Posted by: mensab | August 20, 2008

ASEAN Way to Peacebuilding: A Regional Perspective


The practical part of a program studies in academic setting is exposure and hands-on training to students who wish to learn and master certain skills and apply specialized knowledge. This part of studies is known as internship. It bridges the gap between the theory and practice in the field of studies. It is a journey from the classroom to the field where the real action is, as it is often said.


At the University for Peace (UPeace), the field of peace and conflict studies combines both theoretical knowledge and practical experience to students who want to contribute to peacebuilding and conflict transformation efforts in their chosen careers. The goal of internship is to provide a practical application of the learned theories in an organization that works in, broadly but not limited to, the field of peace and conflict. The Dual-Campus Master’s Program in International Peace Studies Program of (UPeace) is no exception.


It is the vision of Nippon Foundation, the main sponsor of this Dual-Campus Master’s Program, to train Asians who are under-represented in international organizations to become practitioners in the field. The training includes provision of theoretical foundations of the field of peace and conflict and opportunity to have a professional experience in international and local organizations as a requirement for the completion of the program leading to a master’s degree. The latter part is the concern of this internship proposal.


This internship proposal will guide the conduct of internship in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), particularly in the Bureau for Resources Development (BRD). It contains mainly three parts; 1) a profile of the organization that will host the internship, 2) conceptual framework on the area of work, and 3) the relationship of the area of work with the field of peace and conflict studies. Another essential part of this internship proposal, a work plan for this 4-month internship, will follow in no time soon.



I. The Host Organization


This part presents the host organization of internship. It contains the type of organization, its background and history, its vision and mission, its scope and target population, its relevant programs and projects, and its sources of funds.


The ASEAN is a regional inter-governmental organization of 10 member-states, namely, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Laos, Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Cambodia. It was founded on August 8, 1967 in Thailand by the five foreign ministers of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. The other member-states joined the association much later. For example, Brunei Darussalam joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, and the latest to join was Cambodia which was accepted in 1999. Thus, every state in the Southeast Asia is now part of the ASEAN.

The region, as of 2006, boasts a population of roughly 560 million, joint gross domestic product of US$1,100 billion and a force to reckon with in trade with US$1,400 billion in total.[1] The major sources of fund for ASEAN are coming from the contributions of member-states. Other international donors and states such as World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Union, United States of America, Japan, Canada, among others, provide financial support to ASEAN.


Prior to ASEAN, there were attempts to form a regional association in Southeast Asia (Davidson, 2002, p.14). There was the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA) of Malaya (Malaysia), the Philippines and Thailand in 1961. However, ASA did not prosper partly because of the exclusion of Indonesia and disputed claims by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia of North Borneo and Sarawak. Then in 1963, the MAPHILINDO of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia came to existence to somehow ease the tension among the three countries. Until in 1967 after Singapore became independent from Malaysia, the ASEAN was born with five member-states including Singapore.


The 1967 Bangkok Declaration enumerates the aims and purposes of the organization. Among which are;


1.)      To accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavours in the spirit of equality and partnership..; 2.) To promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter; 3.) To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields.[2]


To coordinate the implementation of various activities and projects, the ASEAN established a secretariat in 1976 based in Jakarta, Indonesia. The ASEAN Secretariat is headed by a Secretary-General whose tenure is five years at the helm and is appointed during an ASEAN Summit which happens every year. The ASEAN Summit is the highest governing body which is composed of the heads of member- states.


The shared vision of the 10 member-countries of ASEAN is to be “outward looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies.”[3] In the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation signed in Bali, Indonesia, member-states embraced six fundamental principles that would guide their conduct and decisions as member-states in a regional community to further cooperation and mutual understanding. These principles are “mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, and national identity of all nations, the right of every State to lead its national existence free from external interference, subversion or coercion, non-interference in the internal affairs of one another, settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful manner, renunciation of the threat or use of force, and effective cooperation among themselves.”[4] These are the principles that would bond and usher member-states into a community of nations.

To achieve this vision of ASEAN community, there are three pillars, namely, ASEAN political-security community, ASEAN economic community, and ASEAN socio-cultural community. Each ASEAN community corresponds to the existing bureaus in the structure of ASEAN. The ASEAN political-security community fits with the Bureau for External Relations. The ASEAN economic community corresponds to the Bureau for Economic Integration and Finance. The ASEAN socio-cultural community matches with the Bureau for Resources Development (BRD). Within each pillar of communities are specific programs, projects, and activities geared towards becoming one big ASEAN community.

