August 8th each year is marked among several countries of Southeast Asia as ASEAN Day and this year, in particular, the celebrations are a bit grander than usual. This is the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. This is a regional intergovernmental organization comprising ten Southeast Asian states which promotes Pan-Asianism, intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, military, educational and cultural integration amongst its members and Asian states. Since its formation on August 8, 1967, by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, the organization’s membership has expanded to include Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Its principal aims include accelerating economic growth, social progress, and sociocultural evolution among its members, alongside the protection of regional stability and the provision of a mechanism for member countries to resolve differences peacefully. ASEAN is an official United Nations Observer.
ASEAN covers a land area of 1,698,849.5 square miles (4.4 million square kilometers), 3% of the total land area of Earth. ASEAN territorial waters cover an area about three times larger than its land counterpart. Member countries have a combined population of approximately 625 million people, 8.8% of the world’s population. In 2015, the organization’s combined nominal GDP had grown to more than U.S. $2.8 trillion. If ASEAN were a single entity, it would rank as the sixth largest economy in the world, behind the United States, China, Japan, India and Germany. ASEAN shares land borders with India, China, Bangladesh, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea, and maritime borders with India, China, Palau, and Australia. Both East Timor and Papua New Guinea are backed by certain ASEAN members for their membership in the organization.
ASEAN has been establishing itself as a platform for Asian integrations and cooperations, working with other Asian nations to promote unity, prosperity, development and sustainability of the region, as well as working on solutions to resolve disputes and problems in the region. While mainly focusing on the Asia-Pacific nations, ASEAN also established communications with other parts of the world, to better promote world peace and stability. The organisation has a global reputation of promoting goodwill and diplomacy among nations, shutting out any biased opinion or decision, and carrying the principle of non-interference.
ASEAN was preceded by an organization formed in July 31, 1961, called the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), a group consisting of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand. ASEAN itself was created on August 8, 1967, when the foreign ministers of five countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, signed the ASEAN Declaration, more commonly known as the Bangkok Declaration. The creation of ASEAN was motivated by a common fear of communism and a thirst for economic development.
ASEAN achieved greater cohesion in the mid-1970s following the changed balance of power in Southeast Asia after the end of the Vietnam War. The region’s dynamic economic growth during the 1970s strengthened the organization, enabling ASEAN to adopt a unified response to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1979. ASEAN’s first summit meeting, held in Bali, Indonesia in 1976, resulted in an agreement on several industrial projects and the signing of a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, and a Declaration of Concord. The end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s allowed ASEAN countries to exercise greater political independence in the region, and in the 1990s ASEAN emerged as a leading voice on regional trade and security issues.
ASEAN grew when Brunei Darussalam became its sixth member on January 7, 1984, barely a week after gaining independence. On July 28, 1995, Vietnam became ASEAN’s seventh member. Laos and Myanmar (Burma) joined two years later on July 23, 1997. Cambodia was to have joined at the same time as Laos and Burma, but its entry was delayed due to the country’s internal political struggle. It later joined on April 30, 1999, following the stabilization of its government.
In 1990, Malaysia proposed the creation of an East Asia Economic Caucus composed of the members of ASEAN as well as the People’s Republic of China, Japan, and South Korea, with the intention of counterbalancing the growing influence of the United States in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and in the Asian region as a whole. However, the proposal failed because of heavy opposition from the U.S. and Japan. Member states continued to work for further integration, and ASEAN Plus Three was created in 1997.
In 1992, the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) scheme was adopted as a schedule for phasing out tariffs with the goal to increase the “region’s competitive advantage as a production base geared for the world market. This law would act as the framework for the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA). AFTA is an agreement by member nations concerning local manufacturing in ASEAN countries. The AFTA agreement was signed on January 28, 1992, in Singapore.
After the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, a revival of the Malaysian proposal, known as the Chiang Mai Initiative, was put forward in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It called for better integration of the economies of ASEAN as well as the ASEAN Plus Three countries, China, Japan, and South Korea.
