AT A time when Asean is facing unprecedented challenges, as a consequence of changes in the geopolitical environment, it is worth recalling the roles played by Asean’s founding fathers in ensuring that the region would enjoy peace and stability.
Professor Kishore Mahbubani has highlighted many of Asean’s achievements (“The modern miracle that is Asean”; last Saturday). I would add two more – Cambodia and Myanmar.
Cambodia would not be the sovereign independent kingdom that it is today if not for the collective will of Asean.
Even though Cambodia was not a member of the grouping then, Asean launched a strident diplomatic campaign to reverse Vietnam’s occupation of it.
In fact, Prince Norodom Sirivudh has acknowledged that it was Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s strong support for King Sihanouk and for Free Cambodia that kept the efforts going for over 10 years.
In Myanmar, it was not the sustained Western diplomatic pressure or decades of trade embargoes that brought about change, but the hand of friendship Asean offered.
Critics of Asean appear to be fixated on the grouping’s perceived inability to establish an Asean Economic Community by this year, even describing it as a millstone round the grouping’s neck (“Single community dream a millstone round Asean’s neck”; March 26).
Such statements are made without an appreciation of the views of the founding leaders on regional integration.
Mr Lee, in the book Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, said: “The logic of joining markets is irrefutable and it will happen. This is going to be a slow process.”
When asked whether he was disappointed at the slow pace of integration, he replied that he was not, but was “surprised that we have made this amount of progress”.
The pioneer leaders of Asean knew that region building is best achieved in an atmosphere of unity, trust and confidence.
These attitudes are needed even more today to face the challenges of the decades ahead.