Asean turns a new chapter
It was a decade ago when Surin Pitsuwan, as Thailand’s Foreign Minister, took an unprecedented step to reform and revitalise Asean.
He took on Asean’s non-interference doctrine, which he thought effectively blocked the grouping to discuss and address regional crises caused by domestic strife. At the Asean ministerial meeting in Manila in July 1999, Surin proposed ‘flexible engagement’ to deal with problems which may be internal affairs of a member country yet would have repercussions on its neighbours and the entire region.
Unexpectedly, there were opposition from members who feared, without non-interference policy, Asean would come apart at the seams. Ten years later,ur in’s flexible engagement seems to ave found support as members have begun to realise the need for Aseanto be more open to the promotion of human rights and democracy.
The Asean charter, once endorsed and ratified, will see a meaningful integration and enhance the group’s ability to deal with national problems affecting the group. Surin, Asean’s incoming secretary general, has made little comment so far on the immediate tasks awaiting him. Yet, expectations are high Asean will be invigorated by the new charter and the new chief at its helm.
Surin Pitsuwan: A brief profile
From 1977 until 1980, he was a researcher for the Human Rights Studies Program, Thai Studies Institute and the Ford Foundation, Thammasat University,
Surin Pitsuwan earned a Master of Arts from Harvard University and did research at the Amer can University in Cairo as a scholar of the Institute of Higher Council for Islamic Affairs of Egypt from 1975 until 1977 before returning to Harvard, where he received a Ph.D. in 1982.
He was elected Member of Parliament from Nakhon Si Thammarat for the first time in 1986 and became Secretay to the Speaker of the House of Representatives the same year. In 1988, he was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Minister of Interior.
From 1992 until 1995, he served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs before becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1997, serving in this capacity until 2001. He was Chairman of the Asean Regional Forum from 1999 until 2000.
Surin is a member of the Commission on Human Security, a member of the Advisory Board of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, and a member of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation.
On June 18, 2007, Thai cabinet unanimously endorsed Surin as the candidate from Thailand to be the next Secretary-General of Asean, and the Asean meeting in Philippines in August subsequently designated him as the new chief to succeed Ong Keng Yong from Singapore on January 1, 2008.