ASEAN Fo­cus

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For­mer ASEAN chief Surin passes away at 68

FOR­MER Thai for­eign min­is­ter and ASEAN sec­re­tary-gen­eral Surin Pit­suwan died of an acute heart at­tack on Thurs­day. He was 68.

Surin col­lapsed while pre­par­ing to speak at the Thai­land Halal Assem­bly 2017 at Bitec in Bang Na on the out­skirts of Bangkok. He was rushed to Ramkhamhaeng Hos­pi­tal and later pro­nounced dead.

A gifted ora­tor, Surin had been in con­stant de­mand and would make up to two or three pub­lic speeches a day.

Thai­land en­joyed a high rat­ing from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity when he served as for­eign min­is­ter in the Chuan Leek­pai govern­ment from 1997-2001. Dur­ing his ten­ure, Thai­land pro­moted re­spect for hu­man rights and democ­racy as the main pil­lars of its for­eign pol­icy.

Un­der his lead­er­ship, he placed Thai­land firmly in the global scheme of things, con­nect­ing the coun­try with all re­gions of the world to over­come the eco­nomic tur­moil of the 1997 Asian fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

As ASEAN sec­re­tary-gen­eral, he over­saw im­ple­men­ta­tion of ASEAN char­ter, which came into ef­fect at the end of 2008. Dur­ing his ten­ure, he helped raise the pro­file of ASEAN in both regional and in­ter­na­tional fora.

Surin was born on Oc­to­ber 28, 1949, in Muang district, Nakhon Si Tham­marat. He grad­u­ated from Tham­masat Univer­sity and earned a master’s de­gree in po­lit­i­cal science in 1972 from Clare­mont Col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia. He then went on to earn a doctorate from Har­vard Univer­sity.

He en­tered pol­i­tics in 1986 as a Demo­crat Party can­di­date and won a seat in par­lia­ment for his home­town in Nakhon Si Tham­marat in ev­ery elec­tion from 1986 to 2005.

Surin was deputy for­eign min­is­ter from 1992-95 be­fore be­com­ing for­eign min­is­ter un­der prime min­is­ter Chuan Leek­pai. He was the sec­ond Thai to be­come ASEAN sec­re­tary­gen­eral, in 2008, serv­ing a five-year term in Jakarta for be­fore re­join­ing the Demo­crat Party.

A for­mer Bangkok Post colum­nist, Surin was a speaker at the Bangkok Post fo­rum “ASEAN @ 50: In Ret­ro­spect” on Novem­ber 16.

His re­marks, punc­tu­ated with em­pha­sis in his trade­mark deep voice, lauded co­op­er­a­tive or­gan­i­sa­tions like ASEAN as a means of “cre­at­ing a space for the re­gion to talk to it­self.” He asked, “How can we un­leash the en­ergy, the cre­ativ­ity, the power of 640 mil­lion peo­ple onto the plat­form of ASEAN?”

He also sug­gested that a new era – pos­si­bly one of less co­op­er­a­tion – may be emerg­ing.

“It has been an age of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, talk­ing to each other in a big group,” Surin said. But, he lamented, “the era of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism is dis­ap­pear­ing.”

“Be our­selves,” he said of ASEAN na­tions. “Be self-suf­fi­cient. Be help­ful to each other be­fore we wait for con­tri­bu­tions from the out­side.”

He was ex­pected to run for Bangkok gover­nor in the next elec­tion.

– The Myan­mar Times/ AP

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