Most colourful Asean summit ever
The 15th Asean Summit at Cha-am must go down in history as the most colourful with additional soap opera-like interventions. Only Thailand could have handled such a messy affair and come off with flying colours.
Big plaudits should be given to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and their 30,000 nervous officials, both in uniform or plainclothes, for successfully hosting the event.
Throughout the summit, both Abhisit and Kasit did not lose their cool, especially when the mercurial Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen commented on the love he had for the fugitive Shinawatra Thaksin just before he joined the summit.
The media went berserk over the story after General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh revealed to the press that Hun Sen had a house ready for Thaksin and an advisory job for him if needed. For Thai-Cambodian relations it was a family feud that other Asean countries would find it hard to comprehend.
There has been a stream of negative publicity regarding the political uncertainty in the past nine months, coming from the red-shirt groups and Thaksin’s spin masters at home and abroad. Worse of all was the most recent spate of rumours about the health of His Majesty the King. It was aimed at undermining, if not destroying, Abhisit’s ability to be an effective host. If the plan had succeeded, his political leadership would have been in tatters.
But Abhisit has nine lives. After all, he has survived all political plots, big and small. He is the luckiest Asean chair who has represented the country in two G-20 summits – in London and Pittsburg. And he is going to co-chair the next Asean-US summit in Singapore. No wonder a number of Asean leaders, especially those who have been in power for a long time, are jealous.
After more than 15 years of procrastination, Asean finally established the much awaited Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The Thai chair played a major role in seeing it through. Of course, this rights body in itself is toothless. That explains why Thailand has been trying to promote the participation of civil society organisations.
Indeed, some senior Asean officials have been unhappy with the Thai liberal attitude toward non-governmental players. Too bad representatives of Asean-based civil society organisations (CSO) from five countries walked away from dialogue with their leaders.
Both the leaders and CSO representatives are more concerned with their respective representatives. Mutual trust is still lacking. In the end, the two sides could not compromise. So, Thailand’s long-term plan to institutionalise the interface between them fell flat. The next Asean chair, Vietnam, has to pick up the pieces next April.
One thing that an Asean summit has never failed to deliver is it provides a platform for other dialogue partners to exchange views on their common vision with Asean. On that score, Abhsit has done well by articulating the pivotal issues affecting Asean and dialogue partners.
Too bad, the kind of drama and excitement one witnessed throughout the Thai chairmanship will be absent from now on. Vietnam has meticulously mapped out its 12-month chairmanship what it wants to achieve for Asean and for the host.
By KAVI CHONGKITTAVORN
Published on October 26, 2009