This study has critically investigated the theory and practice of noninterference in Southeast Asia. Rejecting the dominant consensus in the existing scholarly and journalistic commentary on ASEAN, it has shown that ASEAN members have frequently violated the sovereignty of other Southeast Asian states. However, it has not simply tried to debunk non-interference by citing these violations as proof of ASEAN’s ‘organised hypocrisy’. Rather, it provided an analytical approach that both recognises the existence of historical sovereignty regimes and enables us to explain when non-interference is transgressed and respected. Sovereignty was theorised as a strategic device, a technology of power used by dominant social forces within ASEAN states to control the scope of political conflicts and to uphold particular forms of social, economic and political order. ASEAN’s sovereignty regime can only be properly understood in relation to the social conflicts underpinning ASEAN states, and the wider context of economic and geopolitical transformation in which they are embedded. The historical survey of ASEAN’s sovereignty regime since its inception to the present day falsified the notion of ‘non-interference’ as a timeless, unchanging norm, showing that the principle is actually relatively dynamic, shifting in terms of its content and application as the nature of state power and the challenges faced by state managers have evolved.
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