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Cold War Echoes Stirring in Southeast Asia! Thailand and ASEAN Caught in the Crossfire: Will They Survive the Geopolitical Clash of Titans?

With Sino-American competition escalating in Southeast Asia, it’s critical for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to strategize its foreign policy meticulously. Simultaneously, industry experts emphasize the importance of equipping the youth with pivotal life skills for addressing future uncertainties. Such a perspective comes from Assoc Prof Jittipat Poonkham, who serves as an Associate Dean for Academic and International Affairs at Thammasat University’s Political Science Faculty.

Unfolding during a recent dialogue titled “ASEAN and Thai Foreign Policy”, on the ASEAN Day, the professor drew parallels between the current political climate echoing the state of affairs during the Cold War. According to him, ASEAN members, including Thailand, are caught in a geopolitical dilemma where taking sides becomes an inevitability.

Prof Poonkham suggests an alternative, a united front from ASEAN member states that move forward together as a consolidated entity. Drawing an analogy between Thailand’s foreign policies and a flexible bamboo shaft bending with the breeze, he highlights adaptability, pragmatism, and balance as its core principles.

As Thailand develops its foreign policy within the ASEAN framework, it is pivotal to maintain a balanced relationship between the two superpowers and opt for a course most beneficial to the country. He notes, “Thailand, armed with vision, political will, and support, should anticipate the winds of change.”

With a conviction that ASEAN should “lead from the middle,” Prof Poonkham advocates for ASEAN to emerge as a middle power that seamlessly balances the interests of the two superpowers. This strategy necessitates collective leadership to rejuvenate ASEAN centrality. Operating as a united pack bestows the region with solid political leverage, a valuable asset when initiating regional political advocacy aimed at diminishing strategic uncertainties.

Piti Srisangnam, Asean Foundation Executive Director, shares an outlook on ASEAN’s roadmap. Emphasizing projecting 20 years ahead of its ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and cultivating future generations, he portraits ASEAN in 2045 as a community principally populated by the young and children. With other nations grappled with the challenges of ageing societies, ASEAN aims to arm the youth with empathetic character, strategic communication, technological savvy, and industry-specific skills to secure a robust future.

The eminent Thai representative Soontorn Chaiyindeepoom highlights the establishment of a high-level task force for draft the future of ASEAN. This involves continuing goals outlined in ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and focusing on enhancing resilience, fostering competitiveness, promoting social inclusivity, and prioritizing human rights. Thus, harmoniously merging with global efforts and moving forward as a nuclear-weapons-free region.

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