Oman’s Look to ASEAN
Unlike other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, the Sultanate of Oman has a relatively limited relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Yet historically, as a maritime mercantile power with an orientation toward the Indian Ocean, Oman has enjoyed commercial, cultural, and political partnerships with countries across the Asia-Pacific region. This legacy, still evident in the vestiges of the Bu’ Saidi Empire of the 17th and 18th centuries and the Non-Aligned Movement throughout the Cold War, enables Muscat to overcome obstacles it would otherwise encounter in strengthening ties with the ASEAN countries.
Oman-ASEAN relations in the modern era date back to the 1950s, yet formal diplomatic relations did not commence until the 1970s and 1980s. The ascendancy of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos in 1970 marked the beginning of Oman’s opening to the world. Unquestionably, nations throughout East Africa and the Indian subcontinent benefited the most from the Sultanate’s opening. But Southeast Asian nations also became of growing interest to Muscat, beginning with Indonesia (1978), the Philippines (1980), Thailand (1980), Malaysia (1983), Singapore (1985), and Vietnam (1992). The establishment of official diplomatic missions by ASEAN countries in Muscat, and by Oman in most Southeast Asian capitals, followed these openings. To this day, Omani-Southeast Asian relations have continued to deepen. This partnership is informed to some degree by different multilateral and organizational frameworks, such as the GCC-ASEAN and the Asia Cooperation Dialogue among others.