Enlargement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

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██ ASEAN full members
██ ASEAN observers
██ ASEAN candidate members
ASEAN Plus Three
East Asia Summit
ASEAN Regional Forum

The Enlargement of the Association[1] of Southeast Asian Nations is the process of expanding the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) through the accession of new member states. This process began with ASEAN's five original members, who founded the association through the signing of Bangkok Declaration in 1967. Since then, the ASEAN's membership has grown to ten with the accession of Cambodia in 1999.

Currently, two states are seeking accession to ASEAN: Papua New Guinea[2][3] and East Timor.[4]


One of the criteria for membership is that a prospective member must agree to subscribe or accede to all the treaties, declarations and agreements in ASEAN, starting with those outlined in the Bangkok Declaration of 8 August 1967 and those elaborated and developed in various subsequent treaties, declarations and agreements of ASEAN. One common concern that must be addressed through negotiations is the ability of a prospective member to participate in ASEAN Free Trade Area and all other economic co-operation arrangements. One important means of orientation for a prospective member is its attendance at ASEAN meetings and participation in co-operation projects.[5]

Bangkok Declaration lays down no conditions for membership other than location in Southeast Asia and the usual principles of inter-state relations. ASEAN has no membership criteria related to the character of government, ideological system and orientation, economic policy, or level of development. If there were such criteria for membership, a regional association would not be possible in Southeast Asia, given its diversity.[6] To be admitted as ASEAN member state, a state must maintain embassies in all current member countries of the bloc.[7]

Criteria for observers

ASEAN senior officials agreed in 1983 that observer status "should be granted only to potential members of ASEAN who satisfy the criteria set for ASEAN membership". One of the criteria states, "only states in the Southeast Asia may join ASEAN."[6]

Criteria for ASEAN Regional Forum

ASEAN Regional Forum, the multilateral dialogue among Asia Pacific countries is aimed for fostering dialogue and consultation, also promoting confidence-building and preventive diplomacy throughout the region.[8] The membership criteria for ARF, as well as other Dialogue Partners, were outlined during the second ARF in 1996, in Jakarta. ARF ministers adopted the criteria that ARF participants must be sovereign states, which, at China's behest, was evidently meant to exclude Taiwan. They must "abide by and respect fully the decisions and statements already made by the ARF". The criteria stress that ASEAN members "automatically" take part in the ARF.[6]

Historical enlargements

Founding members

ASEAN was established on 8 August 1967, when foreign ministers of five countries– Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand met at the Thai Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok and signed the ASEAN Declaration, more commonly known as the Bangkok Declaration. The five foreign ministers: Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso Ramos of the Philippines, Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand are considered as the organisation's Founding Fathers.[9]

A map showing the accession of members from 1967 to 1999

Continued expansion

The flags of current ten ASEAN members.

In 1976, the Melanesian state of Papua New Guinea was accorded observer status.[10] The bloc then grew when Brunei Darussalam became the sixth member after it joined on 8 January 1984, barely a week after the country became independent on 1 January.[11]

Vietnam became an ASEAN observer state in 1993. [12]On 28 July 1995, Vietnam became the seventh member.[1]

Laos, Burma, and Cambodia

The latest three members of ASEAN began their application in joining the bloc in the decade of the 1990s.

Laos became an ASEAN Observer at the 25th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Manila in July 1992. At the 28th AMM in Bandar Seri Begawan, the Lao Foreign Minister announced that he wished to see Laos join ASEAN in 1997. This desire was stated in Laos' letter of application for membership in ASEAN dated 15 March 1996.[5]

Cambodia was accorded ASEAN Observer status at the 28th AMM in Bandar Seri Begawan in July 1995. The Cambodian Foreign Minister applied for ASEAN membership for Cambodia in his application letter dated 23 March 1996. Like Laos, Cambodia also wished to join ASEAN in 1997.[5]

