A closer look at Asean's member nations | Global News

A closer look at Asean’s member nations

By: - Reporter / @JhoannaBINQ
/ 04:40 PM November 09, 2017

For 50 years, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has united the region amid stark cultural, economic, and political differences. The bloc, dubbed as one of the most successful in the developing world, has withstood wars and economic recessions and promoted development, peace, and regional stability.

But what is the Asean, really? What does it do? Who are its members?

As the Philippines plays host to the members of the Asean this year and leads the regional bloc’s 50th anniversary, INQUIRER.net takes a look back on the key facts and information about the Asean and its members.


What is the Asean?
The Asean is a regional intergovernmental organization comprising of 10 Southeast Asian countries, which promotes unity and intergovernmental cooperation among Asian nations. It facilitates economic, political, educational, and cultural integration and exchange among its members and other Asian states. It aims to promote economic development, social progress, and sociocultural exchange between and among the nations.


Since its founding on August 8, 1967 with Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand as its members, it has expanded to include five other countries, namely Brunei, Vietnam, Lao, Myanmar, and Cambodia as the last. East Timor, the only remaining Southeast Asian country not included in the bloc, has submitted in 2011 its application to join the association.

The Asean is considered by experts as one of the “most successful” regional blocs in the developing world. International magazine “The Diplomat” called Asean’s 50 years of history as a “political miracle” as it has withstood wars, conflicts, and was able to unite as one despite stark differences in culture, economy, and political systems.

How was the Asean formed?
During the Asean’s formation in 1967, under the polarized political climate of the Cold War, founding members were Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. The five countries’ respective foreign ministers—Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore and Tun Thanat Khoman of Thailand—convened in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Bangkok to sign the Asean Declaration.

The Asean was initially called as the Southeast Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Searre) and had its roots from the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), a three-member regional group formed on July 31, 1961 and composed of Malaya (Malaysia and Singapore’s predecessor), Thailand, and the Philippines.

The ASA had failed mainly because of the inability of the members to get endorsement of other Southeast Asian countries, particularly from Indonesia, which was strongly opposed to the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. On January 20, 1963, Indonesia announced “Konfrontasi” (Confrontation), a policy aimed at attacking and destabilizing states that were to be included to the Federation, namely Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak, Brunei, and North Borneo, according to National Library Board Singapore’s HistorySG.

And at the same time, the Philippine-Malaya relations collapsed as the Philippines claimed Sabah as part of its territory.


But the relations between and among the said countries normalized years later. In 1966, Indonesia ended its Konfrontasi, and the Philippines had put its claim to Sabah in dormancy in exchange to a better relation with Malaysia.

The ASA then planned to expand by including more members but in May 1967, member countries proposed to just form a new bloc based on the ASA’s framework.

Three months later, the Asean was formed with the signing of the Asean Declaration. Its first programs included projects to increase food production, promote tourism, ease travel restrictions, and enhance cooperation in mass media through exchanges of radio and television programs.

Asean Economy
The Asean covers a land area of 4.5 million square meters and a home to 8.8 percent of the world’s population or 638.6 million people as of 2016, larger than that of the European Union or North America. It also has the third-largest labor force in the world, next to China and India, according to the World Economic Forum.

The Asean economy posted a total of US$2.4 trillion gross domestic product (GDP), which is 3.3 percent to the world’s GDP. Its GDP per capita—the division of the GDP to the population and an important indicator of the country’s average living standards and economic well-being—has rose by 63.2 percent from $2,369 in 2007 to $3,867 in 2015, the Asean Secretariat reported.

Also in that same year, Asean overtook France as the sixth richest economy in the world and the third among Asian countries, after China and Japan, according to the Asean Secretariat.

By 2050, the Asean region is projected to rank as the world’s fourth-largest economy, the World Economic Forum noted.

About the Member States
Brunei Darussalam
On January 8, 1984, Brunei Darussalam became the first country to join the Asean.

Brunei is the smallest country in the Asean in terms of population and land area with 423,196 citizens and 5,770 square kilometers, respectively. But despite its tiny size compared to other member nations, Brunei Darussalam is one of the richest in the region: it is one of the only two countries in the region classified by the World Bank as a high income, while the other is Singapore. It also has the second per capita in the Asean at US$26,938.5.

Brunei Darussalam relies mainly on the gas and oil sector, which contributes to nearly two-thirds of the country’s economy. Among all Asean countries, Brunei is the largest military spender with 3.5 percent of its GDP goes to military expenditures.

But in 2016, the country ranked the lowest GDP rate in the bloc with -2.5 percent, which was attributed to the drop in oil prices in the world market. It also lost US$150.5 million foreign direct investments, the lowest in the region.

