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10-08-2015, 23:13


The image of Southeast Asia mired in the Vietnam conflict and the tensions of the Cold War has become a distant memory. In ASEAN, the states in the region have created the framework for a regional organization that can serve their common political, economic, technological, and security interests. A few members of ASEAN are already on the road to advanced development. The remainder are showing signs of undergoing a similar process within the next generation. While ethnic and religious tensions continue to exist in most ASEAN states, there are promising signs of increasing political stability and pluralism throughout the region. To be sure, there are continuing signs of trouble. The recent financial crisis has aroused serious political unrest in Indonesia and has the potential to create similar problems elsewhere. Burma remains isolated and appears mired in a state of chronic underdevelopment and brutal military rule. The three states of Indochina remain potentially unstable and have not yet been fully integrated into the region as a whole. Finally, the increase in terrorist activity within the region, especially in Indonesia, is ominous. All things considered, however, the situation is more promising today than would have seemed possible a generation ago. The nations of Southeast Asia appear capable of coordinating their efforts to erase the internal divisions and conflicts that have brought so much tragedy to the peoples of the region for centuries. If the original purpose of the U.S. intervention in the Indochina conflict was to buy time for the other nations of the region to develop, the gamble may have paid off. Although the war in Vietnam was lost at considerable cost and bloodshed to the participants, the dire predictions in Washington of a revolutionary reign of terror and falling dominoes were not fulfilled, and some countries in the region appear ready to join the steadily growing ranks of developing nations. To some observers, economic success in the region has come at a high price, in the form of political authoritarianism and a lack of attention to human rights. Indeed, proponents of the view that Asian values are different from those of the West should not be too complacent in their conviction that there is no correlation between economic prosperity and democracy. Still, a look at the historical record suggests that political pluralism is often a by-product of economic advancement and that political values and institutions evolve in response to changing societal conditions. In the end, the current growing pains in Southeast Asia may prove to be beneficial in their overall impact on societies in the region.