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Ever-adaptable ASEAN confronts new tests

After a fruitful 50 years, the bloc is divided by uneven wealth and China's rise

Leaders attend the signing ceremony for the ASEAN Community, which includes the ASEAN Economic Community, in Kuala Lumpur in November 2015.

BANGKOK On Aug. 9, 1967, The New York Times reported the signing of the Bangkok Declaration to inaugurate the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The brief, 80-word article on the declaration -- inked the previous day by five founding foreign ministers -- said the document was "vague about concrete aims and projects." It also derided the agreement as the product of "two days of golf talks" at a beach resort outside the Thai capital.

It is hard to say to what extent the vagueness was deliberate. But those who belittled the new bloc as weak were to be surprised, time and again, in the coming years. As it turned out, the ill-defined aims and functions, as well as the minimum degree of institutionalization, would prove more often to be a source of resilience than weakness.

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