Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an inter-governmental arrangement formed in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand to promote political, economic and social cooperation and regional stability. Brunei joined in 1984 and Vietnam in 1995. Laos and Burma became members in 1997 as ASEAN marked its 30th anniversary, with Cambodia becoming ASEAN’s tenth member in 1999. ASEAN’s activities are coordinated by the ASEAN Secretariat based in Jakarta.

The ASEAN Declaration, ASEAN’s founding document, sets out the principles of peace and cooperation to which ASEAN is dedicated. In 2008, ASEAN established its legal identity as an international organisation, following entry into force of the ASEAN Charter. ASEAN approaches its activities based on the principles of consultation, consensus, and cooperation, described as 'the ASEAN way'.

ASEAN sits at the centre of a range of other important regional arrangements, including the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting - Plus and the negotiations under way for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

At its November 2015 Summit, ASEAN declared the ‘ASEAN Community’. This was a significant milestone in a concerted process of regional integration premised on three pillars: the Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Socio-Cultural Community.

Australia and ASEAN

Australia’s economic and security interests remain inextricably linked with the countries of Southeast Asia. With a population of 620 million and a combined GDP of around US$2.5 trillion, the region remains an increasingly important partner for Australian trade and investment. In 2014, total trade with ASEAN countries amounted to over $100 billion, more than with Japan, the European Union or the United States.

Australia’s bilateral engagement with the countries of Southeast Asia is strengthened by our engagement with ASEAN, the region’s premier representative grouping. A strong and cohesive ASEAN has fostered cooperation and encouraged norms of behaviour that have laid the foundation for peace and prosperity in the region.

Australia became the first of ASEAN’s ten dialogue partners in 1974. At the 40th Anniversary Commemorative Summit in Burma in November 2014, Australia and ASEAN entered into a Strategic Partnership, in recognition of the depth and breadth of Australia-ASEAN cooperation over many years and acknowledging the potential for still greater mutual engagement.

The declaration of the ASEAN Economic Community offers a potential avenue for Australian business to capitalise on the region’s economic dynamism. This includes attracting the large amounts of capital in the region to invest in Australia.

The ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), complemented by our FTAs with Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, is a pathway for Australian business to tap into ASEAN. In August 2015, the Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, launched ‘Why ASEAN and Why Now?’ a joint DFAT-Austrade publication designed to provide practical insights on doing business in ASEAN and how to use regional free trade agreements to the Australian business community.

People-to-people ties are exceptionally robust, through education links, two-way tourist traffic and migration. There were over one million ASEAN visitors to Australia in 2014 and over 100,000 students from ASEAN countries enrolled to study in Australia. According to the 2011 Australian census, over 650,000 people claimed Southeast Asian heritage.

The Australian Government also has strong relations with ASEAN, highlighted by a 2015 agreement to commence biennial leaders’ summits, to begin in 2016. Each year, Australia’s Foreign Minister joins with ASEAN Foreign Ministers for formal consultations in what is known as the Post-Ministerial Conference (PMC). Australia’s Trade Minister also engages regularly with ASEAN counterparts. This frequent and high-level engagement helps advance a range of mutual interests between ASEAN and Australia and is supported by extensive officials-level engagement. Since October 2013, Australia has a resident ambassador accredited to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.

By focusing on economic growth and human security, Australia’s regional aid program will ensure that our most highly valued commitments to ASEAN countries in support of economic integration are met, and that Australia’s leadership in countering criminal human trafficking networks and supporting stable, legal migration pathways is maintained.

The regional aid program also supports the ASEAN regional economic integration agenda and the aid-for-trade objectives under the Australian Government’s aid policy ‘Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty and enhancing stability’. The ASEAN-Australia Development Cooperation Program Phase II (AADCP II) is a partnership program between Australia and ASEAN that that supports ASEAN’s deepening economic integration. The AANZFTA Economic Cooperation Support Program assists ASEAN countries to maximise the benefits of AANZFTA.

ASEAN-Australia documents and links

Last Updated: 20 September 2016

Australian Mission to ASEAN

Australian Mission to ASEAN website