On August 8th 2017 the world community of nations will celebrate half a century since the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the most important regional organization in Asia.
In anticipation of this great event for the ten ASEAN member states with a population of over 630 million inhabitants the company Siam Renaissance had the good initiative of publishing a remarkable book under the title Dr. Thanat Khoman,The Wit and Wisdom of the Leading ASEAN Founder.
This initiative resulted in a real diplomatic gift and has to be warmly welcomed because, indeed, Dr. Thanat Khoman (1914-2016) was one of the most active Thai diplomats and a leading architect who contributed to the negotiation and adoption in Bangkok on August 8th 1967 of the famous Bangkok Declaration which is in fact the birth certificate of ASEAN.
As pointed out by Amarin Khoman, the editorial director of this book of 161 pages, Dr.Thanat Khoman “was a statesman with a strong will, who made it his mission to protect the honor of Thailand with unwavering patience, tolerance, loyalty, honesty, bravery and elegance”. (p.VIII)
The book we are presenting in these pages is a beautiful compilation of relevant quotations that are considered to be timeless and insightful into modern diplomacy and Thailand’s foreign policy.
This compilation realized by Amarin Khoman had the academic advantage of being reviewed by Dr. Sompong Sucharitkul , a great specialist in public international law, who had long served as a close assistant to Dr. Thanat Khoman.
The book contains also a good number of significant illustrations depicting some important episodes from the diplomatic life of Dr. Thanat Khoman.
Before we analyze the content of the book it is quite appropriate to remind some interesting and essential facts from the diplomatic career of Dr. Thanat Khoman.
Born on May 9th 1914, after brilliant studies in Thailand and France, from where he won the title of docteur en droit de l’Universite de Paris, Dr. Thanat Khoman entered in 1940 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand.
He served as a diplomat in Thai embassies in Tokyo, Washington DC, New Delhi and New York. His most important positions were those of ambassador of Thailand to the United Nations (UN) and to the United States of America, while being at the same time accredited to the Republic of Guatemala and Cuba.
From 1959 to 1971 he was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand in two different Thai cabinets.
Among his other international positions mention should be made about his membership in the UN International Law Commission and about the chairmanship of the UN Trusteeship Committee.
Organized in 30 sections, the over 400 quotations start with Thailand and finish with opinions on “World Views”.
A great interest generate Dr. Thanat Khoman’s realistic views about the UN. According to him, “the United Nations is a kind of a balance of power. It is a place where differences, divergencies, problems, conflicts are kept in a state of fluidity, with negotiations, with open statements of course whether vituperative or conciliatory :but it prevents the problems or the conflicts from erupting into a large-scale war. “(p.45)
Today, when we witness a dangerous decline of multilateralism, the wise words by Dr. Thanat Khoman deserve to be reminded and taken into account in the sphere of multilateral diplomacy, while knowing that all international institutions are vulnerable and recognizing that diplomacy is not an easily measurable activity.
From Dr. Thanat Khoman’s perspective, “By creating or by forging regional solidarity , regional cooperation among the nations of this area, we are serving the purposes and the principles of the UN and if all the nations in the world would be animated by the same motives and the same desires, I feel certain that in the years to come the UN will become much stronger than it is now.”(p.46)
The day when ASEAN was established (August 8th, 1967 ) Dr. Thanat Khoman declared:
“From now on it will remain for our nations to show that they are endowed with vision , persistence and the sense of mission to bring to fruition what we have just modestly started . I feel confident that all our five ASEAN founding nations, and others who may join us later, will not be lacking in such virtues”.(p.42)
One year later, in 1968, referring to the mandate of ASEAN, being fully aware of the strategic significance of regionalism, Dr. Thanat Khoman asserted that “ASEAN has been set up to develop a sense of regional consciousness and solidarity among the small nations in Southeast Asia… ASEAN can play a useful and vital role of providing regional solidarity, as well as political stability and economic progress for its members.”(p.44)
All quotations are inspired by a profound pacifism emerging from Buddhist philosophy.
Coming from a diplomatic strategist, Dr. Thanat Khoman’s opinions are crystal-clear in this respect. He stated:
“I believe that the political cohesiveness among the nations in Asia, certainly in Southeast Asia, will be much more useful, much more efficient and much more effective than the old, old style, traditional military alliance… we believe that we should try to deter the other side, the aggressive regimes from taking military actions, through political means, through building up of regional solidarity, regional cohesiveness rather than expecting results from military means.”(p.142)
The last quote in the book is a clear diplomatic message addressed to the younger generation. Dr. Thanat Khoman considered that “we should insist especially on developing our youths, because youths in the future will be playing an increasing role not only in the social but also in the economic, technical and political fields. So we have to imbue the minds of our future generations with a sense of purpose and dedication.”(p.144)
As a great visionary personality, Dr. Thanat Khoman had the chance to see that some of his ideas were accepted and further promoted in a programmatic document in the field of multilateral diplomacy adopted on February 18, 2000 under the title Bangkok Declaration: Global Dialogue and Dynamic Engagement by 192 countries attending in the capital-city of Thailand the 10th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).In accordance with this inspiring diplomatic document “Solidarity and a strong sense of moral responsibility must be the guiding light of national and international policy. They are not only ethical imperatives, but also prerequisites for a prosperous, peaceful and secure world based on true partnership. Such partnership requires more inclusive, transparent and participatory institutional arrangements for international economic decision-making so as to ensure that the benefits of globalization are accessible to all on an equitable basis. In addition, the success of international development efforts depends on account being taken of all stakeholders, including the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academia.”
This is a universal recognition of the validity of the diplomatic thought of Dr. Thanat Khoman The success of UNCTAD’s session in Bangkok was also the result of the robust political efforts of Thai diplomatic leaders as Dr. Surin Pitsuwan and Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi. It should be mentioned that Dr. Surin Pitsuwan was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and became later Secretary – General of ASEAN, while Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi served as Deputy-Prime -Minister, Minister of Commerce, Director General of WTO and was twice appointed as Secretary- General of UNCTAD.
After a careful study of all quotes contained in the book under review , readers may come to the firm conclusion that, indeed, Dr. Thanat Khoman was a venerable statesman of the highest honors whose legacy is being treated with respect and legitimate admiration in Thailand beyond any political seasons.
Situating the book in the current context, readers may join the Editor of this work in accepting the assessment that Dr. Thanat Khoman deserves the fullest commendation in international circles and in diplomacy, foreign affairs, politics, economics and especially in the field of international law. By his rich and diversified heritage Dr. Thanat Khoman brought invaluable diplomatic contributions to Thailand, to the world community of nations and to mankind at large.
The book dedicated to him is a genuine diplomatic gift reflecting the wisdom of the East and it has to be largely circulated in ASEAN area and in all countries having friendly relations with the most representative regional institution in Asia.
- Dr. Ioan Voicu is a visiting professor at Assumption University of Thailand in Bangkok.