Official Name: Brunei Darussalam
Head of State: His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah (also sits as foreign minister)
Membership: 1984
Capital: Bandar Seri Bengawan
Form of Government: Absolute monarchy
Land area: 5,770 square kilometers
Language: Malay, English
Religions: Islam, Bhuddism, Christianity
Currency: Brunei Dollar
Population: 423,196
Income Level: High
GDP: US$11.4 billion
GDP growth: -2.5%
GDP per capita: US$26,938.5
Inflation rate: -9.2%
Foreign Direct Investment: US$-150,550,827.3
Military spending (share to GDP): 3.5%
Industry: Petroleum, petroleum refining, liquefied natural gas, construction
Agriculture: Rice, vegetables, fruits, chickens
Export: Crude oil, natural gas, refined products

Cambodia is the youngest member of the Asean. It joined the bloc on April 30, 1999, two years after the Asean decided to delay the country’s membership because of its internal political crisis.

Despite posting 6.9-percent GDP growth in 2016, Cambodia remains the poorest in the region in terms of GDP per capita at US$1,270, next to Myanmar. It is a lower middle income country and its economy relies on agriculture, which accounts for almost a third of the Cambodia’s economy.

While poverty rate in the country reduced in the past years, poverty remains a deep-seated problem Cambodia has to address. According to the World Bank, many people who have escaped poverty are still at risk of falling back into poverty. In a 2014 report, 8.1 million Cambodians live on less than $2.30 per day and remain vulnerable to economic shocks.

Official name: Kingdom of Cambodia
Head of State: His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni
Head of Government: Prime Minister Hun Sen
Foreign Minister: Senior Minister Prak Sohonn
Membership: 1999
Capital: Phnom Penh
Form of Government: Constitutional monarchy
Land area: 181,040 square kilometers
Language: Khmer
Religion: Theravada Bhuddism
Currency: Riel
Population: 15,762,370
Income Level: Lower middle income
GDP: US$20,016,747,754
GDP growth: 6.9%
Inflation rate: 3.5%
Foreign Direct Investment: US$2,287,033,631.3
Military spending (share to GDP): 1.8%
Industry: Tourism, garments, rice milling, fishing, oil, rubber
Agriculture: Rice, vegetables, corn, rubber
Export: Garments, rubber, rice, fish

Indonesia, a founding member of the Asean, is the largest country in the region in terms of land area covered and population: it covers 1.9 million square kilometers of land area and a home to 261.1 million people, the fourth largest in the world.

While its GDP growth rate at 4.9 percent belonged to the lower half of the region in 2016, Indonesia posted the highest GDP among Asean countries with US$932.3 billion. Its services sector contributes more than 40 percent to the country’s GDP, followed by the industrial and agricultural sectors.

Experts attributed the slow GDP growth to sluggish domestic consumption and bank lending.

Although it remains a lower middle income country, Indonesia belongs to the powerful Group of 20 (G20), a group of the world’s leading industrialized and emerging economies.

Official name: Republic of Indonesia
Head of State: President Joko Widodo
Foreign Minister: Minister of Foreign Affair Retno L.P. Marsudi
Membership: 1967
Capital: Jakarta
Form of Government: Constitutional Republic
Land area: 1,910,930 square kilometers
Language: Indonesian
Religion: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Bhuddism
Currency: Rupiah
Population: 261,115,456
Income Level: Lower middle
GDP: US$932,259,177,765
GDP growth: 4.9%
Inflation rate: 2.5%
Foreign Direct Investment: US$3,761,972,280.60
Military spending (share to GDP): 0.9%
Industry: Petroleum and natural gas, textiles, apparel, mining, cement
Agriculture: Rice, vegetables, cassava (tapioca), rubber, peanuts, poultry
Export: Oil and gas, plywood, textiles, rubber, electrical appliances

Together with Myanmar, Lao PDR joined the Asean bloc on July 23, 1997. It is one of the smallest countries in the region in terms of population, with 6,758,353 people, next to Singapore and Brunei.

While the country recorded the highest GDP growth rate in the region with 7.3 percent in 2016, Lao had posted the least GDP with US$15.9 billion and its GDP per capita remained at the lower half of the region with US$2,353.2.

Lao PDR is one of the only two socialist states in the region, together with Vietnam.

Official name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Head of State: President Bounnhang Vorachith
Head of Government: Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith
Foreign Minister: Minister of Foreign Affairs Saleumxay Kommasith
Membership: 1997
Capital: Vientiane
Form of Government: Socialist Republic
Land area: 236,800 square kilometers
Language: Lao
Religion: Bhuddism
Currency: Kip
Population: 6,758,353
Income Level: Lower middle
GDP: US$15,903,437,789.9
GDP growth: 7.3%
Inflation rate: 3%
Foreign Direct Investment: US$997,439,368.7
Military spending (share to GDP): not available
Industry: Tin and gypsum mining, timber, agricultural processing
Agriculture: Sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, water buffalo
Export: Electricity, wood products, garments, coffee, tin

Malaysia is among the five founding members of the Asean and it is one of the two upper middle income level countries in the region together with Thailand.

