Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Group picture of the Swiss delegates and representatives of ASEAN
The Swiss delegation and the representatives of ASEAN at the third Joint Sectoral Cooperation Committee Meeting. © ASEAN Secretariat

Established in 1967 and composed of ten member states, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the most important intergovernmental organisation in Southeast Asia. It facilitates regional integration and cooperation, promoting peace and security, economic well-being and human development.

In 2016, Switzerland became a Sectorial Dialogue Partner in order to strengthen cooperation with Southeast Asian governments and to expand its ties with the Asia-Pacific region.

Why are Southeast Asia and ASEAN important for Switzerland?

Southeast Asia is becoming increasingly important in global affairs. The region is home to 8.6% of the world’s population and generates 3.5% of its GDP. Taken together, the ASEAN countries make up the sixth largest economy in the world with a market of more than 650 million people.

At the end of 2019, Swiss companies had invested around CHF 40 billion in ASEAN countries, up from CHF 2.3 billion in 1995. Switzerland figures among ASEAN’s ten largest foreign direct investors. In the tourism sector, more than 650,000 overnight stays in Switzerland were booked by Southeast Asian tourists in 2017, an increase of 50% from 2013 to 2019. Around 20,000 Swiss citizens reside in ASEAN member states while 25,000 citizens from the ASEAN region reside in Switzerland.

ASEAN is the leading multilateral organisation in Southeast Asia. Increased engagement with Asia and with Asian regional associations are an integral part of Switzerland’s foreign policy. ASEAN offers an ideal platform for peer learning between states, developing international norms and standards and tackling global issues at regional level.

Which are ASEAN’s structure, principles and goals?

ASEAN is composed of ten member states: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. ASEAN has three ‘communities’, the Political-Security Community, Economic Community and the Socio-Cultural Community. Each community issues a ‘blueprint’, a document forming the basis for its activities.

The ASEAN Secretariat is based in Jakarta, Indonesia, and has numerous offices and administrative centres throughout the region. The chairmanship of ASEAN rotates annually and key meetings take place in the country which currently holds the chairmanship. ASEAN is at the centre of other regional fora, such as ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, Republic of Korea), the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. It maintains privileged relations with other states and organisations, with whom it enjoys varying degrees of association; there are ten Dialogue Partners (Australia, Canada, China, EU, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, USA) four Sectoral Dialogue Partners (Norway, Pakistan, Switzerland, Turkey) and two Development Partners (Germany and Chile).

How does Switzerland work in partnership with ASEAN?

Switzerland became a Sectoral Dialogue Partner in 2016. This partnership strengthens Switzerland’s presence at the multilateral level in the Asia-Pacific region as well as its bilateral relations with the ASEAN member states. Fields for potential cooperation between Switzerland and ASEAN are jointly identified in an action plan (ASEAN-Switzerland Practical Cooperation Areas 2017–2021, see links). The four priority areas are: 1) human security, 2) vocational education and training 3) climate change and social forestry, 4) disaster management and risk reduction. The partnership is assessed once a year at a meeting of the Joint Sectoral Cooperation Committee. High-level political dialogue takes place during the annual ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, when the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) or the State Secretary meet with their ASEAN counterparts.

Who within the Federal Administration has contacts with ASEAN?

The Embassy of Switzerland in Indonesia represents Switzerland’s interests with regard to the ASEAN Secretariat. Relations with ASEAN and its member states are led by the Asia and Pacific Division of the FDFA’s Directorate of Political Affairs in Bern. To this end, it works in coordination with other units both at the FDFA and in other federal government departments.