ASEAN identity key to challenges of the future

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General Secretary Surin Pitsuwan has said ASEAN should tackle transnational challenges as a single community.

Residents of ASEAN nations should forge a new regional identity in addition to their nationality in order to strengthen political and economic integration, ASEAN general secretary Surin Pitsuwan said Wednesday.

This is necessary because the region faces many challenges that spill beyond national borders, like climate change and pandemics, the general secretary added.

Speaking to Thanh Nien Weekly after arriving in Da Nang to participate in first 2010 ASEAN meetings on Thursday, he said the regional body should improve internal coordination, push ahead on a free-trade arrangement with China and carefully consider mutual benefits in deciding developments on the Mekong River.

The meetings in Da Nang comprise the 3rd Meeting of the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) Council; a Special Meeting of the ASEAN Coordinating Council (ACC); and the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Retreat.

Ready to lead

Speaking about Vietnam’s chairing of the regional body this year, Pitsuwan said he was convinced that Vietnam would lead ASEAN very effectively.

In Da Nang, “the four ministers of ASEAN are going to listen to what Vietnam has to describe to them, what Vietnam as chair would like to see ASEAN engaged in the year 2010.”

He said an issue that is going to be rather unique for Vietnam is the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI).

“It’s going to be very unique and very interesting for Vietnam to spell out what she would like the rest of ASEAN and the dialogue partners to cooperate on in reaching the gaps of development in ASEAN.”

Asked to comment on international experts saying that the rampant damming of the Mekong River will soon destroy the water source, Pitsuwan said: “The issue has been in the discussion for long time now. China is very much aware of the concerns of the lower Mekong riparian states.”

The way ASEAN have been dealing with China is based on mutual benefit, he explained. “Where there is already a win-win situation we will continue. Where there is disparity in the benefit, like one party is getting more benefit than the other, we will sit to correct it.”

The management of the resources in the Mekong River is an area that the lower Mekong riparian states are discussing with China, he said.

“We want to make sure that the Mekong River will not be affected, that the environment of the river will not be affected by whatever activities are going on upstream the Langcang River, which is the Mekong River in China.”

New identity

Pitsuwan stressed the need for the people of ASEAN member nations to have a new identity because “we have committed ourselves to integrate economically, politically.”

“On top of being Vietnamese, we would like them to also feel ASEAN.”

He said that as the general secretary he has been communicating with the people, stakeholders, private sector and every single segment of society.

“We are working on it together. It’s not easy because of the language, cultural differences and because of political and governance differences.

“But I think, more and more, people are getting the message and an activity like this today demonstrates to the community that we are connected. Yes, we are more integrated and we are aware of it, because we trade more with each other more... because there are more exchanges among people.

Reported by Minh Hung

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