The Foreign Minister of Myanmar attended the 28th AMM in Bandar Seri Begawan as a Guest of the Host Government. He attended the 27th AMM in Bangkok in 1994 in the same capacity. During the 28th AMM, Myanmar acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and applied for Observer status in ASEAN. The Head of Government of Myanmar joined the Heads of Government of Laos and Cambodia in a meeting with the ASEAN Heads of Government during the Fifth ASEAN Summit in Bangkok on 15 December 1995. He expressed the hope that Myanmar would be accorded Observer status in ASEAN at the forthcoming 29th AMM in Indonesia in 1996.[5]

The ASEAN Security Committee (ASC) established a Working Group on the Membership of Cambodia and Laos to look into all issues under the ASC's purview relating to preparations for and by these two prospective members to join ASEAN. The Working Group is chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN, Mr. Mahadi Haji Wasli. On 17 July 1996, the Working Group held consultations with the Director-General of the ASEAN Department of Laos in Jakarta.[5]

At the 29th AMM, Myanmar was accorded Observer status in ASEAN. The Foreign Minister of Myanmar held consultations with ASEAN and participated in the ASEAN Regional Forum for the first time. On 12 August 1996, the Foreign Minister of Myanmar submitted his country's application for membership in ASEAN. He has also expressed his wish for his country to join ASEAN by 1997, along with Cambodia and Laos.[5]

The ASC has extended the mandate of its Working Group on the Membership of Cambodia and Laos to include the membership of Myanmar.[5]

Laos and Burma (Myanmar) became members of ASEAN on 23 July 1997.[13] Cambodia was to have joined together with Laos and Myanmar, but was deferred due to the country's internal political struggle. The country later joined on 30 April 1999, following the stabilisation of its government.[13][14]

During the 1990s, the bloc experienced an increase in both membership as well as in the drive for further integration. In 1990, Malaysia proposed the creation of an East Asia Economic Caucus[15] composing the then-members of ASEAN as well as the People's Republic of China, Japan, and South Korea, with the intention of counterbalancing the growing influence of the United States in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as well as in the Asian region as a whole.[16][17] This proposal failed, however, because of heavy opposition from the United States and Japan.[16][18] Despite this failure, member states continued to work for further integration and ASEAN Plus Three was created in 1997.

In 1992, the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) scheme was signed as a schedule for phasing tariffs and as a goal to increase the region’s competitive advantage as a production base geared for the world market. This law would act as the framework for the ASEAN Free Trade Area. After the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, a revival of the Malaysian proposal was established in Chiang Mai, known as the Chiang Mai Initiative, which calls for better integration between the economies of ASEAN as well as the ASEAN Plus Three countries (China, Japan, and South Korea).[19]

Future enlargement

  Member states
  Candidates: Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste
  Potential candidates for Observer status: Bangladesh

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been an observer of the regional bloc since 1976, earlier than any other non-original member of ASEAN.

Leaders of PNG have been pushing for full membership since at least the 1980s.[20] During the 29th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting held in Jakarta in 1996, Papua New Guinea's Foreign Minister, Kilroy Genia, expressed his country's desire to further strengthen its interactions with ASEAN by proposing that Papua New Guinea be accorded permanent associate membership with ASEAN.[21] Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Michael Somare stated during his visit to the Philippines in 2009 that his country was considering applying for full membership.[2] In March 2012, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his support for PNG membership in ASEAN.[22] In June 2013 PNG's Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato reiterated that the country was "very interested" in joining ASEAN.[23]

Their geographical location could be an obstacle to PNG's admission to ASEAN. Although located no farther away from Jakarta, headquarters of ASEAN, than northern Myanmar, PNG is usually considered to be outside Southeast Asia and the continent of Asia. When the country was granted the observer status in 1976, it was acknowledged that PNG shares the same political and economic region with ASEAN's member, and connected geographically, because the country forms half of the huge island of New Guinea, with Indonesia's provinces of Papua and West Papua comprising the other half. A subsequent decision in 1983 limited membership to Southeast Asian countries.

