What Is ASEAN And Why Is It Important For Southeast Asia?

As tension rise over the South China Sea, the U.S. is taking more interest in ASEAN nations. So what is ASEAN and why is it so important?

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Obama hosts ASEAN summit, a first in the U.S. (latimes.com)
"President Obama on Monday will kick off a two-day summit with 10 Southeast Asian leaders at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, the first-ever such meeting on U.S. soil."

The Founding of ASEAN (asean.org)
"On 8 August 1967, five leaders - the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand - sat down together in the main hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok, Thailand and signed a document."

ASEAN: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (cfr.org)
"The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is an alliance promoting economic and political cooperation by fostering dialogue among its ten members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam."

Forging an ASEAN Identity: The Challenge to Construct a Shared Destiny (academia.edu)
"ASEAN has formulated a planned integration among its ten member nations and has challenged its citizens to embrace a regional identity."