Tasked to develop the socio-cultural community dimension of ASEAN, the Bureau for Resources Development has several units that work under it. One of the units is the Cultural and Information Unit (CIU) in which the first part of the internship would be conducted. The CIU handles the ASEAN Committee for Culture and Information which aims “to promote effective cooperation in the fields of culture and information for the purpose of enhancing mutual understanding and solidarity among the peoples of ASEAN as well as in furthering regional development.” [5] This year, through the proposal of the current Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, the Committee launched the Best of ASEAN Performing Arts which is a series to showcase the richness and diversity of performing arts in the region. The series started last May 6-7, 2008 in Jakarta featuring the performing arts of Indonesia. The second one featuring Thailand will be on August 8 which coincides with the ASEAN Day.

Another unit under the BRD is the Human Development Unit. It has projects on civil service, education, youth, labor, social welfare and development, rural development and poverty eradication, and women. It aligns its projects on the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. Its key focus is on the development gap among member-states of the ASEAN.


II. Conceptual Framework

In this part, a review of concepts relative to the internship is organized. A review of concepts is useful in understanding the host organization and its role in the region. It shows the relationships of these concepts between and among each other. The central concept that will be worked on this internship proposal is the ASEAN way. The review begins with the concept of Southeast Asia, then of ASEAN, regional integration and cooperation, common regional identity, community, and ASEAN way as a tool and expression of the cooperation, common regional identity, and being a community of the 10 member-states. It is important to highlight the concept of ASEAN way because it attempts to capsulate the socio-cultural elements of the 10 member-states. 

Southeast Asia is a region in Asia and the world. It points to the location and position in the global map. Conventionally, it is more of a geographic entity than a political, cultural, economic entity or bloc. The ASEAN would like to change that conventional perception.

It appears that the ASEAN is an example of regional integration of sovereign states. In this context, regional integration “refers to the merger of peoples into a transnational society and polity (and a transnational economy too…)” (Puschala, 1968, p.39). There is a transnational goal in the region to be integrated as one bloc socially, politically and economically. The European Union (EU) is a good example of this. It has a parliament, an armed forces like North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), common currency, court of justice, and somehow “open society” which means less restriction to enter each other’s territories.

However, Davidson (2002) argues that the ASEAN is “an instrument of cooperation, not integration” (p.29). ASEAN is unlike the EU in many respects. It is without parliament, without armed forces, without common currency, and without court of justice. It is not a supra-national institution having supra-national powers. Rather it is a regional association creating solidarity for cooperation among member-states and their common interests.

What the ASEAN has with that of EU is the access of the citizens of member-states to their territories without a need for entry visa. This lifting of restriction allows more interaction among the citizens of ASEAN. Solidum (cited in Anand and Quisumbing, 1981, p.130) asserts that a community grows when there exists a meaningful, enhanced and patterned interaction among its members. With this kind of interaction, an emergence of cultural community is at hand.

Various declarations have been approved and agreed by the member-states of ASEAN to signify their intention of working together as one. Some of these declarations include common stance on terrorism, zone of peace, freedom and neutrality, nuclear-free zone, among others. In the 2007 ASEAN Summit in Singapore on its 40th anniversary, the ASEAN approved its own Charter to cover all member-states to facilitate the cooperation envisioned in the Charter.

The Charter states that community building would be established in an “ASEAN Community comprising the ASEAN Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the Socio-Cultural Community” through improved regional cooperation and integration (ASEAN, 2008). This cooperation is founded in a common regional identity among the peoples of member-states.

Is there a common regional identity in Southeast Asia? Anand and Quisumbing (1981) note that “anthropologists with some knowledge of Asian cultures agree that there are a number of social and cultural elements shared by the peoples in Asia, and more specifically so in Southeast Asia” (p.xxv). Furthermore, they point to;

The tropical climate that abounds with sunshine all year round, the geographic location  which includes flat land, mountains, and the sea for each country, the economic structure which depends largely on traditional agriculture, the political heritage from basically feudal systems, the distinct family spirit that is inherent in the larger context of social relations in a community, and the strong religious sense that pervades their way of life, are all elements that have been instrumental in developing a basic character structure which is largely common among the peoples in Southeast Asia (p.xxv).

