In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Diplomacy in the ASEAN

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Debating ASEAN
  • An ASEAN Security Community
  • Practice and Discourse in ASEAN Diplomacy
  • ASEAN Relations and Institutions in the Wider Region
  • Regional Peace and Conflict Management
  • Track-Two Diplomacy and Civil Society Organizations
  • Institutional Evolution
  • ASEAN-China Relations
  • ASEAN Diplomacy and Institutions in Comparative Perspective

International Relations Diplomacy in the ASEAN
Aarie Glas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0304


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the focal point for regional diplomacy and interstate governance in Southeast Asia. Since its foundation in 1967, the organization’s membership, institutional footprint, and mandate have expanded markedly. The now ten member states—Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—and its professed ASEAN Community are engaged in an ever-expanding array of regional initiatives across political-security, economic, and sociocultural concerns. The organization is of growing importance for states beyond the region as well, given the region’s place within the wider “Indo-Pacific” region and ongoing tensions between the United States and China. The literature on diplomacy in ASEAN is vast and varied. Much material centers on the origins, evolution, and efficacy of ASEAN as a regional organization and its diplomatic principles and norms, the so-called ASEAN way. The literature surveyed here examines the institutional and normative context within which ASEAN diplomacy operates and highlights major contemporary issues in the study of ASEAN diplomacy. This article is structured in eleven sections. It begins with a series of general, canonical accounts of ASEAN diplomacy and governance. The second section highlights literature engaged in a debate over the efficacy and consequence of ASEAN and its diplomatic norms. The third section surveys literature that centers attention on a core element of the study of ASEAN diplomacy: the prospects of a security community in Southeast Asia. The fourth section surveys a growing and related literature that examines the practice and discourse in ASEAN diplomacy. The fifth section highlights literature that situates ASEAN diplomacy within the context of the institutions of the wider Asia-Pacific region, including the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asian Summit (EAS), and ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+). Section six focuses on regional peace and conflict management between ASEAN member states. The seventh section explores two additional intraregional issues: leadership in ASEAN and relations with the so-called CLMV states of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, with a focus on Myanmar. Section eight centers on track two diplomacy and the role of civil society organizations in regional diplomacy and governance. Section nine examines institutional evolution with a focus on the changing organizational and normative context of ASEAN diplomacy. Section ten highlights ASEAN-China relations with a focus on the diplomatic management of the South China Sea disputes. The final section surveys a growing literature that places ASEAN diplomacy and governance in a comparative context.

General Overviews

General overviews of the origins, development, and effects of ASEAN and ASEAN diplomacy are many. Most adopt a social constructivist lens to explore the origins and effects of the organization with a particular focus on intraregional security dynamics with a particular focus on regional norms of the “ASEAN way” of diplomatic interaction. Most of the texts surveyed center attention on dynamics of security regionalism, although invariably they address concerns around economic and social integration and diplomatic efforts to promote them. An early survey of regional diplomacy and ASEAN’s effects, Leifer 1989 offers a canonical account of ASEAN regionalism and highlights the role of state power. Acharya 2014 and Ba 2009 provide major social constructivist accounts of ASEAN, highlighting the role of norms and intersubjective ideas in the form and function of the organization. Haacke 2003 explicates the existence and myriad effects of a particular diplomatic culture among ASEAN member states. Davies 2018 draws attention to the diplomatic rituals of ASEAN relations. Beyond these major constructivist overviews, Roberts 2012 examines the challenges of regional unity, Caballero-Anthony 2005 provides a useful account of regional conflict management practices, Narine 2002 gives a detailed discussion of institutional evolution, and Tay, et al. 2001 constitutes a wide-ranging reader on ASEAN diplomacy and governance. Acharya and Stubbs 2009 is a useful edited volume surveying major debates and issues in ASEAN diplomacy and governance.

  • Acharya, Amitav. Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order. London: Routledge, 2014.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315796673

    Acharya is the leading figure in the literature on ASEAN diplomacy and this is a seminal text. This updated edition of the 2001 text outlines the origins and development of the organization and explicates the legal-political and sociocultural norms of the “ASEAN way” of regional diplomacy and governance.

  • Acharya, Amitav, and Richard Stubbs, eds. Theorizing Southeast Asian Relations: Emerging Debates. London: Routledge, 2009.

    The final general overview text is this wide-ranging edited volume from two leading scholars of the region. Many of the usual scholars in the study of ASEAN diplomacy and regionalism provide chapters investigating major theoretical concerns, including the role of power and the limits of socialization, and empirical questions, including the role and consequence of the ARF.

  • Ba, Alice D. (Re)Negotiating East and Southeast Asia: Region, Regionalism, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

    Ba highlights the loose organization’s puzzling role in fostering regional integration and peace through informal cooperation among weak states. Ba’s account centers on the role of shared “ideas” and the text offers a nuanced and rigorous account of the origins and development of the organization.

  • Caballero-Anthony, Mely. Regional Security in Southeast Asia: Beyond the ASEAN Way. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1355/9789812307095

    In this excellent and wide-ranging text, Caballero-Anthony explores the origins and evolution of the organization and its norms, with a focus on changing practices of conflict management. Of particular interest are chapters tracing the role and effect of track-two diplomacy and civil society organizations, including the ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and International Studies (ASEAN-ISIS).

  • Davies, Matthew. Ritual and Region: The Invention of ASEAN. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108686785

    This short text provides a response to scholars critical of the organization’s effects and those who trace its effects to regional norms and values. Instead, Davies highlights shared rituals and symbols in ASEAN governance and traces the origins and evolution of the organization and its diplomacy from 1945 to 2017.

  • Haacke, Jürgen. ASEAN’s Diplomatic and Security Culture: Origins, Developments and Prospects. London:: Routledge Curzon, 2003.

    Haacke traces the origins and development of a regional of diplomatic culture with a focus on the importance of norms of sovereignty and noninterference. Haacke examines the intra- and extra-regional challenges to ASEAN’s diplomatic relations and, of particular interest, offers an excellent account of the emergence of “flexible engagement” within intraregional affairs. On this, see also Jürgen Haacke, “The Concept of Flexible Engagement and the Practice of Enhanced Interaction: Intramural Challenges to the ‘Asian Way,’” The Pacific Review 12.4 (1999): 581–611.

  • Leifer, Michael. ASEAN and the Security of South-East Asia. London: Routledge, 1989.

    This is a foundational text in the study of regionalism in Southeast Asia. Leifer surveys the origins and historical development of the organization and its role in regional security.

  • Narine, Shaun. Explaining ASEAN: Regionalism in Southeast Asia. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002.

    Narine offers a is a useful account of the institutional development of ASEAN alongside a detailed exploration of the limitations of ASEAN regionalism and its informal mechanisms, particularly in response to the 1997–1998 Asian Financial Crisis.

  • Roberts, Christopher B. ASEAN Regionalism: Cooperation, Values and Institutionalization. New York: Routledge, 2012.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203181041

    This volume provides a useful overview of domestic and interstate dynamics that delimit the prospects of regionalization among ASEAN member states. Roberts adopts a security community framework to examine socialization and institutionalization dynamics in the region.

  • Tay, Simon S. C., Jesus P. Estanislao, and Hadi Soesastro, eds. Reinventing ASEAN. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2001.

    This is a wide-ranging edited volume by leading regional scholars. Chapters examine the origins and development of ASEAN and the role and effect regionalization and diplomatic efforts across issue areas from political-security cooperation to development, trade, and investment.

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