ASEAN Summit: Geopolitical Importance


The summit of ASEAN countries' leaders has been launched in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. On the agenda are issues of deepening integration, mutual cooperation, settling disputes, and cooperation with other centers of world development (the US, China, Russia, the EU).


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) includes the states of Indochina, the Malay and the Philippine archipelago. Its members are: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Myanmar and Singapore. From a geopolitical point of view, the union is the South-Eastern part of the Eurasian Rimland, and therefore is an area of ​​conflict of interests between the Atlanticist and Continentalist powers. Initially, the union was created in the 1960's for containing China and the Soviet Union and had a clearly Atlanticist orientation. Later, in the 1990's, ASEAN transformed into an integration union independent from the influence of third party forces, primarily the United States, following the accession to the union of the socialist countries of Indochina (Vietnam and Laos).

Weak union

Despite a long history, the level of integration within the ASEAN is relatively weak. The union has established a free trade zone, but the transition to a more compelling level of integration (customs union) is stalled, the cause being political conflicts and the type and character of the countries’ economies.

ASEAN is a relatively loose union from a political point of view. Despite interests of economic cooperation, there is no common position on key geopolitical issues. In particular, this concerns the most important region of the dispute over the waters of the South China Sea and Spratly Islands. Whereas Vietnam and the Philippines are traditionally opposed to China's claims, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia are not involved in the territorial dispute and refuse to support a consolidated, tough stance on Chinese claims to the region.

The struggle for the region

In view of its internal contradictions, ASEAN is not an independent subject in world politics. In fact, the ASEAN region is a field of competition between the US and China.  Japan is actively trying to keep itself in the game, which is a US ally. The EU has long been cooperating with ASEAN. In 2016, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia promised to create a Eurasian Economic Union-ASEAN free trade zone.

US President Barack Obama has arrived in Laos specially for the opening of the summit. The main task of the US is struggling against Chinese influence in the economy and politics, and promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative. The agreement involves Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam out of the ASEAN countries.