On 22 February, Dr Suriya Chindawongse, director-general of ASEAN affairs in the Thai foreign ministry, came to Glover Cottages to give an address on the economic and security challenges of ASEAN and about the upcoming Thai chairmanship of ASEAN in 2019. During his address, Dr Suriya discussed both the internal and external challenges ASEAN faces and particularly highlighted the importance of ‘ASEAN centrality’ within the Asia Pacific region.
He began by highlighting some of the internal challenges of ASEAN. This included an imbalance of rapidly ageing populations in members such as Thailand and Singapore but also growing youth bulges in Cambodia and Philippines. He also highlighted developmental challenges like the rapid increase of growth stunting across South East Asia. To combat these problems, ASEAN has embarked on creating partnerships with external agencies, specifically the world bank, to implement policy such as the new ASEAN Centre of Active Ageing. Furthermore, he highlighted the steps taken to create a ‘people centred ASEAN community’ such as wide scale surveying that prevents an event like BREXIT from occurring.
On the global stage, the rise of new powers has created a new strategic reality for ASEAN to consider. Security hotspots such as the South China Sea and nuclear proliferation in North Korea have contributed to a future of uncertainty. Dr Suriya highlighted the measures that ASEAN has taken to reduce tension such as the heightened importance of the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN regional forum. During the Thai leadership of ASEAN in 2019, Dr Suriya stressed a reenergised focus on building regional architecture that would help mitigate regional tension. He also addressed international concerns about events within Myanmar, reminding the audience of its remarkable leap towards democracy and the constructive role that ASEAN already plays in solidifying government transparency.
As Dr Suriya noted, ASEAN is not insular and perhaps its greatest success is in its efforts to create sustainable partnerships with external actors, particularly Japan, Australia and India. ASEAN in the 21st century is at a crossroads both metaphorically, as it exists in a time of intense technological and social change, and physically, as it is geographically wedged between the two rising powers of China and India. He stressed that the most important role which ASEAN plays, is to place ‘good intentions on good footing’ and to make sure the momentum of positive relations translate into tangible regional action.
Report by Chris Khatouki
AIIA NSW Intern