Thailand promoting sustainability as new chair of ASEAN

The New Year brought new challenges and responsibilities for the Kingdom of Thailand with the official start of its one-year term as chair country of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as Thai leaders vowed to use the chair to promote sustainability.

“It is incumbent upon us to chart the way forward for ASEAN over the immediate future and into the next half century,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai. “As the driving force for our chairmanship, Thailand has chosen the theme ‘Advancing Partnership for Sustainability’ which, we believe, contains the key elements essential for ASEAN to met the challenges of the next decade and beyond.”

Thailand was a founding member of the then five-country group in 1967. Today, ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The chair country position rotates annually between member states.

Academics and civil society leaders around the region said that under Thai leadership ASEAN should continue to push for free-trade agreements, maintain freedom of the seas and open trade routes, work as a force for regional and global peace and stability, and continue to improve and expand human rights.

Don said that Thailand would help to build an ASEAN that is people-centered in its policies and participation. Over 635 million people live in ASEAN countries, and the grouping is one of the world’s most dynamic and diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, religion, political systems and economic development.

In choosing sustainability as its chair-country theme, Thailand is aligning ASEAN with the United Nations and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. The Kingdom intends to advance sustainability in multiple areas, but Don made a particular point about the group working in partnership to tackle climate change and protect its rich environment and natural resources.

The Foreign Minister also said that Thailand would put emphasis on building a “digital ASEAN,” and urge the group to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution of advanced technologies.

“These so-called ‘disruptive technologies; have the potential to radically improve the lives of our peoples if we are able to catch the wave and make proper use of them. At the same time, if we do not adequately prepare and immunize ourselves from the negative impacts of such technologies, we risk being engulfed by this same wave,’’ he said.

This year, Thailand will host an ASEAN Digital Agility Leaders’ Meeting. Bangkok is home to the ASEAN-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity-Building Center.