Asia is the biggest of the continents and has the largest population but has not the economic, political and military importance that should go with her size and population in the international Forum. It is good that in modern times military power is giving place to economic power, and even the industrially advanced countries of Europe have found it necessary to unite into an economic block, as BENELUX, Belgium, Netherlands & Luxemburg in 1948, which later became the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. with most of the other non-communist European countries joining in. With common aims and interests, common import tariffs and removal of internal trade barriers among themselves, EEC is able to dictate its own terms in International Trade.
ASEAN-Association of South East Asian Nations–came into, existence in 1967 with five countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Phillippines Singapore and Thailand, uniting to form it. There was also at that time the SEATO, South East Asia Treaty Organisation, (the brainchild of John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of brinkmanship fame in the Eisenhower regime) which was created in 1954 in the cold-war era, with seven member countries only two of which were South East Asian-Philippines and Thailand–one was at least Asian, Pakistan, and the other four were three European, USA, UK and France, and fourth the Pacific, Australia. – This misnomer was a military alliance and claimed to be functioning to protect the member countries against Communist aggression. SEATO died an inglorious and natural death in July 1977 without firing a single shot, at the instance of its South East Asian Members after earlier defection by France and Pakistan.
ASEAN, which is truly South Asia, is non-Communist and the other South East Asian Communist countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are excluded from it. ASEAN claims to be an economic union and non-military and has been steadily growing in stature. At the second summit held at Kuala Lumpur in August 1977, it reiterated its desire to develop peaceful and naturally beneficial relations with all countries in the region including the three communist countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, though Thailand has openly accused Vietnam of general hostility towards ASEAN as a collective entity and of attempting to create division in its ranks by practicing a policy of selective preference in relations with ASEAN countries. In ASEAN itself Malaysia and the Philippines were at loggerheads over Sabah to which both lay claim; however at the August 1977 summit, Philippines President Marcos eased the situation by declaring that Philippines would drop all claim to Sabah in the interests of unity and solidarity in ASEAN.
Japan, which has so far taken no great interest in ASEAN beyond profiting by export of finished goods to ASEAN and importing raw materials from them, has now begun to take notice of it. Japanese Premier Fukuda has given expression to a desire for cooperative ties with ASEAN countries and willingness to place $1,000-million ai the disposal of ASEAN over the next five years. Though a Welcome gesture, the Japanese premier’s promise does not constitute a firm pledge as it carries the stipulation that this aid would only cover one project in each ASEAN country and it must carry the ASEAN label as distinct from a mere national project. Japan has already disbursed $ 500-million to the five ASEAN countries since 1973, and the offer to double this for the next five years is not such a very big step forward after all. Rather it is a very cautious step presumably prompted by the realization of the vast potential in ASEAN and the sobering dose of oil price hikes and American and European protectionist measures against Japan.
The Communist regimes of South East Asia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia accuse ASEAN of succumbing to American pressure and suspect America of designs to take over ASEAN, now that SEATO, their creation, is no more. A further aggravating feature in this context is Chinese approval of American activities and Soviet condemnation of the same. The Soviet Union is highly critical of ASEAN and accuses the Western Nations of pushing ASEAN to the path of military confrontation with their communist neighbors, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In Soviet eyes, the Kuala Lumpur ASEAN Summit’s openly declared aim of independent policies and friendly relations with the neighboring Communist countries is vitiated by the strengthening of military co-operation within the ASEAN countries under the pretext of safeguarding against “Communist Threat”. They also consider the Malai-Thai operations · against the “so-called Communist rebels” and the Indonesia-Philippines Naval Manoeuvres as militaristic and hostile.
ASEAN countries are rich in raw materials and have great potential. Five of them have united to achieve greater progress and bigger development. They have come on the political and economic scene and will play a significant role in International Economics, especially in the context of the oil price hikes and the protectionist trends in Europe and America, the former dispensers of the rules and laws of international economics who are now in disarray. Shrewd Japan is courting them. It will be in Pakistan interests to cultivate better and more useful relations with ASEAN and we have the advantage of adequate and appropriate technology and the requisite expertise and manpower for practically all types of industrial ventures.
ASEAN has certainly grown in stature, politically and economically and it is to be hoped that their growing power will not take them to the path of hot or cold war activities. India, with its tremendous economic potential and democratic political resurgence, can play a great pivotal part in promoting ASEAN into a giant Asian Economic Community on the lines of EEC. Taking advantage of the divisions, rivalries, distrust and technological backwardness of the Asian nations, the industrially developed western countries earlier exploited them politically and are now exploiting them economically. They secure the precious raw materials of the Asian nations at throwaway prices and dump their own industrial and manufactured goods at exorbitant cost. The OPEC nations of West Asia have shown how such callous exploitation can be effectively ended by joint political action and economic cooperation. By providing the lead and promoting the ASEAN into an Asian Economic Community, Pakistan can similarly stop the western exploitation of the Asian nations.
The steps taken by our Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister to strengtherPakistan’sforeign relations with other countries are thus in the right direction. Asia the largest of the continents must come into its own and assert itself. Asia must shine and succeed.