The bloc also focused on peace and stability in the region. On December 15, 1995, the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty was signed with the intention of turning Southeast Asia into a nuclear-weapon-free zone. The treaty took effect on March 28, 1997, after all but one of the member states had ratified it. It became fully effective on June 21, 2001, after the Philippines ratified it, effectively banning all nuclear weapons in the region.
On December 15, 2008, the members of ASEAN met in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to launch a charter, signed in November 2007, with the aim of moving closer to “an EU-style community”. The charter turned ASEAN into a legal entity and aimed to create a single free-trade area for the region encompassing 500 million people. President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono stated: “This is a momentous development when ASEAN is consolidating, integrating, and transforming itself into a community. It is achieved while ASEAN seeks a more vigorous role in Asian and global affairs at a time when the international system is experiencing a seismic shift”. Referring to climate change and economic upheaval, he concluded: “Southeast Asia is no longer the bitterly divided, war-torn region it was in the 1960s and 1970s”.
The 2008 global financial crisis was seen as being a threat to the goals envisioned by the charter, and also set forth the idea of a proposed human rights body to be discussed at a future summit in February 2009. This proposition caused controversy, as the body would not have the power to impose sanctions or punish countries which violated citizens’ rights and would therefore be limited in effectiveness. The body was established later in 2009 as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). In November 2012, the commission adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.
ASEAN sought economic integration by creating the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015. This established a common market. The average economic growth of ASEAN’s member nations during 1989–2009 was between 3.8% and 7%. This economic growth was greater than the average growth of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which was 2.8%. The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), which was established on January 28, 1992, includes a Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) to promote the free flow of goods between member states. When the AFTA agreement was originally signed, ASEAN had only six members: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. Vietnam joined in 1995, Laos and Burma in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999. The newcomers have not fully met AFTA’s obligations, but they are officially considered part of the AFTA as they were required to sign the agreement upon entry into ASEAN, and were given longer time frames in which to meet AFTA’s tariff reduction obligations.
In February 2016, United States President Barack Obama initiated the inaugural U.S.-ASEAN Summit at Sunnylands for closer engagement with ASEAN, as China’s economic and trade growth have dimmed. The territorial disputes in the South China Sea were also discussed. However, in a final joint statement, the Sunnylands Declaration did not allude to the South China Sea by name, instead calling for “respect for each nation’s sovereignty and for international law”. Analysts believe the wording indicated divides within the group on how to respond to China’s maritime strategy.
Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) have been agreed upon by ASEAN for eight professions: physicians, dentists, nurses, architects, engineers, accountants, surveyors, and tourism professionals. Individuals in these professions were free to work in any ASEAN nation after the AEC went into effect on December 31, 2015. Applicants must be licensed and recognized professionals in these fields in their home countries. They can move to other ASEAN countries to practice, but they must pass that country’s licensing test. In Thailand, licensing tests will be in the Thai language. In addition, one cannot be an independent practitioner. Any foreign professional intending to work must collaborate with a local business. Given these hurdles, it is unlikely that there will be significant migrations of professionals in the near-term. A Chulalongkorn University study predicts that more developed countries stand to benefit the most from the free flow of professionals.
With the institutionalization of visa-free travel between ASEAN member states, intra-ASEAN travel has boomed, a sign that endeavors to form an ASEAN community may bear fruit in years to come. In 2010, 47% or 34 million out of 73 million tourists in ASEAN member-states were from other ASEAN countries.
ASEAN cooperation in tourism was formalized in 1976, following formation of the Sub-Committee on Tourism (SCOT) under the ASEAN Committee on Trade and Tourism. The 1st ASEAN Tourism Forum was held from October 18-26, 1981, in Kuala Lumpur. In 1986, ASEAN Promotional Chapters for Tourism (APCT) were established in Hong Kong, West Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia/New Zealand, Japan, and North America.
