• Former Secretary General of ASEAN, DR Surin Pitsuwan, is UBD'S Distinguished Professor
Former Secretary General of ASEAN, DR Surin Pitsuwan, is UBD'S Distinguished Professor

Former Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, recently joined UBD as its first Distinguished Professor - the highest honour of professorship in the university.

The Distinguished Professorship is conferred to individuals of prominent academic or research standing in recognition of their outstanding achievements and services to the national or international community. In his role as a distinguished professor, Dr Pitsuwan aims to bring connectivity to the university in the form of academic intellectual and mindset, especially with matters relating to ASEAN and Islamic ummah.

“I think the word connectivity means more than just physical infrastructure. I think connectivity with a global scene, mindset, regional processes of change, of integration, of evolution -  all these things need to be communicated to the younger generation everywhere,” he said.

Being in higher education institution responsible for honing younger generation into able and responsible leaders of the future, he said it is imperative to look at the potential, the opportunities and the challenges that the ASEAN platform provides for an “integrated, contemporary role” of the unique cultures for the region and the world. “It is a big question, but I think it is the right question,” he added.

Dr Pitsuwan recently delivered a public lecture, in his capacity as Distinguished Professor, on “The ASEAN Community and Its Unique Cultural Identity: Promises and Challenges”. The lecture was jointly hosted by the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Centre for Islamic Studies (SOASCIS), Institute of Asian Studies (IAS) and the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS).

Recalling the beginning of ASEAN, Dr Pitsuwan said ASEAN was born out of diverse cultures and religion coming from similar history of colonialism with a common vision of a solidified community. “We accommodate each other and we are willing to learn about each other from each other. We are loyal to our religions, attached to the values of our community and we also accept the beliefs and norms of our neighbours. Such is the stem of ASEAN.” he described.

The ASEAN economies have also experienced tremendous growth for the past five to six decades. Located at the heart of the Asia Pacific region, ASEAN states have become an emerging hotspot for trade and destination for investment. He noted that ASEAN has become increasingly important to the world than it was many years ago hence, there is a convergence for the ten ASEAN economies.

“Next year is our 50th anniversary, but we have a long way to go into the future, and we have to manage our diversity,” he said of the future. ‘Diversity’ in his terms refer to every dimension such as governance, socio cultural aspects and the economy. The ASEAN Community is premised on three pillars of cooperation: Political-Security, Economic, and Socio-cultural.

The Socio-cultural pillar is of great importance to ensure the ASEAN Community stands strong. It involves integrating a united ASEAN identity for all member states, and provides a sense of belonging to a single community. “If socio-cultural is not solid, the other two pillars cannot make it,” he said.

Some 200 were in attendance at the lecture. Among them were the Ambassadors and High Commissioners of ASEAN states, and Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Wijaya Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Haji Awang Abdul Aziz bin Begawan Pehin Khatib Dato Seri Paduka Haji Awang Umar, former Minister of Education.

Dr Pitsuwan is one of the most well-known and highly respected leaders in the ASEAN region. A native of Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Southern Thailand, Dr Pitsuwan was educated in Thammasat University in Bangkok, Claremont Men’s College in California and Harvard University in Massachusetts. His entire Harvard career studying political science was supported by the Winston S. Churchill Association, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation Scholarships.

Dr. Pitsuwan has been a member of the parliament of Thailand since 1986. He served as Thailand's minister of foreign affairs from 1992 to 2001, as the deputy foreign affairs minister and assistant secretary to the minister of the interior. He is a co-chair of the Commission on Human Security. Dr. Pitsuwan has been a Trustee of The Asia Foundation since 2003. He was the Secretary General of ASEAN from 2008 to 2012.

As a political leader, Dr Pitsuwan spearheaded the ASEAN region to help restore law and order in Timor Leste during the violent uprising in the aftermath of the Referendum in August 1999. He led the ASEAN member states, the United Nations and other international institutions such as World Bank, ADB and other international NGOs to enter Myanmar to rescue the country from the catastrophe of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 and remained there until the mission was accomplished in December 2010.

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