Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) maps out the road ahead for regional ties in a roundtable discussion with the region's newspaper editors on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Asia News Network.
Excerpts from the first half of their discussion:
Suthichai Yoon (SY), The Nation: In the ASEAN context, how worried are you or other ASEAN countries about the political turmoil in Thailand. Is there anything ASEAN can do?
PM LEE: Well, we are concerned about it because Thailand is a very important member of ASEAN, and if Thailand is preoccupied with domestic difficulties, you will not be able to contribute your full weight to ASEAN endeavours and deliberations. And we see this as a very difficult problem which Thailand, the Thai people and Thai society will have to solve. It is not easy to do; it is a very deep problem. I don't think there is very much which outsiders will be able to contribute to that, even well-meaning outsiders within ASEAN.
SY: Can ASEAN meet and discuss how to help Thailand get out of this?
PM LEE: Well, the two sides need to want to work together and get into a better position. And I don't think they lack opportunities to talk to one another; I mean, they are in the same society and the same city. I don't think we outside of the country have either the authority or the knowledge or the influence, certainly not the power, to cause things to happen which the participants don't want to happen.
SY: But the good intentions are there…
PM LEE: We wish Thailand well, because a prosperous Thailand is very beneficial to ASEAN. It is one of the founding members of ASEAN.
SY: Has the Thai issue, Thai problem weakened ASEAN as a whole?
PM LEE: If you had not had these difficulties, you would have made many more contributions to what we have been working on.
SY: So what is your advice to the Thai leaders?
PM LEE: Well, I think it is not just the Thai leaders but really a matter for the Thai society to be able to find a basis on which to work, which is viable over the longer term and where you are one society and one country. Thailand has always been seen to have the advantage of being the most natural nation in Southeast Asia.
PM LEE: Natural, in the sense you have one race, one religion, one language, one history, over quite a long period of time. Singapore has a very short history compared to Thailand. We are a very artificial country compared to Thailand, because we are multiracial, we don't have one religion - we have many religions, our history was as a colony, was not as a country. So to build a nation out of these conditions is very hard, but to build a nation out of what Thailand has, well, you already have most of the pieces. But evidently there are difficulties which are not easy to overcome and we wish you all the best.
SY: In the ASEAN Charter, is there any clause that could enable ASEAN as a whole to help a particular member country with this kind of domestic conflict?
PM LEE: I think ASEAN has succeeded because we have not interfered with one another's domestic affairs.