Tourism has been one of the key growth sectors in ASEAN and has proven resilient amid global economic challenges. The wide array of tourist attractions across the region drew 81 million tourists to ASEAN in 2011, up by 30% compared to 62 million tourists in 2007. As of 2012, tourism was estimated to account for 4.6% of ASEAN GDP—10.9% when taking into account all indirect contributions. It directly employed 9.3 million people, or 3.2% of total employment, and indirectly supported some 25 million jobs. In addition, the sector accounted for an estimated 8% of total capital investment in the region.
In January 2012, ASEAN tourism ministers called for the development of a marketing strategy. The strategy represents the consensus of ASEAN National Tourism Organisations (NTOs) on marketing directions for ASEAN moving forward to 2015. In the 2013 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) report, Singapore placed 1st, Malaysia placed 8th, Thailand placed 9th, Indonesia placed 12th, Brunei placed 13th, Vietnam placed 16th, Philippines placed 17th, and Cambodia placed 20th as the top destinations of travelers in the Asia Pacific region.
On August 8, 1997, Thailand released a set of four stamps to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, two stamps each at the domestic first class rate of 2 baht per half ounce and the international rate of 9 baht (Scott #1758-1761). Each stamp pictures a different scenic site within the country: the 2 baht stamps show Thi Lo Su Falls in Tak and Luang Chiang Dao Mountain in Chiang Mai while the 9 baht stamps portray Promthep Cape near my home in Phuket and Thalu Island in Chumphon. All four stamps were printed by lithography and perforated 14½ x 14. The two baht stamps were each issued in a booklet of five.
Promthep Cape (แหลมพรหมเทพ — Laem Promthep) is a headland near the southernmost point of Phuket. Phrom is Thai for the Hindu term Brahma, signifying purity, and thep is Thai for “God”. Local villagers used to refer to the cape as Laem Chao, or the God’s Cape, and it was an easily recognizable landmark for the early seafarers traveling up the Malay Peninsula. The cape is a popular attraction for viewing the sunset and features a lighthouse (a small museum in inside the base and visitors can climb to the top) as well as several religious shrines, souvenir shops, and food vendors. Several battles were fought offshore during World War II and the last British Royal Navy ship to be sunk during that was lies in the waters nearby.
Phuket (ภูเก็ต, pronounced Poo-get) is one of the southern provinces (changwat) of Thailand. It consists of the island of Phuket, the country’s largest island, and another 32 smaller islands off its coast. It lies off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. Phuket Island is connected by the Sarasin Bridge to Phang Nga Province to the north. The next nearest province is Krabi, to the east across Phang Nga Bay. Phuket is approximately 536 miles (863 kilometers). The main island’s length, from north to south, is 30 miles (48 km) and its width is 13 miles (21 km).
Phuket Province covers an area of 210 square miles (543 km²) excluding small islets. It is estimated that Phuket would have a total area of approximately 222 square miles (576 km²) if all its outlying islands were included. Other islands include: Ko Lone at 1.84 square miles (4.77 km²), Ko Maprao is 1.4 square miles (3.7 km²), Ko Naka Yai 0.80 square mile (2.08 km²), Ko Racha Noi 1.18 square miles (3.06 km²), Ko Racha Yai 1.7 square miles (4.5 km²), and the second largest island of Ko Sire with an area of 3.4 square miles (8.8 km²), separated from Phuket island by a narrow causeway.
The main island is mostly mountainous with a mountain range in the west of the island from the north to the south. The mountains of Phuket form the southern end of the Phuket mountain range, which ranges for 279 miles (440 km) from the Kra Isthmus. The highest elevation of the island is usually regarded as Khao Mai Thao Sip Song (Twelve Canes Hill), at 1,736 feet (529 meters) above sea level. However it has been reported by barometric pressure readings that there is an even higher elevation (with no apparent name), of 542 meters above sea level, in the Kamala hills behind Kathu waterfall.
