The term ‘Southeast Asia’ was first used to define a “war theatre” during World War II. As such, unlike some other regional descriptions, it is not a term with a long or resonant history. However, it is now well-established, as demonstrated by the fact that the main regional intergovernmental body is the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Southeast Asia consisted of those countries that are full ASEAN member states. With the exception of a number of tables, it does not cover East Timor, which achieved independence in 2002 and which is currently applying for membership of ASEAN. The ten full member states of ASEAN are: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma (officially called Myanmar), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The region contains 250 million Muslims and includes the largest Muslim majority country in the world, Indonesia. Southeast Asia has been the focus of much Western attention since the late 1990s in the context of what came to be called ‘The Global War on Terror’.
The region is also globally significant in terms of climate change. In 2000 the region contributed 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a 27% increase from 1990 levels. 75% of these emissions were related to deforestation and the draining of peat lands. These ‘land use change’ emissions mean that Indonesia is in the world’s top five emitters of greenhouse gases, generating about 60% of the region’s emissions in 2000. The region’s global share of emissions has increased over the last ten years and, on current trends, is predicted to increase further over the coming decades. The region is also globally significant for biodiversity. From 1990 to 2005, 41 million hectares of forest in the region was converted to crop or grassland—an area 20 times the size of Wales. Global action to mitigate and adapt to climate change is important for the region as it is considered particularly vulnerable to the predicted negative impacts.