In 2015, Papua New Guinea appoint a special envoy to deal with matters related to ASEAN, the appointment reflects PNG's determination to become a full member of the current 10-member ASEAN bloc and to expedite the process. PNG were also currently doing the necessary things to prepare itself for integration.[24]


José Ramos-Horta hoped East Timor could join ASEAN before 2012

In March 2011 Timor-Leste submitted a membership application to the ASEAN,[25] a move which was supported by Indonesia, its former colonialist turned partner-ally, and the Philippines, its only Catholic ally in Asia.[26]

The country which gained its independence in 2002 made its debut in the Southeast Asian Games, a multi-sport event which commonly associated with ASEAN, from 2003. The country firstly invited to the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2005, making it the 25th country to join the forum. The biggest struggle for the country is to maintain embassies in all ASEAN members; from 10 current members of the regional association, one of the world's youngest countries only maintains four embassies.[27] Timorese President José Ramos-Horta hoped to gain membership before 2012.[28]

The lack of consensus on the question of East Timor's membership has prevented ASEAN from arriving at decisions on ASEAN observer status for East Timor and its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. The treaty makes clear distinctions between the rights of regional and non-regional signatories, but whether East Timor a part of the region is debatable.[6]

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong objected in late 2011 to East Timor's membership, due to his desire to achieve economic integration by 2015, which the relatively less developed East Timor would make difficult.[29] Although ASEAN has no membership criteria regarding political ideology, some ASEAN countries have difficulties with East Timor's eventual membership, including East Timor's foreign-policy orientation[citation needed], alleged presence of Portuguese functionaries all over its government[citation needed], and Burma's objection to media articles by East Timorese personalities supportive of the National League for Democracy[citation needed]. Some member states are concerned that, having experienced the entry of four relatively underdeveloped members, ASEAN would be admitting an even poorer one.[6]

In 2015, East Timor said it is now ready to join the association at any time, telling via East Timor ambassador to Malaysia that their country had at least fulfilled two major requirements for Asean membership such as the country was located in this region and it had opened embassies in ASEAN member countries.[30]

In 2016, Indonesia announced that Timor-Leste's ASEAN membership bid could be realized in 2017, since the feasibility studies conducted by both countries on Timor-Leste's stability, security, economy, and culture will be finished by the end of 2016. On top of that, the Philippines, a close ally of Timor-Leste, will be the ASEAN host for 2017.[31]

Countries interested in joining

A number of countries had expressed an interest in becoming part of ASEAN despite being outside the geographical limits of South East Asia.


Laos supports Bangladesh getting observer status in ASEAN.[32]

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was initially invited to join ASEAN as a founding member on 8 August 1967, however the country did not proceed further as ASEAN was pro-Western which would have meant Sri Lanka going against its policy of non-alignment at that time,[33][34] as well as due to objection from Singapore over concerns of domestic instability arising from ethnic tensions between the two main groups of Sri Lanka.[35] Later interest from within the country in joining ASEAN was more evident and it had attempted to join ASEAN.[36][37][38] It joined the ASEAN Regional Forum as one of the 27 participants in 2007.[39]


Pakistan had expressed an interest in joining ASEAN, and sought the support of Indonesia.[40]

Other countries

Australia and New Zealand

In February 2018, independent think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute recommended that Australia seek ASEAN membership by 2024, and that New Zealand join with Australia.[41] During an interview with Fairfax Media, Indonesian president Joko Widodo stated that Australia should join the organization.[42] Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating has also suggested that Australia join the ASEAN in 2016.[43]