Phuket’s population was 249,446 in 2000, rising to 525,709 in the 2010 decennial census, the highest growth rate of all provinces nationwide at 7.4 percent annually. Some 600,000 people currently reside on Phuket, among them migrants, international expats, Thais registered in other provinces, and locals. The registered population, however, includes only Thais who are registered in a tambian baan or house registration book, which most are not, and the end of 2012 was 360,905 persons.
Seventy percent of Phuket’s area is covered with mountains which stretch from north to south. The remaining 30 percent are plains in the central and eastern parts of the island. It has a total of nine brooks and creeks, but does not have any major rivers. Forest, rubber, and palm oil plantations cover 60 percent of the island. The west coast has several sandy beaches. The east coast beaches are more often muddy. In the mountainous north of the island is the Khao Phra Thaeo No-Hunting Area, protecting more than 20 km² of rainforest. The Sirinat National Park on the northwest coast was established in 1981 to protect an area of 35 square miles 90 km²), including Nai Yang Beach where sea turtles lay their eggs.
There are several possible derivations of the relatively recent name Phuket. It is either derived from the word bukit in Malay (بوكيت in Jawi) which means “hill”, as this is what the island appears like from a distance. Phuket was formerly known as Thalang (ถลาง), derived from the old Malay telong (تلوڠ) which means “cape”. The northern district of the province, which was the location of the old capital, still uses this name. In Western sources and navigation charts, it was known as Jung Ceylon or Junkceylon (a corruption of the Malay Tanjung Salang, i.e., “Cape Salang”),
The Portuguese explorer Fernão Mendes Pinto arrived in Siam in 1545. His accounts of the country go beyond Ayutthaya and included a reasonably detailed account of ports in the south of the Kingdom as well. Pinto was one of the first European explorers to mention Phuket in any detail. He referred to the island as ‘Junk Ceylon’, a name the Portuguese used for Phuket Island in their maps. Junk Ceylon is mentioned seven times in Mendes Pinto’s accounts. Pinto said that Junk Ceylon was a destination port where trading vessels made regular stops for supplies and provisions, however, during the mid-16th century, the island was in decline due to pirates and often rough and unpredictable seas, which deterred merchant vessels from visiting there. Pinto mentioned several other notable port cities in his accounts, including Patani and Ligor, which is modern day Nakhon Si Thamarat.
In the 17th century, the Dutch, English and, after the 1680s, the French, competed for the opportunity to trade with the island of Junk Ceylon, which was a rich source of tin. In September 1680, a ship of the French East India Company visited the island and left with a full cargo of tin. A year or two later, the Siamese King Narai, seeking to reduce Dutch and English influence, named as governor of Junk Ceylon a French medical missionary, Brother René Charbonneau, a member of the Siam mission of the Société des Missions Étrangères. Charbonneau remained as governor until 1685.
In 1685, King Narai confirmed the French tin monopoly in Phuket to their ambassador, the Chevalier de Chaumont. Chaumont’s former maître d’hôtel, Sieur de Billy, was named governor of the island. However, the French were expelled from Siam after the 1688 Siamese revolution. On April 10, 1689, Desfarges led an expedition to recapture Phuket to restore French control in Siam. His occupation of the island led to nothing, and Desfarges returned to Puducherry in January 1690.
The Burmese attacked Phuket in 1785. Francis Light, a British East India Company captain departing the island on his way to Penang (which he later founded at a British colony), notified the local administration that he had observed Burmese forces preparing to attack. Than Phu Ying Chan, the wife of the recently deceased governor, and her sister Mook assembled what local forces they could. After a month-long siege of the town and small fort at Thalang, the Burmese were forced to retreat on March 13, 1785. The women became local heroines, receiving the royal titles Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Si Sunthon from a grateful King Rama I.
During the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), Phuket became the administrative center of the tin-producing southern provinces. In 1933, Monthon Phuket (มณฑลภูเก็ต) was dissolved and Phuket became a province.
I’ve lived in Phuket for more than 12 years now and have written about different aspects of the island’s history on this blog and others from time to time.