Although there is a thread of commonality in some basic cultural factors in Southeast Asian peoples, the core cultural elements are found in various and diverse ethnic groups of one nation by one government. Multi-ethnic groups constitute one nation under a government that aims to create a national culture. For example, the Philippines is a multi-ethnic country characterized by thousands of islands and languages. In its hope to mount a national culture, the Philippine government introduced a national language, Tagalog, to bond the diverse peoples with one common language. Somehow, the introduction of a national language has made some relative success in bonding the Filipinos into one community. The challenge is even greater in the Southeast Asia with 10 member-states to make it one community. As it is known in social sciences, language is itself an identity.

It is not only in language that the ASEAN has to grapple with; religion poses a major challenge too. Major religions in the world have found a home in Southeast Asia with each country having a religion by majority of the population. Buddhism is largely practiced in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia; Islam in Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, and Malaysia; Confucianism in Singapore; and Catholicism in the Philippines.

It is in this context that one of the principles of ASEAN is unity in diversity. To act upon this principle, one of the visions is to build a Socio-Cultural community. Amidst the diversity of cultures in Southeast Asia, the concept of community is envisioned by the ASEAN.

In ASEAN, there is a prevailing community-like approach to decision-making and dealing with issues affecting the region. It is known as the ASEAN way, which is based on consensus. Davidson (2002) observes that “the underlying approach to decision-making in ASEAN is the consensus approach embodied in the Malay terms musyawarah and mufakat” (p.41). Roughly translated in English, musyawarah means deliberation while mufakat is consensus or musyawarah untuk mufakat which means deliberation for consensus.[6] This approach is familiar in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines for example, the value of pakikisama (concession) is noted in the “practice of yielding to the will of the leader or majority so as to make the group decision unanimous” (Lynch, 1973, p.10). Getting along with others is a character trait of Filipinos.

Contrary to the Western way of heavily relying on formal structures and rules to define relations, the ASEAN way is shaped by kinship or kin-like ties and brotherhood or sisterhood (Anand and Quisumbing, 1981). That is why consensus and unanimity just like in a family is the way to deal with the others to avoid conflict.


III. The ASEAN way and the field of peace and conflict studies

This part shows the relationship between the ASEAN way and the field of peace and conflict studies. It discusses the relevance of the central concept to the peace and conflict studies.

Regional cooperation through association among member-states is a means for peace-building to take root and develop. The ASEAN is founded on existing cultural bonds and cultivation of these bonds among member-states and their peoples for regional cooperation and solidarity towards a community of nations.

Taking into account the diverse cultures of each member-state, the ASEAN way drives member-states to work for consensus and unanimity in decision-making through dialogue. It is uniquely ASEAN with which member-states can understand and function as part of the association. It effectively prevents conflict, and thus far, fosters and nurtures peace in the region. It is the contribution of the region to peacebuilding methods and efforts to the world aching for peace.



Internship is an opportunity to acquire practical and professional experience on certain specialized field and career in a reputable organization. The ASEAN as a regional inter-governmental organization based in Jakarta, Indonesia is a host organization for this internship. The main interest and central concept of the internship is the ASEAN way which has been the focal point and approach of decision-making in the organization. The ASEAN way uses consensus approach in issues that need to be tackled and acted upon by the organization. It is effective in the avoidance of conflict among member-states of ASEAN.



ASEAN Secretariat. (2008). ASEAN Documents Series 2007. Jakarta, Indonesia: ASEAN


Anand, R. and Quisumbing, P. (Eds.). (1981). ASEAN Identity, Development, and Society.

Quezon City: UP Law Center and East-West Center Culture Learning Institute.

Davidson, P. (2002). ASEAN: The Evolving Legal Framework for Economic Cooperation.

Singapore: Times Academic Press.

Lynch, F. (1973). Social Acceptance Reconsidered. In Lynch and de Guzman (Eds), Four

Readings on Philippine Values (1-68). Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University.

Puschala, D. (1968). The Pattern of Contemporary Regional Integration. International Studies

Quarterly, 12, 38-64.

Solidum, E. (1981). The Role of Certain Sectors in Shaping and Articulating the ASEAN Way.

In Anand and Quisumbing (Eds.), ASEAN Identity, Development and Society (130-148). Quezon City: UP Law Center and East-West Center Culture Learning Institute.

Thumboo, E. (1996). Introduction.  In Cultures in ASEAN and the 21st Century – The Making

and Development of National Cultures (xi-xxvii). Singapore: Unipress. Retrieved June 17, 2008, from

[1] See for further details on the ASEAN. Retrieved June 11, 2008, from


[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[6] See for interesting notes on Asean culture and history.



  1. This is interesting to read about how ASEAN works and is structured.

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