ASEAN levels itself up

The turn over of the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from Singapore to Thailand reveals more truths about this group once considered a lightweight in geopolitical alignments and movements.

Time was when ASEAN members were mere appendages of their former colonizers that lorded over world affairs during the cold war and the decades that followed.

But with the rise of Asian economies like China and Japan, the ethnically diverse region has become the high growth crossroads of asia, its young, productive population emerging as partners of the northern Asian states in driving global growth.

As ASEAN economic integration becomes a fuller reality with increased connectivities and programs such as expanding the barter trade in the celebes sea, old economic relationships are renewed, people to people contacts increased, and opportunity for less affluent areas of each member state obtained.

Politically, this influence is strongly felt. World leaders now regularly hold dialogues with the group and western business groups visit the region with increased frequency.

The emergence of strong leaders in its member states like Indonesia, the Philippines and most recently, Malaysia punctuate the newly found political presence of ASEAN on the world stage

This increased assertiveness has reaped common benefits such as the emerging code of conduct in the South China Sea.

With new economic power and political assertiveness rising while the vestiges of the old influence of the western colonizers are slowly fading, ASEAN has become a bloc that can exert its own leverage.

No longer will southeast asians be defined according to their former colonizers. These various countries and cultures have built itself on its own strength and looks forward to gain a deeer leadership role in this increasingly complicated world.