It posted the second highest foreign direct investments in 2016 with US$13.5 billion, next to Singapore’s US$61.6 billion. Malaysia has the third highest GDP per capita with $9,502.

Malaysia, one of the founding fathers of the Asean, has played a crucial role in the bloc, particularly in maintaining peace and security in the region. It has provided aid and assistance to countries plagued with threats of rebellion and terrorism, including the Philippines—Malaysia stands as a third party facilitator in the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Official name: Malaysia
Head of State: His Majesty The King Almu’tasimu Billahi Muhibbuddin Tuanku Al-Haj Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Badlishah
Head of Government: The Honorable Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak
Foreign Minister: Dato’ Sri Anifah Hj. Aman
Year joined Asean: 1967
Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Form of Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Land area: 330,800 square kilometers
Language: Malay, English
Religion: Islam, Bhuddism, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism
Currency: Ringgit
Population: 31,187,265
Income Level: Upper middle
GDP: 296,359,118,754.5
GDP growth: 5%
Inflation rate: 1.9%
Foreign Direct Investment: US$13,515,825,940.2
Military spending (share to GDP): 1.4%
Industry: Rubber and oil palm, logging, petroleum production and refining
Agriculture: Rubber, palm oil, cacao, rice
Export: Electronic equipment, petroleum and liquefied natural gas, wood products, palm oil

Together with Lao PDR, Myanmar officially joined the Asean bloc on July 23, 1997 despite objections from the international community over the country’s issues of human-rights violations.

Myanmar, the second largest country in the Asean in terms of land area, posted the highest GDP growth in 2016 with 7.3 percent, along with Lao PDR. Its GDP per capita remains, however, one of the lowest in the region with $1,275.

Human rights situation in Myanmar, which had been governed by military junta until 2015, has been criticized by human rights advocates. In a 2017 report by Human Rights Watch, Muslim minorities, particularly the 1.2 million ethnic Rohingya, “continue to face rampant and systemic human-rights violations,” including rape, torture, and summary killings.

The abuses against the Rohingyas have tarnished the image of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, who was then regarded as a democracy icon and human-rights defender for standing against the country’s military rule.

Official name: Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Head of State: President Htin Kyaw
Foreign Minister: Minister Aung San Suu Kyi
Year joined Asean: 1997
Capital: Nay Pyi Taw
Form of Government: Constitutional Republic
Land area: 676,590 square kilometers
Language: Myanmar
Religion: Bhuddism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism
Currency: Kyat
Population: 676,590
Income Level: Lower middle
GDP: US$67,429,590,535.9
GDP growth: 7.3%
Inflation rate: 9.3
Foreign Direct Investment: US$3,278,096,409.9
Military spending (share to GDP): not available
Industry: Agro-based, wood-based, textiles, heavy industries, steel mill
Agriculture: Rice, beans, sesame, hardwood, pulses, fish
Export: Oil and gas, fish, rice, wood products

The Philippines, this year’s chair of the Asean, is touted by the World Bank as the 10th fastest growing economy in the world. Despite the issues of human-rights violations hurled at the government, economists project the Philippine economy to rise between 6.5 to 7.5 percent for 2017, which is almost twice the country’s long-term growth.

While it posted third-highest GDP with US$304.9 billion in 2016, the Philippines’ GDP per capita remains at the lower half of the region with US$2,951.

Its economy relies mainly on services sector, which makes up more than half of the country’s economy.

Official name: Republic of the Philippines
Head of State: President Rodrigo Roa Duterte
Foreign Minister: Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano
Year joined Asean: 1967
Capital: Manila
Form of Government: Constitutional Republic
Land area: 300,000 square kilometers
Language: Filipino, English
Religion: Roman Catholicism, Christianity, Islam
Currency: Philippine Peso
Population: 103,320,222
Income Level: Lower middle
GDP: US$304,905,406,845.9
GDP growth: 6.1%
Inflation rate: 1.7%
Foreign Direct Investment: US$7,933,059,815
Military spending (share to GDP): 1.3%
Industry: Food manufactures, petroleum and coal products, electrical machineries, chemical and chemical products and footwear
Agriculture: Rice, coconut products, sugar, corn, livestock, bananas, pineapple products, aquaculture, mangoes
Export: Electronic equipment, machinery and transport equipment, garments

One of the founding members of the Asean, Singapore is the richest country in the bloc: it has the highest GDP per capita with US$52,960 and foreign direct investments of US$61.6 billion in 2016.

