How ASEAN Lost its Way

ASEAN was founded to promote peace between the nations of Southeast Asia. Incapable of moving with the times, what is the point of it?

ASEAN illustration © Ben Jones/Heart Agency.

Southeast Asia is a sprawling region spread out between the Indian Ocean to the west and the Pacific to the east, China to the north and Australia to the south. It is home to 675 million people and to the world’s busiest shipping lane. Nearly 100,000 vessels pass yearly through the Malacca Strait, a narrow stretch of water between Malaysia and Indonesia that links Europe, India and the Middle East to two of the world’s largest economies, China and Japan. In the current contest between China and the US, Southeast Asia has become a battleground once more, reprising the role it played during the Cold War, when China, Soviet Russia and the US fought for control in proxy wars across the region, in the process laying waste to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

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