Thailand has continued to push for a stronger ASEAN and a truly integrated ASEAN Community by the year 2015. It is also striving to develop itself into a center of ASEAN. In early August 1967, four ministers from Southeast Asian countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore – were invited by the then Thai Foreign Minister, Dr. Thanat Khoman, to a reception villa at the seaside resort of Bang Saen in Chon Buri.
During their four-day retreat, the Bangkok Declaration was worked out and was subsequently signed at Saranrom Palace in Bangkok on 8 August 1967, giving birth to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.
Forty-two years have gone, ASEAN has achieved significant progress and is on course to realizing the vision and dream of the founding fathers. From five member countries in 1967 to 10 countries at present, from a small forum focusing primarily on economic, social, and cultural issues to the emerging ASEAN Community that will touch on many aspects of people’s lives, it has grown from an unknown entity in Southeast Asia to an international recognized and respected regional grouping. The 10 ASEAN members are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
ASEAN has also enlarged its horizons beyond the region through cultivating external relations with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. It is now increasingly engaged with 10 dialogue partners: the European Union, the United States, Canada, China, Japan, India, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia.
ASEAN is now ready and fully committed toward achieving an ASEAN Community that would be based upon its success in the past, and at the same time heralding a new era of even greater cooperation for more mutual benefits.
In an effort to develop itself as a center of ASEAN, Thailand has set objectives to become a regional energy center, a regional tourism hub, and a regional aviation hub. Thailand is located at the heart of ASEAN, a region that has tremendous business potential and by 2015 will be a market for 600 million people and has combined GDP of over 1.5 trillion US dollars.
Prime Minister of Thailand said that, with Thailand’s improved capacity and solid economic foundations, she believed that the country could act as a hub for production base and regional headquarters of foreign companies in the region, where emphasis is now on the creation of connectivity.
In his remarks at “Thailand’s Investment Environment: Looking Forward” in July 2010 in Bangkok, the Prime Minister stated that besides ASEAN, Thailand also provides linkages, in terms of logistics, between countries that border the Mekong River, including China. It is also a key player in ACMECS and the Greater Mekong Subregion. And with the numerous free trade and investment agreements that Thailand has entered into, and ASEAN has entered into, with countries like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, and India, it is certain that Thailand can become the “Gateway to ASEAN” and a passage to the future of Asia.