Regional bloc 'is Thanat's main legacy'

Persuading rival neighbours beset by divisions to form a regional alliance amid a mounting communist threat is a triumphant legacy of late statesman Thanat Khoman, Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Friday.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has become an influential economic community five decades later, he said.

"He made a significant contribution to the country through his diplomatic work and to the Democrat Party as its leader," Mr Abhisit told the Bangkok Post.

"Founding Asean is the lasting legacy of this statesman," said the seventh chief of the 70-year-old party as he praised Thanat, the party's third leader.

Thanat, the last surviving "founding father" of Asean, died at Ramathibodi Hospital in Bangkok on Thursday, about two months before his 102nd birthday.

The funeral rites will be held at his home on Phetchaburi Road in Bangkok's Ratchathewi district for seven days, starting Saturday with royal bathing rites and then every Saturday over the next 100 days.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai called Thanat a "venerable person in Thai foreign affairs", especially during 1959-1971 when he was foreign minister.

"He carried out foreign policy ingeniously with a strong determination to protect national interests and protect the country from threats as well as conflicts stemming from differences of political ideology during the Cold War," Mr Don said.

"This protection was achieved in the form of integration in which he jointly established Asean with regional countries aiming at promoting cooperation both within and outside the bloc."

In the 1960s, Thanat played a key role in mediating territorial disputes between Indonesia and Malaysia. The choice of Bangkok as the venue to declare the founding of Asean on Aug 8, 1967 was an expression of respect for his active role in its formation.

On that day, the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand sat down together in the main hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Bangkok and signed a document later known as the Asean Declaration.

The five ministers — Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narciso R Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat — were hailed as the founding fathers of Asean.

In 1962, Thanat signed a joint communique with US secretary of state Dean Rusk, in which Washington promised Bangkok support against any communist aggressors.

In his condolence statement, Glyn Davies, US envoy to Thailand, said: "As Thailand’s ambassador to the United States and later foreign minister, he did much to strengthen ties between our nations.

"A tough minded patriot and statesman, he defended Thailand’s interests with grit and grace. We mourn his passing."

Sarasin Viraphol, a former ambassador and a China expert, described Thanat as a visionary diplomat, a statesman and an authoritative scholar on diplomacy, international law and Thailand-US relations.

Related search: Thanat Khoman

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Writer: Nopporn Wong-Anan and Chananthorn Kamjan