With the weekend summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, Asean hopes not only to
address current regional problems but also to set the regional bloc on
a course to greater world influence
Photo by: Sam Rith
Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary general of Asean, speaks to journalists at a ceremony in Jakarta.
DESPITE the global economic crisis and political woes in key member states, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has the potential to become an influential regional organisation, say analysts and officials, many of whom hope this weekend's 14th annual Asean summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, will provide the bloc with necessary direction to become a true global power.
Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School who has served twice as Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations, said, "The biggest advantage for Asean now is having made friendships with the United States, China, Japan, India, Russia and others."
"Asean is very good that it does not allow itself to become tied to anyone's power," he told journalists.
Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general for Asean, said 11 countries had already appointed ambassadors to Asean including the United States, Japan and China, and he expects all 27 EU countries to appoint ambassadors soon.
Many observers, like Scot Marciel, the US ambassador to Asean, said that the regional bloc was heading in the right direction, but Chia Siow Yue, senior research fellow for the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, urged the 41-year old Asean to move more quickly in strengthening the coalition.
"In my opinion, Asean should move faster and faster," she said. "Asean member countries still do not trust each other. They are still reluctant."
Kishore Mahbubani said the EU could consolidate quickly because the member countries shared a common Christian tradition, but Asean is a mix of Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and others, which makes collaboration a slow process.
Asean chief Surin Pitsuwan agreed, saying, "The reason why Asean member countries are reluctant to agree on some difficult issues is because of the diversity among the member states ... We are not like the European Union."
Vitavas Shrivishok, the Asean director general of Thailand, hoped that next weekend's Asean summit in Hua Hin, would help transform Asean into a more unified bloc. He said the most important of the documents that will be inked is a seven-year plan that will act as a road map for a stronger Asean community.
"This document," he said, "contains the political, economic, social and cultural blueprints [of Asean's future]."