For years, ASEAN has looked up to the European Union for its relatively successful regional integration and a role model for establishing a supranational institution. Upon the opening of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, the association has agreed on free movement of labors as an effort to implement a single market. Accompanying the economic growth, the region has attracted many actors to take part in deciding its direction, whether that be the US, China, Japan or India. With the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) being developed after the Cold War to redistribute the power between China and the US in addressing security issues (Weatherbee p.160, 2009), it alludes that ASEAN serves as a strategic ground for superpowers to compete over regional hegemony. For the post-Cold War years, Southeast Asia has undergone economic regionalism which is very much proportionate to the struggle for leadership amongst the East Asian nations, mobilization impact of extra-regional states, and most importantly, the implications on global governance that the region yields.
However, given the disputes over territorial claims of South China Sea, the competition for oil reserves and territorial claims exemplifies the tensions on security, not only on a regional scale but also how external power may seek to participate in unfolding the uneasiness. That is, not only are the member states found on a precarious ground of the internal sovereignty (e.g. Thailand’s Military Junta or Malaysia’s dominant-party system), but the region could be susceptible to conflicts without a regional guarantee of external sovereignty. In the case of South China Sea, ASEAN demands restriction on China’s actions the through the declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (2002) but insofar as the codification is not legally binding, the behavior of the superordinate could not be guaranteed (Shu, Week 10).
With the territorial disputes, mainly in the Maritime nations (except the Preah Vihear case as mentioned), the ARF seeks the instrument of confidence-building and preventive diplomacy which has contributed to a relatively stable security environment in the region over the years despite various challenges to domestic and regional security. Furthermore, the declaration of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in 1995 (Shu, Week 6) along with the subsequent enlargement of ASEAN that welcomed countries from the formerly-different ideologies was also an important stepping stone for the region to move away from the old conduct towards a more peaceful and cooperative framework.