Only when ASEAN countries understand that it should be "ASEAN first" and not "Thailand’s choice " or "Malaysia’s preference", will the regional political entity be able to project itself as an organisation that is strong and united in commitment.
Thai scholar and politician Professor Kriengsak Chareonwongsak said that such a cohesiveness will also bring advantages to the countries on their own, especially when ASEAN's voice is heard loud globally on issues which affect the individual countries.
I don’t think it is democratic enough in the UN at this current time
Kriengsak is the head of Thai think tank Nation Building Institute, which conducts many studies on issues facing countries in ASEAN. He is also a former Thai Member of Parliament of the Democrat Party, the oldest party in Thailand, until he resigned in 2007.
Currently, ASEAN which was set up in 1967, comprises 10 Southeast Asian countries promoting inter-governmental cooperation on economic, political , security, military, and educational issues.
The Professor concedes that the democratic way in which ASEAN works at the moment relies too much on reaching a consensus between the member countries before a concerted, and therefore effective, action can be taken.
This lumbering process and the need for unanimity as well as the policy of non-interference in the internal politics of member nations further restrict ASEAN’s abilities to project itself as a more effective agent of change regionally. Kriengsak however, is not in favour of ASEAN awarding UN-style veto powers.
ASEAN has often been criticised for not being forceful enough to champion the voices of the region when it comes to speaking up on issues that affect member nations such as trade, environment and political bullying by the superpowers.
"I don’t think it is democratic enough in the UN at this current time," said Kriengsak, unhappy with the veto powers invested in the superpowers.
He explained that ASEAN member nations would not support the idea of awarding `superpower’ status within the organisation with the ability to wield a veto override, if only to move forward in a stalemate situation.
"Imagine if Thailand and Malaysia decided, "Okay, let’s be the two brothers and be the veto". No one will accept that. So, it is not possible.
"We need to work it out together so that ASEAN has an internal agreement and mechanism. So, whenever we have difficulties among us, we would work it out among ourselves, as a strongly knitted organisation that’s important," said Kriengsak.
We need to set the proper scene where every leader do not think 'Malaysia first' or 'Thailand first'
National interests should be treated as secondary to regional interests, said Kriengsak, to enable ASEAN to be a forceful organisation which can speak up on global issues for the region.
"Therefore, we need to set the proper scene where every leader do not think 'Malaysia first' or 'Thailand first'," said Kriengsak.
He pointed out that in the US, President Donald Trump may think that America is big enough to be the first, but he warns against ASEAN members from having such thoughts.
"We have to say 'ASEAN first', and then 'Thailand second' or 'Malaysia second'. Then, we could work (together)," said Kriengsak, calling on leaders of ASEAN countries to be more selfless for the betterment of the region.