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Michael Vatikiotis: ASEAN shows its age as it turns 50

Regional complexities, changing group dynamics pose new challenges

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ASEAN flags at Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center in Bali, Indonesia   © Reuters

As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations celebrates its 50th anniversary, the complexity of the internal and external environment is severely testing its approach to cooperative security that rests, above all, on preserving the sovereignty of each of the 10 member states. Geopolitical shifts have increased pressure on ASEAN from Western powers to contain China's rise by reinforcing what Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently called an "international rules-based order" against "the might is right doctrine of bygone eras."

But for a region that has a long history of safeguarding sovereignty by bending and accommodating, rather than making hard and fast rules or standing on principle, ASEAN is struggling to find a rules-based formula that works -- particularly when it comes to China.

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