The ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations use the phrase “ASEAN centrality” to express the idea that the region’s fate should be decided chiefly by them, and not by outside powers such as China, India, Japan, or the United States. That is an elusive goal given the organization’s institutional weakness. Although the group has issued numerous declarations and adopted a charter, its members have committed themselves to little more than constant meetings. ASEAN was unable to resolve the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98, prevent human rights violations in Cambodia and Myanmar, or stop Indonesian farmers from polluting the air across the region by burning forests. Yet as Narine’s nuanced survey shows, ASEAN has forced outside powers to pay more attention to the region’s collective interests than they would have done if the organization did not exist. And as great-power relations continue to shift, ASEAN may yet prove a force to be reckoned with.
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