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The union that once commenced with the exclusive goal of bringing stability and security to the southeastern Asian nations has become a union that the nations involved depend on for economic, social, and cultural progress. Prior to the “One Vision, One identity, One Community!” motto of ASEAN, historical turmoil between nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand made it difficult for the organization to have formed. Since the start of European colonization in the late 15th century, Southeast Asia has been influenced by foreign powers for a great part of their history. India, China, the Middle East, Europe, the United States and Japan have all played a role in the political and economic changes that have occurred through the region. The nations in the South East Asia were important because of their spices, a good exemplifying global trade during that time. The Portuguese wanted to monopolize the spice trade by conquering the islands. By the early 17th century the control of the Spice Islands was eventually in the hands of the Dutch. Along with local factors including cultural differences and, most importantly, colonial influences, South East Asia was reduced into nothing more than politically unstable areas for different dominating nations to gain control of. The region, once proud of its self-sufficient ways of life that characterized the area during pre-colonization came to be dependent of the powers that exploited them. For the world the 20th century is noted as a time of global chaos where nations throughout the world were engulfed in war. For Southeast Asia the 20th century was a time to take advantage of the power struggle going on between the colonial powers and seek their independence: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from the French, Philippines from the United States, Malaysia and Burma from the British, and Indonesia from the Dutch. The focus of production in the region shifted from spices to raw materials. The region was once again exploited for its resources but due to the industrializing west, European nations now depended on Asia for rubber, coffee, tin, gold and oil. During the First World War Southeast Asia made little contribution to the war, Siam was the only nation from the region that declared war in Germany and sent a small force to Europe in 1917. WWI had many nations fighting for their independence and despite the feeling of oppression felt by European powers, the colonial Southeast Asia felt little change occurring in its inferior status in the global system. The fight for independence started with the Philippines. Between the year1945 and 1957 the nations of Southeast Asia gained their independence. Independence did not follow with immediate prosperity and growth for the nations. Political ideals from foreign powers were still playing major factors in the progression on the region. During China’s revolution the establishment of a communist nation led to spread of communist ideals into the southeast, while Japan’s triumph over Russia helped to spread the nationalistic feel. During World War II Japan’s increasing militaristic power was overwhelming the region. The Japanese’s imperial Army invaded Southeast Asia and Thailand was the only country that maintained “independence”, by forming a political and military alliance with the Japanese Empire. The end of the Second World War left affected Southeast Asia more deeply than the First World War. The majority of the Southeastern nations gained their independence following World War II due to the Japanese invasion. During World War II Southeast Asia was seized by the Japanese. The Japanese victory of the European powers demonstrated that the Europeans were no longer invincible. When the war came to an end the Japanese were forced out but the people of the region refused to be under European rule again. The various nations that would arise gained their independence through different methods. The Philippines were granted their independence from the United States on the day of the nation’s own independence July 4th. Other nations such as Burma had been pushing for independence from the British for years and were given their independence shortly after the end of the war. The emphasis on new political ideals versus previous political systems caused new issues on which the region served as a puppet to be influenced by the power-seeking nations. By the end of the War many European nations ended up losing a significant amount of resources and people, colonization was no longer beneficial, instead it hindered (the colonial powers) their recovery because distribution of their scarce resources were inadequate, and a military foothold in their respective colonies were no longer as strong as before. With the weakening of imperial powers and the growth of nationalistic movements in the historically oppressed regions, the end of the war meant independence for South East Asia and other colonized regions. Post-war the British returned to Malaya, while the Dutch went to Indonesia-areas from which they had been forced out of position. Within their colonies the European nations found themselves amongst not only a resentful group of people but also a well-organized nationalist resistance. Some fights for independence spilled a lot of bloodshed, most notably during the Vietnam War. France tried to maintain dominance over Vietnam until retreating and giving up the colony in 1954 to a Communist government. Amongst the Asian nations Vietnam underwent the bitterest route to independence, while other nations had a smoother transition between the late 1940s and mid-1970s. During the Cold War Southeast Asia was split between anti-western ideology, pro-communist and pro-western. While the past colonial masters had little interest in the region, the Soviet Union and United States struggled to influence the politics of the region. For example in a race to eliminate communist ideals the United States would help the nations by assuring that they open there doors to foreign trade and then the United states would lent them money. In one case after the Philippines gained independence the United States insisted that they approve the Bell act. While the United States tried to promote Capitalism, the Soviet Union would try to help the region find stability in their respective nations by promoting communism. After the Cold war the Western Hemisphere all together devalued the importance of Southeast Asia to Western policy-makers far more. During the Cold War, the first regional organization was SEATO (1954), but it failed in its goals because it was not formed by the nations of the region, but it was supported and initiated by the United States. ASEAN on the other hand, was formed in 1967 during the Vietnam War. It was comprised of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. The purpose of its formation was to protect the nations from communist revolutionaries by supporting political and social strength. Today, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is bringing economic prosperity, political alliances and closer regional integration, however the association has not found total stability in its base. Some nations within the association believe that ASEAN should try to shift their focus on national security as well, while other nations believe that the association should not push for the formation of one country in the region because that individual nations within the region want to keep their cultures intact. The nations that make up the association have conflicting politics on maritime sovereignty and differing views on the associations stand to restrict its intervention in domestic affairs within the individual nation during crisis. For example differing views existing during an issue that obtained international attention, such as the issue on Myanmar’s human right issue. Although ASEAN is working on strengthening its ideals it has come far enough to claim itself as one community with the goal to establish one new history based on collective progress. Although an objective is important for such a regime, the economic prosperity noted in ASEAN is mostly experience in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. ASEAN has improved relations with the southeast nations and the United States. The economic progression being brought by the association is to be maintained by making sure the youth of the nation recognize the importance of the association. For this reason the mission of ASEAN is commonly taught in schools and English camps. The more the children understand the importance the more likely that ASEAN will be more than just a simple organization. ASEAN brings nations of a region together to focus on a collective purpose of bettering themselves. Students in South East Asia learn about ASEAN at a young age. They learn to appreciate it and glorify it. They hold presentations to celebrate the association by performing a dance to the ASEAN song and learning the greetings in all the different languages that are part of the ASEAN community. By teaching about ASEAN in school and camps the youth is able to hold their neighboring countries in high esteem, which helps in understanding how the different nations play an important role in developing their country.
Contributed by Stephany Reinoso