BANGKOK — Thailand should commit to multilateral cooperation with other Southeast Asian nations amid the growing rivalry between the United States and China, a former foreign minister has urged.
Kasit Piromya urged Thailand not to wait for great states to lead, but instead to seek cooperation with fellow small nations to tackle world issues like international crime and climate change. Kasit spoke at a forum on multilateralism organized by Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies.
“Can we work together? We don’t need to wait for the big brothers,” said Kasit.
Kasit predicted a quick end to the trend of unilateral political decision-making heralded under US President Donald Trump, manifest in actions such as the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change and the UN Human Rights Council.
“Populism and Donald Trump will not be influential in the long-term. They’re an aberration,” said Kasit.
Still, Kasit expressed disappointment at the level of leadership coming from key ASEAN states, suggesting that national interest has taken precedence over collective vision.
“Over the years, many ASEAN leaders have looked after their own national interests to ASEAN’s detriment,” said Kasit, adding that small nations need to band together to make their voices heard at the United Nations. “[Otherwise] we will be slaughtered by the US.”
The former foreign minister’s comments came as ASEAN foreign ministers convene in Bangkok this week for the 52nd Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
Despite Kasit’s call for cooperation, other speakers at the conference expressed concerns over the viability of multilateral initiatives such as ASEAN in an era of intense rivalry between two great powers. Ake Tangsupvattana, dean of political science at Chulalongkorn University, expressed concerns that countries in the region are under considerable pressure to choose between the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“Multilateralism is not working for us the way it used to,” said Ake.