This weekend I spoke on the ASEAN Economic Community at the University of Michigan Pan-Asia Alumni Reunion. I graduated from the university’s law school in 1991 and much of how I teach my AEC courses is based on how I learned EU law and policy from Eric Stein and Joseph Weiler at Michigan Law.
What is not widely known is the linkage between Michigan and the formation of ASEAN. University Professor Russell Fifield, in 1963, proposed the formation of an “Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” or “ASEAN” in his book Southeast Asia in United States Policy (Council on Foreign Relations), as part of a collective security pact for the region:
To implement the treaty a Southeast Asian Council, consisting of all the participants, should be established, meeting periodically but being organized in such a manner that it could convene at short notice. Further organizational steps could be taken as the needs develop. The treaty should be indefinite in duration although any signatory could cease to be a party upon a year's notice. In view of national sensitivities, the alliance might be termed an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
See page 426. This is believed to be the first time the term “ASEAN” was posited in print. Professor Fifield goes on to suggest that India and Japan could be associated with the new regional bloc. However, the United States should not be a formal part of ASEAN, so that the organization’s independence would not be undermined (as happened with the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, or SEATO).
Those present at the creation of the Bangkok Declaration claim not to have read Professor Fifield’s book, according to Dewi Fortuna Anwar in her book, Indonesia in ASEAN: Foreign Policy and Regionalism (ISEAS, 1994), at page 55. That would be consistent with the idea that ASEAN was created by Southeast Asians on their own.
On the other hand, the influence of the United States among the five original ASEAN signatories was very strong. Indeed, the major factor in the creation of ASEAN was the rise of Suharto in Indonesia, who replaced the less pro-Western Sukarno (who in another link with Michigan, actually received an honorary degree in 1956 from the University). Hence the U.S. influence on ASEAN’s formation (and Professor Fifield’s influence), even if perhaps indirect, cannot be denied.
In any event, ASEAN has progressed far beyond what Professor Fifield suggested in 1963 and what was actually established in the 1967 Bangkok Declaration. What is more important are the continuing links between ASEAN and its peoples with institutions like the University of Michigan. These living connections will help the AEC grow and thrive.