GCC and ASEAN: A growing friendship

Arthayudh Srisamoot, Deputy Permanent Secretary, and Reaven D’Souza, Managing Editor

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) are like minded on many issues and have similar views on the global agenda and multilateralism, disclosed Arthayudh Srisamoot, Thailand’s deputy permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs in an exclusive interview with The Times, Kuwait.

“We need to engage together to strengthen our relations and encourage more people to people contacts,” he said,  pointing out that Kuwait is an important country in the region and continues to play a vital role in the United Nations Security Council by promoting peace and stability in the world,

He further emphasized on the crucial role that Kuwait can play in bridging the gap between the developed and developing countries while also promoting UN reform.

He extended his gratitude to Kuwait government for hosting the secretariat of the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) that is an important forum to get countries in Asia to cooperate.

Srisamoot said Kuwaiti investments in the ASEAN bloc were significant and the region provided many investment opportunities from transportation and logistics, to hospitality and many more. The potential to open business in the region is substantial as ASEAN countries also have an abundance of several natural resources.

The deputy permanent secretary also praised the long period of cooperation between the Gulf states which was established in the nineties and said there was a lot of potential to further enhance this relationship.

“The Gulf states are a major source of energy and the ASEAN region is an important source of agriculture and also tourism. We need to maintain close cooperation between these two important blocs and continue to have dialogue on global issues,” he pointed out.

He further noted that the Gulf states and ASEAN are like minded people. “We share similar views on the global agenda and multilateral issues such as peace and prosperity, as well as economic development, so we need to engage together. The GCC is also an important centre for a lot of international meetings.

On Saudi Arabia he said relations were getting better and there were high level delegation visits. “Saudi Arabia is an important country in the region and hence it was important to engage on a positive level,” he noted

As chairman of the ASEAN for 2019, Thailand is promoting the theme of ‘Advancing Partnership for Sustainability’, which is main agenda Thailand wants to drive during its chairmanship. Elaborating on this the deputy permanent secretary said that the three main elements were:

To develop cooperation with our external partners,

To be more future-oriented – that is prepare the people for the future challenges and external environment and re-educate people, whether its climate change or the digital revolution, and

Sustainable Development, which means that all the tasks such as education, climate  change, etc will be integrated in order for the future to be sustained.

Srisamoot noted that at present ASEAN was relatively peaceful as there was a lot of cooperation between member states and sustainable economic growth in the region. But he pointed out that challenges remain, especially due to superpower rivalry in the region.

He said competition in terms of ideology and promotion of free Indo-Pacific trade were some of the issues that needed to be addressed. Trying to attract US interests in the Asia Pacific region in terms of encouraging trade were necessary, as was the need to address certain disputes in the region, such as the South China Sea.

As a political grouping ASEAN is well respected and accepted by all powers for their endeavors to promote regional and international cooperation. “Everybody accepts the mediating role by ASEAN and as a middle power we provide a platform,”  he pointed out

ASEAN has also fully supported the Rohingya refugees return to their homeland and sought an international needs assessment team to prepare for their repatriation and coordinate with Myanmar so when the refugees return to their homeland, the right environment is created for education and employment opportunities.

Since its founding in the seventies, ASEAN members have been able to accelerate their economic growth, social progress, cultural development, promote regional peace and stability, and maintain beneficial cooperation.

The main achievement of ASEAN has been the maintenance of an uninterrupted period of peace and stability during which the individual Member Countries have been able to concentrate on promoting rapid and sustained economic growth and modernization. The dynamism of the Southeast Asian economies is something many countries would like to acquire for themselves. For about 25 years from 1970 to 1995, ASEAN’s GDP grew at an average annual rate of 7.0 percent. Today, Southeast Asia has a total market of about 640 million people and a combined GDP of more than US$2.9 trillion.

By Reaven D’Souza
Managing Editor