The Historical Evolution of ASEAN and Regionalism in Southeast Asia: With a Special Reference to ASEAN’s Role in the Cambodian Conflict (1978-1989)

Kyu-Deug Hwang


In 1967, when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established, its members (then Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand; Brunei joined in 1984) found themselves plagued by a wide range of security problems. These included intra-regional conflicts, domestic instability, extra-regional intervention, and latent inter-ethnic tensions. It was not accidental that the ASEAN states as a group of newly independent (with the exception of Thailand, which had never been a colony) developing countries prioritized ‘respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states’ and ‘non-interference in the affairs of States’. Rather, the commitment of ASEAN members to the principle of the modern Westphalian state system should be understood in the context of the search for internal stability and regime security as newly independent countries engaged in nation-building and state-making. What made ASEAN politico-security regionalism (driven by nation-state centrism) really distinctive were the norms and values which came to be known as the ‘ASEAN Way’, Within the ASEAN Way context, in particular, this article explores ASEAN’s role in the Cambodian conflict (1978-1989) for the purpose of tracing the scope of which it contributed to the consolidation of ASEAN’s norms and principles regarding the way of conflict management in Southeast Asia. Indeed, ASEAN had considered the feasibility of accepting Vietnam (as well as Laos and Cambodia) within its group. However, Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 undermined an initial idea on the part of ASEAN to include Vietnam within its regional grouping. Therefore, by 1978 the intensifying conflict between Vietnam (supported by the Soviet Union) and Cambodia (backed by China) was a great difficulty to ASEAN for achieving the goal of ‘One Southeast Asia’ concept through including the rest of Southeast Asia. Against this background, this article analyses the creation, evolution and process of ASEAN politico-security regionalism up to the end of Cold War in order to highlight ASEAN’s approach to conflict management in the Cambodian crisis.

Key words: Historical Evolution, ASEAN, Regionalism, ASEAN Way, Cambodian Conflict, Southeast Asia

DOI: 10.7176/JAAS/58-12

Publication date:November 30th 2019

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