Asean: Unity still elusive, 50 years on

Asean has unveiled increasingly ambitious policies over the last 50 years. Nonetheless meaningful progress is scarce while China looms larger as a divisive force

In the summer of 1967, the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand held a series of informal meetings in the beach resort of Bang Saen, near Bangkok.

Southeast Asia was in the midst of a great transformation, still dealing with the political and territorial consequences the retreat of colonial powers following World War Two. Indonesia and Malaysia had ended a series of border skirmishes only a year earlier. The Vietnam War was at its height.

Against this backdrop, there was an apparent sense of urgency. Thanat Khoman, Thailand’s foreign minister at the time, suggested a regional grouping, just the latest attempt by the...

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