The reason Asean functions is not because the member countries have affection for one another (Steering Asean amid challenges; Jan 14).
It is because we share a common fear. This unites us.
The fear is if we are divided, we may be Balkanised one day, becoming dispensable pieces on the chessboard of the big powers.
Coming together means we can negotiate with China, Japan, the United States or India on an equal footing.
One potential area which can divide us is the South China Sea issue. I recall the failure of the Asean Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh to issue a joint communique on the South China Sea some years back (Asean meeting fails to reach agreement on joint statement; July 14, 2012).
China's nine-dash line claim may seem excessive but it is not without some historical basis, and it is not a new claim.
In the face of the US pivoting away from Asia, Asean claimant countries will necessarily have to recalculate things, including how best to solve the South China Sea dispute, with strong consideration given to preserving Asean unity.
Major powers want a united Asean, too, for stability in this region.
Wong Horng Ginn