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  2. ^ a b "Papua New Guinea asks RP support for Asean membership bid". GMA News and Public Affairs. 30 March 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  3. ^ Somare seeks PGMA's support for PNG's ASEAN membership bid Archived 6 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 8 July 2009
  4. ^ East Timor ASEAN Bid Retrieved 28 July 2006
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Preparations for the Membership of ASEAN Retrieved 14 May 2011
  6. ^ a b c d e Severino, Rodolfo (2006) Southeast Asia in search of an ASEAN community: insights from the former ASEAN secretary-general, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  7. ^ Aquino to back East Timor's bid for ASEAN membership Retrieved 14 May 2011
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  9. ^ Bernard Eccleston; Michael Dawson; Deborah J. McNamara (1998). The Asia-Pacific Profile. Routledge (UK). ISBN 0-415-17279-9. 
  10. ^ "ASEAN secretariat". ASEAN. 23 July 1999. Retrieved 12 January 2009. 
  11. ^ "Background Note:Brunei Darussalam/Profile:/Foreign Relations". United States State Department. Retrieved 6 March 2007. 
  12. ^ "Vietnam's Membership of ASEAN: Issues and Implications" (PDF). Department of the Parliamentary Library. 
  13. ^ a b Carolyn L. Gates; Mya Than (2001). ASEAN Enlargement: impacts and implications. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 981-230-081-3. 
  14. ^ "Statement by the Secretary-General of ASEAN Welcoming the Kingdom of Cambodia as the Tenth Member State of ASEAN : 30 April 1999, ASEAN Secretariat". ASEAN Secretariat. 2008. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 28 August 2009. 
  15. ^ East Asia Economic Caucus Archived 2 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.. ASEAN Secretariat. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  16. ^ a b Asiaviews.org, Whither East Asia? Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  17. ^ UNT.edu, Asia's Reaction to NAFTA, Nancy J. Hamilton. CRS - Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  18. ^ IHT.com, Japan Straddles Fence on Issue of East Asia Caucus. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  19. ^ "Regional Financial Cooperation among ASEAN+3". Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Archived from the original on 9 October 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2008. 
  20. ^ Jacobs, Sean (6 December 2012). "Is PNG Ready to Join Asean? Not Quite Yet". Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  22. ^ Chongkittavorn, Kavi (20 September 2010). "Is an Asean 12 possible - with Timor-Leste?". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  23. ^ "PNG keen on full ASEAN membership". The Brunei Times. 30 June 2013. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  24. ^ "PNG to appoint special envoy for ASEAN". Bernama. Radio New Zealand. 6 August 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  25. ^ McGeown, Kate (4 March 2011). "East Timor applies to join Asean". BBC News. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  26. ^ Dua, Nusa (27 March 2012). "I have my own view, SBY tells PM Lee Hsien Loong". Jakarta Post. Retrieved 27 March 2012. 
  27. ^ Aquino to back East Timor's bid for ASEAN membership
  28. ^ Timor's key concern: preparing for ASEAN membership
  29. ^ "I have my own view, SBY tells PM Lee Hsien Loong". Jakarta Post. 19 November 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  30. ^ "Timor Leste is ready to join Asean grouping". Bernama. Daily Express. 11 April 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  31. ^ Hunt, Luke (27 May 2016). "East Timor Hopes for ASEAN Membership by 2017". The Diplomat. Retrieved 24 February 2017. 
  32. ^ "Lao to back Bangladesh for getting observer status of ASEAN". The News Today. 14 June 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  33. ^ David M. Malone, C. Raja Mohan, Srinath Raghavan (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Indian Foreign Policy. Oxford University Press. p. 455. ISBN 9780191061189. 
  34. ^ V. Suryanarayan (December 27, 2011). "Sri Lanka: Fresh Insights On Attempts To Join ASEAN – Analysis". Eurasia Review. 
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  36. ^ Mervyn De Silva (May 31, 1981). "Sri Lanka: Operation ASEAN". Inida Today. 
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  40. ^ "Pakistan seeks Indonesian support to join ASEAN". The Express Tribune. June 20, 2012. 
  41. ^ Dobell, Graeme. "Australia as an ASEAN Community partner". Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Retrieved 15 March 2018. 
  42. ^ Grigg, Angus (15 March 2018). "Indonesian President Jokowi wants Australia in ASEAN, said free trade deal is close". Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 15 March 2018. 
  43. ^ Karp, Paul (10 November 2016). "Paul Keating calls for more independent Australian foreign policy after US election". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 March 2018. 
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