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PacNet #48A – ASEAN at 40: Perception and Reality

ASEAN is 40 years old this year.  Although ASEAN has often been praised as the second most successful regional organization in the world, after the European Union, the truth is that policy makers in Washington and Brussels do not take it seriously and continue to disrespect the institution.  Let me cite two recent examples.  At the Williamsburg Conference, held in Mongolia in June 2007, I was distressed to hear a senior US official say: “the ASEAN way is no way.”  At the ASEAN-US Symposium, held in October 2007 in Singapore, I was astonished to hear another senior U.S. official say that he had personally advised Secretary Rice, not once but twice, not to attend the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).  I suspect the same attitude prevails in Brussels.  This could explain why ministerial meetings between ASEAN and the EU are often attended by full ministers on the ASEAN side, but not on the EU side.  The tragedy is that the negative Western perception of ASEAN is sometimes echoed by our own researchers and scholars.