But despite being the top among Asean members in terms of nominal figures, Singapore’s GDP growth rate was the second lowest in the region with 1.9 percent. The country’s Ministry of Trade and Industry attributed this to slow private consumption and expenditure.

In a nutshell, Singapore’s economy is a highly-developed market economy: it is the second freest economy in the world, according to the Heritage Foundation and World Street Journal; the seventh least corrupt economy, according to Transparency International; and one of the best countries for business, according to the World Bank.

With 3.4 percent of its GDP goes to the military, the city-state is the second largest military spender in the region, next to Brunei Darussalam.

Official name: Republic of Singapore
Head of State: President Tony Tan Keng Yam
Head of Government: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Foreign Minister: Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan
Year joined Asean: 1967
Capital: Singapore
Form of Government: Parliamentary Republic
Land area: 719 square kilometers
Language: English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil
Religion: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism
Currency: Singaporean Dollar
Population: 5,607,283
Income Level: High
GDP: US$296,965,712,342
GDP growth: 1.9%
Inflation rate: -1.4%
Foreign Direct Investment: US$61,596,847,011.4
Military spending (share to GDP): 3.4%
Industry: Petrochemicals, machinery and electronics manufacturing, pharmaceuticals
Services: Banking and finance, information technology, tourism
Export: Electronics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, mineral fuels

Thailand, a founding member of the Asean, is classified as an upper middle income level economy, upgraded in 2011 by the World Bank. It is the Asean’s third-largest country in terms of land area with 513,120 square kilometers, and ranks fourth highest GDP per capita with US$5,907.9.

Despite the years of political crisis and divide, Thailand’s economy remains strong and fervent. Though it posted the third-lowest GDP growth rate in 2016 at 2.9 percent, the country had the second highest GDP at $406.8 billion, next to Indonesia. But it fell short in terms of foreign direct investments with $1.7 billion, the third lowest in the region.

Thailand’s economy relies on services sector, which comprise nearly half of the country’s economy and has greatly contributed to its development. Politically, however, the military-run government has to address serious issues of political repression—particularly over members of opposition demanding reforms—and corruption, the most recent of which was the case of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was recently found guilty by the Thai Supreme Court of mismanaging a rice subsidy program.

Official name: Kingdom of Thailand
Head of State: His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun
Head of Government: Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha
Foreign Minister: Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai
Year joined Asean: 1967
Capital: Bangkok
Form of Government: Constitutional monarchy
Land area: 513,120 square kilometers
Language: Thai
Religion: Buddhism, Islam, Christianity
Currency: Baht
Population: 68,863,514
Income Level: Upper middle
GDP: US$406,839,679,301.9
GDP growth: 2.9%
Inflation rate: 1.7%
Foreign Direct Investment: US$1,710,574,849.8
Military spending (share to GDP): 1.4%
Industry: Agro-industrial industries, services, fashion (garments and textiles, leather, and jewelry), electrical and electronics, automotive industries, alternative energy industries
Agriculture: Rubber, rice, cassava (tapioca), sugar cane
Export: Data processing machines and parts, motor car parts and accessories, rubber, precious stone and jewelry, refined fuels, rubber products, chemical products, electronic integrated circuits, rice, machinery and parts

Socialist state Vietnam, a country once deeply divided by war, joined the Asean on July 28, 1995 and was seen as a significant development for the region in the post-Cold War era.

Vietnam is the third-largest country in the region in terms of population with 92.7 million citizens and posted the third-highest foreign direct investment in 2016 with $1.7 billion.

Together with the Philippines, Vietnam has directly claimed parts of the South China Sea, consistently advocating for peaceful and constructive resolution of the conflict and in accordance with the international law. It has pushed for the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, the Six-Point Principles on the East Sea, and the Code of Conduct of Parties in the East Sea, according to the East Asia Forum.

Official name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Head of State: President Tran Dai Quang
Head of Government: Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc
Foreign Minister: Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh,
Year joined Asean: 1995
Capital: Hanoi
Form of Government: Socialist Republic
Land area: 330,967 square kilometers
Language: Vietnamese
Religion: Buddhism, Catholicism, Caodaism, Hao Hao, Protestantism, Islam
Currency: Dong
Population: 92,701,100
Income Level: Lower middle
GDP: US$202,615,893,443.7
GDP growth: 6.7%
Inflation rate: 1.1%
Foreign Direct Investment: US$12,600,000,000
Military spending (share to GDP): 2.4%
Industry: Food processing, garments, shoes, machine-building
Agriculture: Rice, vegetable, coffee
Export: Crude oil, marine products, rice, coffee, rubber

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