Feb 15, 2013

Thailand - Academics seek to separate Asean history from SE Asia

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Not all Asean countries are in the Southeast Asian region, so the history of Asean and Southeast Asia should be separated, an academic said at a recent discussion. The seminar was also urged to write an Asean "people's history".

"We cannot tell the same story when talking about Asean and Southeast Asia in terms of history. Asean was established only about 45 years ago, while Southeast Asia existed well before that. More than a century ago, each Southeast Asian country chose either to be isolated or become a republic. After 1960, each country was in the process of building a nation, moving toward a new administrative system and economy. They became more integrated," Prof Thanet Aphornsuvan, from the Pridi Banomyong International College at Thammasat University, said.

He was speaking at a seminar on "Living Together under Social and Cultural Diversity in Asean" held by the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) was created on August 8, 1967.

"After 1960, Asean countries began to share similar internal changes in each country. Every country has had an authoritarian regime, and we have all experienced similar internal problems and sadness. Thus, we should write about what has happened in Asean and this will become our identity," Thanet said, adding that the history of each country since then has had more internal conflicts related to political changes than external conflicts with other countries in the region.

"We don't have to look into ancient history or conflicts in Southeast Asia when we talk about Asean," he added.

He also called on Asean countries to create a common history based on shared political changes and problems in order to create better connectivity among the people.

"It will be challenging when we see Asean history in this new aspect, instead of telling separate histories of the 10 member countries. This will make it easier to develop an understanding among the countries."

Meanwhile, Chalida Tajaroensuk, director of People's Empowerment Foundation, called for a "people's history".

"There have been many good examples of the Asean people, but they have not been talked about that much. For instance, not many people know that during the dispute over the Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border, people from both countries living near the border worked together to search for facts and find ways to end the dispute," she said.

Chalida added that accounts like this would help Asean people to understand each other and make adjustments.

The UNDP will include data from the seminar in its Human Development Report, while the TRF will make the information public via its newsletter.


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