippines recently hosted the 30th ASEAN SUMMIT in Manila.
Shown below from left to right is Prime Minister Razak of Malaysia, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, Prime Minister Prayut of Thailand, Prime Minister Phuc of Vietnam, and President Duterte of the Philippines joining hands. It is interesting to note that Thailand and Vietnam fought against each other during the Vietnam War. Moreover, President Trump has recently reached out to Prime Minister Prayut, who had been shunned by the U.S. because of his role in a military coup in Thailand, and to President Duterte who was persona non grata because of his encouragement and support of extra judicial killings of drug dealers and users in the Philippines. What was missing was any condemnation of Beijing's wanton claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea out of respect for the softening stance of President Duterte.
Japan has recently signed bi-lateral currency swap deals with Thailand and Malaysia which is aimed at boosting ASEAN's resilience to future financial crises. The two countries will be able to swap their currencies with U.S. dollars as needed from a facility up to $3 billion.
Accordingly, as parts of the world begin to drift away from more unified global associations as evidenced by Brexit in the UK and even the current European concern of the U.S. vis-à-vis NATO, ASEAN is a beacon of light of one situation that has worked despite huge cultural and religious differences among its members. We must all remember that the lone wolf usually does not fare well.