"What these critics missed is that geopolitics trumps geography, that while geography is fixed, geopolitics is not"
Following the “Belt and Silk Road” Summit hosted by China in Beijing in mid-May 2017, President Duterte, current chair of the ASEAN, announced that Turkey and Mongolia both want to join the association. Critics of the administration immediately pounced, saying the president should be given a map, i.e., he does not know that Turkey and Mongolia are both geographically outside Southeast Asia.
What these critics missed is that geopolitics trumps geography, that while geography is fixed, geopolitics is not. For instance, Sri Lanka (in South Asia) and Papua New Guinea (straddling the far reach of Southeast Asia and northern Australia) also indicated interest to join ASEAN some years back, but were not allowed to do so.
Anomalies of geographically-determined groupings abound. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) originally consisted of 12 countries in that zone, but now includes more than half a dozen countries in inland central Europe and the Mediterranean, nowhere near the North Atlantic as originally envisioned.
The Southern Africa Development Cooperation includes countries in east Africa.
For twenty years, India has wanted to join the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), consisting of countries in the Pacific Rim. India is nowhere in the Pacific Rim, but there are economic and geopolitical reasons why it wants to join APEC.
And for years, many Filipinos supported the Philippine statehood movement, which would have joined us to the United States of America, even though geographically, the Philippine archipelago is outside the Americas. Indeed, the state of Hawaii is well outside the continent of North America.
Critics of the Duterte administration tend to be too literal in their understanding of geopolitics in general, and ASEAN in particular. People and countries choose the groups they want to belong. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not. We should all feel proud that countries outside Southeast Asia want to join ASEAN. Indeed, ASEAN can accommodate Turkey’s and Mongolia’s interest through the “ASEAN Plus” arrangement. And who knows, in the future, ASEAN may expand its membership through appropriate amendment of its charter?
Again, although land and therefore geography is immoveable, geopolitics is constantly evolving.