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Forewords to the First and Second ASEAN Reader: ASEAN: Conception and Evolution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 June 2017

Thanat Khoman
Affiliation:
Bangkok
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Summary

On 8 August 1967 the “Bangkok Declaration” gave birth to ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an organization that would unite five countries in a joint effort to promote economic co-operation and the welfare of their peoples.

After repeated unsuccessful attempts in the past, this event was a unique achievement, ending the separation and aloofness of the countries of this region that had resulted from colonial times when they were forced by the colonial masters to live in cloisons etanches, shunning contact with the neighbouring countries.

In effect this historical event represented the culmination of the decolonization process that had started after World War II. Following their victory in the war, the colonial powers tried their best to maintain the status quo. However, since they had not even been able to ensure the protection of their territories against the Japanese invasion, how could they justify their claim to control them again. In their defeat, the Japanese had effectively undermined colonial rule by granting some form of autonomy or even independence to the territories they had earlier invaded, thus sowing the seeds of freedom from the colonial masters. The process of decolonization, inside and outside the United Nations, then advanced at a fast pace and led to the emergence of a number of independent and sovereign nations.

This created an entirely novel situation which necessitated new measures and structures. Thailand, as the only nation which had been spared the plight of colonial subjection thanks to the wisdom and political skill of its Monarchs, felt it a duty to deal with the new contingencies. Pridi Panomyong, a former Prime Minister and statesman, tried to promote new relationships and co-operation within the region. I, myself, posted as the first Thai diplomat in the newly independent India, wrote a few articles advocating some form of regional co-operation in Southeast Asia. But the time was not yet propitious. The world was then divided by the Cold War into two rival camps vying for domination over the other, leading the newly emerging states to adopt a non-aligned stance.

When, as Foreign Minister, I was entrusted with the responsibility of Thailand's foreign relations, I paid visits to neighbouring countries to forge co-operative relationships in Southeast Asia. The results were, however, depressingly negative.

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Information
The 3rd ASEAN Reader , pp. xiii - xviii
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2015

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