Myanmar is an ASEAN member. India and Bangladesh are bordering countries of Myanmar.

Why are India and Bangladesh not members of ASEAN?

Also, what happened to East Timor and Papua New Guinea?

  • 5
    Bangladesh and India are not South-East-Asian Nations. They are South Asian.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 19:26
  • 4
    Would the other ASEAN members want it? India is so large it would presumably swamp decision-making etc. - a bit like if the USA joined the European Union. The advantage of bodies like ASEAN and the EU is that no one member is large enough economically, or demographically to dominate. Though Indonesia is large it is nothing like the size of India.
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 5, 2021 at 7:31
  • The indian sub-continent has its own political / economic grouping called SAARC. India is also part of the BRICS economic alliance.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 7:48

4 Answers 4


The simple answer is their geographical location.

India (and Bangladesh which is surrounded by India), is a part of South Asia while ASEAN is an organization of South-East Asian Nations.

South East Asia (ASEAN) enter image description here

South Asia (SAARC grouping) enter image description here


This is because the countries that formed the nucleus of ASEAN in 1967, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand & the Phillipines generally had a pro-USA line, especially after the vicious anti-communist genocide in Indonesia in 1965 which reportedly half a million - with some stating figures upto 2 or 3 million - of the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party were murdered. The Atlantic confirms that the USA supported Suharto's genocide, stating:

A batch of diplomatic cables covering the dark period ... show, the US officials knew most of his voctims were entirely innocent. US embassy officials even recieved updates on the executions and offered to help suppress media coverage.

According to The Atlantic, this was a major turning point in the Cold War (though given the scale of the genocide, one can hardly call this war, a 'cold' war). This suggests that ASEAN was set up as a part of the USA grand containment strategy against the rise of communism since the early 20C.

India, on the other hand, although inititially sympathetic to the USSR and Mao's China (Nehru had a slogan, for example, India-China Bhai-Bhai. Bhai meaning brother in many indian languages), attempted to take a line that steered clear of cold war super-power rivalries. This was formalised in the 1955 Bandung conference in Indonesia where the non-aligned movement was born.

Given this, it's not surprising that India and Bangladesh didn't join ASEAN. Whilst, East Timor & Papua New Guinea, given their levels of development, are observor states in ASEAN.


India: hard to really pin down motivations, but ASEAN was originally founded, in 1967, to counter regional Communism.

The creation of ASEAN was motivated by a common fear of communism.

At the time, India took great care to present itself as a non-aligned country, with perhaps even a slight bias towards the USSR (judging among other things by its historical weapon purchases then).

So that might very well explain why it didn't join then. Why hasn't it joined now? I don't know enough to speculate about that. However it is loosely associated with ASEAN through ASEAN plus six but not Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.


India and Bangladesh are members of SAARC. Joining two small regional organizations seems redundant.

India signed a free trade agreement with ASEAN countries called AIFTA. Bangladesh might do the same in the future. But joining as a full member will create political, military, and other unnecessary overheads where both countries have very little to gain.

  • what about BIMSTEC? isnt that redundant also?
    – user366312
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 3:06
  • 1
    What do you mean by “redundant”, and why would it be a factor in their policy here?
    – Sneftel
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 7:01

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