While discussing ASEAN meetings, Thai authorities unavoidably give assurances that ASEAN is a primary aspect of the country’s foreign policy thereby invulnerable from the vagaries of local politics, which includes the result of the March 24 election.
At the time of the last meeting Thailand was ASEAN Chair, the reports were about anti-government protesters storming into the ASEAN Summit venue in the resort city of Pattaya in April 2009, leading to the rescheduling of the event and the evacuation of leaders.
This year, Thailand’s go to be ASEAN’s turning chair after a decade, the country’s politics temperature is, by coincidence, all very hot all over again. Thais ‘go’ to the voting booths on March 24, the first general election since the 2014 military coup and under the country’s new, 20th Constitution.
Although the March vote is from another page in the country’s politics storyline, it is not needless to the strong divisions that have run through this Southeast Asian country throughout the last 2 decades. The elections are no doubt an alarming factor in why Thailand uncovered its ASEAN schedule for the early part of 2019, setting the first of 2 ASEAN summits for June rather than the usual April.
It is against this background that Thailand is cooking up a set of essential preparations it plans to assist in this year’s ASEAN “party.”
Thai’s preparations on the ASEAN list !
What are the entries on the Thai menu ? They are an extensive mix – issues that have been on ASEAN’s backburner for quite a while, some that will be among the host country’s pet problems, a few “firsts” it wants to explore, and others made to intensify ASEAN’s integration and centrality in the long-term.
From a more substantial perspective, they are aimed at sending a clear information that Southeast Asian countries standby multilateralism, when researching to the rest of the world, while they accept work to be done in deepening “ASEANhood” within the group and within each country, when looking inward.
After the debates about its role at its 50th year in 2017, ASEAN, as Thailand could have it, is appearing beyond the present Vision 2025 set by its leaders.
The new goal ? Look two decades ahead– to 2040. The Thai governing administration has asked the Jakarta-based Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) to envision how an integrated ‘ASEAN 2040’ region and ASEAN Community would look like, and how to get to that desired destination.
The greatest dish that Thailand really wants to serve on ASEAN’s behalf is the long-delayed free trade agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an ASEAN-led initiative which is now on its seventh year of talks and more than 20 negotiating rounds . A mega accord that groups ASEAN’s 10 members with the 6 countries it has free-trade pacts with – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea, RCEP would also rope in 48% of the world’s population and 32 .3% of the world’s GDP.