The charter for the Association of Southeast Asia Nations emphasizes economic growth and principles that support cooperation, renunciation of the use of force, mutual respect for members, and rejection of external interference or coercion.

ASEAN’s track record for peaceful resolution of disputes through consensus may be at risk as unity erodes, warns author and researcher Amitav Acharya.

Members are divided about how to respond to China’s increasingly assertive influence in the region, particularly over claims in the South China Sea. ASEAN’s expansion in membership and functions, along with competing interests and reliance on China, contribute to the disunity.

Acharya reminds that ASEAN began at the height of the Vietnam War in 1967 with five members – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand; a decade later the group condemned Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia as a threat to regional stability. ASEAN now has 10 members, and four have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea. ASEAN could lose relevance by not taking a diplomatic stand on such issues. – YaleGlobal

The Association of Southeast Asia Nations has prided itself on its “ASEAN Way” – an informal and non-legalistic way of doing business, especially its culture of consultations and consensus that have resolved disputes peacefully.

That way of doing may be fading among signs the group’s unity is seriously eroding. Against the backdrop of the rise of an assertive China, signs of disunity spell trouble for the region.

There are several reasons for this disunity

First, ASEAN today is a much bigger entity. Membership expanded in the 1990s to include Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, with East Timor likely to be the 11th member.

ASEAN’s functions and issues have also expanded. Economic cooperation has expanded from the idea of a free trade agreement to a more comprehensive economic community, which technically enters into force this year.

ASEAN cooperation extends to a range of transnational issues from intelligence-sharing, counterterrorism, and maritime security to environmental degradation, air pollution, pandemics, energy security, food security, migration and people-smuggling, drug-trafficking, human rights and disaster management.

Source: Is ASEAN Losing Its Way?

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