ABSTRACT

Southeast Asia stands out as somewhat of a puzzle. It is arguably the most diverse region of the Pacific Basin, and perhaps the world. Its 10 countries feature a range of languages, writing systems, religions, colonial legacies, levels of development, and political systems. The region features Hindu, Buddhist (Theravada and Mahayana), Christian (Catholic and Protestant), and Muslim populations living side by side. Southeast Asian countries endured Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British, French, American, and Japanese colonialisms, while Thailand remained independent. It boasts some of the richest countries in the world, such as Singapore and Brunei, as well as some of the poorest, such as Myanmar and Laos. Politically, one finds authoritarian systems led by armies and communist parties, monarchies, democracies, and all points in between. This diversity makes Southeast Asia a difficult region for students to understand, but also makes it worth the effort. Somehow, despite this immense diversity and a history of conflicts, Southeast Asia also stands out as the most coherent, concrete region in the Pacific Basin. Organized through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the countries of Southeast Asia increasingly speak with one voice.