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7 Aug 07
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations should engage its people more to avoid becoming an elitist club, the group’s incoming chief said in a report published Tuesday.
“It is extremely important that we engage the people of ASEAN,” former Thai foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan said, referring to the 10-nation bloc by its initials in an interview with Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper.
“It should not be just the monopoly or the preserve of the elites, the diplomats, of political leaders, even some journalists and academics doing some research and writing, or even business people,” he said.
Surin, 57, was speaking ahead of the bloc’s 40th founding anniversary on Wednesday. He was formally named as the next ASEAN secretary general at the annual meeting of the group’s foreign ministers in Manila last week.
Critics have said that while ASEAN has helped preserve peace in Southeast Asia over the past four decades, it has failed to make a difference to the daily lives of the region’s citizens because of its elitist nature.
Surin said he aims to change this.
ASEAN’s citizens should develop a sense of identity and belonging instead of thinking as nationals of individual states, said Surin.
“I think ASEAN should be a common aspiration for all peoples of ASEAN and they must feel emotionally attached to ASEAN,” he said.
“We must engage the youth because it is their future. If the youth or younger generation do not identify with or do not care about ASEAN, we have a problem.”
Surin said his top priority would be to develop the region’s human resources.
“The problems of poverty, lack of opportunity, illiteracy, lack of human resource development are the first priorities for all of us because they are the root causes of all other problems that we have in the region,” he said.
ASEAN, founded on August 8, 1967, is a market of 500 million people. It groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.