Cooperation with other countries and regions has mainly been economic. In 1972, ASEAN began an informal collaboration with the EU (then the EEC), which eight years later was expanded to firmer collaboration, when the EU became a so-called dialogue partner to the organization. Nowadays (2011), EU Asean is the second largest trading partner and largest in terms of direct investment.
During the 1970’s, ASEAN also forged closer ties with Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, all of which were given the rank of “full dialogue partner”. It was natural that precisely these countries were selected for this closer cooperation; these were the ones ASEAN traded with most.
Later, in addition to the EU, Canada also joined the dialogue circle and during the 1990’s, South Korea, India, China and Russia also became dialogue partners. For the ASEAN countries, these “dialogues” with non-members have been a way of securing access to development aid, investment and markets for their own exports. According to programingplease, ASEAN also cooperates with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Pakistan, East Timor, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in some areas.
In 1993, the organization set up a new group, the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), to discuss security issues. In it, the ASEAN states sit side by side with the United States, the EU, Canada, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Russia, Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. ARF, which held its first meeting in Bangkok in 1994, will be an annual meeting place where affected countries can raise major security issues in East Asia and the Pacific and bring both Americans, Chinese and Russians to the table. Diplomatic contacts and confidence-building measures via ARF hope to strengthen security in the region.
At the turn of the millennium, when the Asian crisis brought to the fore the importance of closer East Asian cooperation, a new cooperation initiative was launched, the so-called ASEAN + 3. This mainly meant expanded economic cooperation between the ASEAN countries as well as China, Japan and South Korea. The countries’ ministers meet regularly to discuss various forms of cooperation. Today, ASEAN + 3 collaborates in economics and finance, politics, tourism, agriculture, the environment, energy and information technology and more. A special secretariat department has also been formed for the ASEAN + 3 collaboration.
With Asean + 3, a seed was sown for closer cooperation throughout East Asia, and further attempts have since been made to link Southeast Asia and East Asia closer together. As part of this, cooperation between China and ASEAN has deepened, something that has been desirable from both sides. The growing trade between China and ASEAN in recent years, as well as the management of epidemics such as SARS and bird flu in combination with Chinese import needs for energy from Southeast Asia, has made this clear. Another major reason for China has been to counteract American influence in the ASEAN region. In 2002, China and ASEAN agreed to establish a joint Asia-Free Trade Area (ACFTA)) by 2010 (for Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia 2015). ACFTA entered into force as planned on 1 January 2010 for the countries concerned. Between 2009 and 2011, trade between China and the six ASEAN countries increased by 30 percent as a result of ACFTA. At the same time, criticism was heard of the agreement from the business community in the ASEAN countries, where some believe that China has pulled the longest straw because it is mainly Chinese exports to Southeast Asia that have increased.
Even with Japan, ASEAN began negotiations on free trade cooperation in the 21st century. The goal was for a free trade cooperation between Japan and the older ASEAN countries to be completed in 2012, while the four newer Member States would have 2017. At the same time, free trade talks were also taking place with India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. In 2009, ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand agreed to form their own free trade area. A free trade agreement between India and the five ASEAN countries Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand entered into force on 1 January 2010. There is also a free trade agreement between South Korea and ASEAN.
Some envisioned a single giant free trade area, which would be larger than both the EU and the North American free trade area Nafta. Asian countries, together with China, among others, began to forge plans to form an East Asian free trade area, which also included Australia, New Zealand and India, among others. However, the grandiose plans had, at least temporarily, stalled for a few years into the 2000’s. When an “East Asian Summit” was held in December 2005 with all the countries within ASEAN + 3 and also India, Australia and New Zealand, the issue was completely avoided in the final document. It was speculated that the reason was a lack of interest from Japan, given the close relations with the United States. A collaboration that excluded the United States but included China was hardly well received by the United States. China, for its part, seems to have seen the plans as a way to limit US influence in Asia. However, when India was included in the co – operation plans, the Chinese also lost their enthusiasm for the proposal.
However, the talk of an East Asian community is not a new proposal. As early as the early 1990’s, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad proposed the creation of a special East Asian meeting, the East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC), with only ASEAN members and China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. The whole thing, however, stopped at a controversial approach within the free trade forum Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation).
To the abundant flora of international meeting places that Asean has been involved in is also Asem (Asia-Europe Meeting) which held its first summit in Bangkok in 1996 and has since continued to meet. The aim is to strengthen relations between the two economic regions. An important initiative within Asem in recent years is a framework agreement to facilitate trade relations and investment between the countries.