8 August 1967, the Heads of State from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand gathered #onthisday in Bangkok to sign the ASEAN declaration for regional cooperation.
ASEAN was not expected to succeed because the region was recently in conflict: Singapore and Malaysia had just split acrimoniously, Indonesia had waged Konfrontasi against Singapore and Malaysia, the Philippines had claimed Malaysia’s Sabah as its territory, and the Vietnam war had spilled into Laos and Cambodia.
“Imagine a world where Donald Trump (a Christian), Xi Jinping (a Confucian Communist) Vladimir Putin (an Orthodox Christian), Ayatollah Khamenei (a Muslim) and Narendra Modi (a Hindu) came together to sign a declaration of peaceful collaboration. Given the many political divisions among these five leaders, it seems clearly inconceivable. Yet the political divisions among the five founding fathers of ASEAN were equal if not greater,” noted former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani in The ASEAN Miracle.
But ASEAN succeeded in transcending divisions. The world’s most culturally diverse region, where over 240 million Muslims, 130 million Christians, 140 million Buddhists and 7 million Hindus live, found ways to cooperate, carefully working through challenges in security, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and free trade. It is now a grouping of 10 nations. In addition to ASEAN meetings, ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM)/ADMM-Plus are also key avenues for dialogue.
Now, 54 years later, ASEAN continues to play a vital part in our region’s collective quest for security, prosperity and peace, in an increasingly uncertain world.
References: The ASEAN Miracle (Mahbubani), 50 years of Singapore and ASEAN (Koh, et. al)