5 things you didn’t know about ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the impact of the digital revolution

What is ASEAN?

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an intergovernmental organisation that seeks to promoted economic stability in Southeast Asia. ASEAN is also one of Australia's key diplomatic partners.

1. Home to 8.7% of the world’s population

With over 640 million inhabitants, ASEAN represents 8.7% of total world population. By comparison, the European Union has about 512 million people, and the United States around 327 million people in 2018. After China and India, ASEAN is the most populous region in the world.

ASEAN’s population is also very young, with over half between the ages of 20 to 54, and one third aged 0 to 19 years old in 2017.

2. One of the most diverse regions in the world

Despite its motto “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”, ASEAN is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world.

ASEAN is home to hundreds of different ethnic groups, each with their own distinct culture and traditions. Southeast Asia is a region of enormous linguistic diversity where thousands of languages are spoken.

Indonesia alone has recorded over 300 different native languages – the national language Bahasa Indonesia is spoken as a mother tongue by only 7% of the country’s total population, yet over 200 million people speak it as their second language.

ASEAN is also characterised by a great diversity of religious beliefs and practices, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Animism.

3. Australia’s largest two-way trading partner

Ahead of the United States and Japan, ASEAN and Australia’s trading relationship exceeds $100 billion a year.

More than 100 million people are estimated to have joined ASEAN’s workforce over the past 20 years, and another 59 million are projected to be added by 2030, making ASEAN the third-largest labour force worldwide. The region has successfully balanced economic growth with human development, lifting millions of people out of poverty.

4. Crucial geopolitical significance

Since its establishment in 1967, ASEAN has continued to play a key role on the world stage in combating a variety of transitional security challenges. Through its strategic geographical location in the heart of the Indo-Pacific region, ASEAN has played a significant role in preventing a range of territorial disputes, notably in the South China Sea.

ASEAN is also a contributor to the world’s food security and is one of the most productive agricultural baskets in the world. In 2012 it produced 129 million tons of rice, 40 million tons of corn, 171 million tons of sugarcane, 1.44 million tons of soybean, and 70.34 million tons of cassava.

5. In the midst of a digital revolution

49 percent of ASEAN’s population lives in urban areas. This mass urbanisation has been accompanied by rapid expansion in connectivity across the region, fuelled by the high literacy rates of the under-30 population.

In 2017, it was recorded that there were 147.2 mobile phones per 100 persons and 48.5 internet subscribers per 100 persons in the region. There is also widespread use of social media with Indonesia ranked third in the number of Facebook users in 2018, after India and the United States.

Whilst the digital revolution has brought about significant political, economic and social progress in the region, many countries have also been marred by regular fake news scandals and the spread of hate speech and harassment online.

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10 member states of ASEAN

  • Brunei
  • Cambodia
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

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