Meet our ASEF Family and Friends
Dr. Darmp Sukontasap (ASEF Chair of Board of Governors, 2022)
Dr. Darmp Sukontasap is currently Director and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Export-Import Bank of Thailand (Exim Bank). He is also a Board Member of the Institute of Trade and Development (ITD), a regional research and training institute set up jointly by the Government of Thailand and UNCTAD. His other appointments include Advisor to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Director of the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies (IDIS), Rangsit University.
Tell us about your association with ASEF and ASEM
When ASEM was inaugurated in Bangkok in March 1996 and ASEF was established in Singapore almost a year later, I was not fortunate enough to be involved in their creation because, at the time, I was serving at the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations in New York. However, I do recall the excitement around both ASEM and ASEF and the possible role that we were hoping that they could play in promoting closer relations between Asia and Europe. As you may recall, this was a time when major shifts in the global geo-political environment were taking place. The economic boom in Asia and Europe were also at its peak and the preparation for the launch of the Euro was in its final stages.
Following that, in the year 2000, my former colleague at the Thai Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Busadee Santipitaks, and I saw the increasing role for ASEM in the area of peace and security and we co-authored a paper on that subject matter for the Council for Asia-Europe Cooperation, which was an affiliate of the Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE). But that was the extent of my meager involvement with ASEM and ASEF at the time.
It was not until November 2014 that I was appointed by a cabinet decision to serve in the position of Governor of Thailand to the Board of ASEF. The fact that the appointment has to come from a cabinet decision signifies the importance that Thailand attaches to ASEM and ASEF.
ASEM celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. How do you assess its achievements and potential in the next 25 years? What is the relevance of ASEM today?
Since its inception, ASEM has proven to be a useful mechanism for dialogue between Asia and Europe. The word “dialogue” is used here because ASEM is all about commonalities and shared interests, rather than about negotiation and claiming value.
After 25 years, I believe ASEM remains very much relevant and useful. The fact that ASEM is more “low-key” than other international mechanisms is actually an advantage because meaningful discussions can take place about common interests and concerns, rather than on official positions and national interests of individual countries.
The fact that the 13th ASEM Summit emphasizes the importance of multilateralism, connectivity and pressing global issues, such as Climate Change, is testimony to the usefulness of ASEM in helping to set the direction and calibrate the thinking of over 50 countries in Asia and Europe on the importance of the need to work together to address global issues that are affecting everyone.
Do you agree that Multilateralism in ASEM can only take place in the context of good relations between many Asian and European countries, and tensions between others? How can ASEM as a process maximize the good and minimize the bad, and contribute towards stronger Multilateralism in world affairs? And what role can ASEF play in this regard?
As I have mentioned earlier, both ASEM and ASEF are about promoting better understanding between Asia and Europe, especially at the “people” level. In other words, what we are already doing here every day is actually promoting “multilateralism”. While ASEM discusses the three pillars of the ASEM Process, namely, (a) politics, (b) economic and finance, and (c) social, culture and education, ASEF translates most of the issues discussed into collaborative actions, especially in areas of social, culture and education, where the interaction between the peoples of the two continents can be most effectively realized.
In fact, one other area that ASEF has not touched upon and I believe should be promoted is the area of Travel and Tourism. I do not think that there is a more effective way to promote better understanding and closer people to people exchanges than to encourage peoples of Asia and Europe to visit one another and gain first-hand experience about each other’s way of life.
My predecessor, Ambassador Harve Ladsous of France, and I have had some initial discussions with Ambassador Toru Morikawa, ASEF Executive Director, and Ambassador Leo Faber, ASEF Deputy Executive Director, on this matter. And, during the course of 2022, I hope to continue the discussion with all those who are interested.
Which aspects of Climate Change should ASEM prioritize? COP26 seeks to phase down coal but has limited financing for the transition to green energy. Do you think the short-term interests of Asian and European countries have slightly diverged as a result?
Addressing the problem of Climate Change is a must and it is in everyone’s interest to do so, especially that of our children and grandchildren. Given the necessary political will, the solution is actually within our reach. I believe that continuous efforts should be made by all ASEM member states in a simultaneous and complementary manner. Instead of jointly targeting certain types of industries, as opposed to others, for carbon reduction, I believe that ASEF should focus on the declared commitments and the timetable of individual states and hold them accountable to that.
As for ASEF, we are contributing to being a part of the solution through awareness programs and activities, such as the Virtual Workshop on Climate Change & Public Diplomacy Training, which was held in November and December 2021. It is pretty much the consensus by all members of the ASEF Board of Governors that we should do more in the coming future.
ASEM’s approach to connectivity will be multisectoral without creating new structures, as reiterated in the Phnom Penh’s statement on “The Way Forward on ASEM Connectivity”. ASEF was mentioned in this statement around its role for managing the ASEM InfoBoard. Do you think ASEM officials would welcome ASEF to play a more active role beyond the InfoBoard? If so, how should ASEF prioritise its effort given that it cannot take its resourcing for granted.
Not too long ago, we received findings from a survey done by ASEF that knowledge and awareness about ASEF among the young population of Asia and Europe are still quite low. This is why the Board of Governors of ASEF attached high importance to the need to improve how ASEF communicates with its stakeholders, especially the younger generation of Asia and Europe. During the past few years, much improvement has been made. Improving and refreshing the ASEM InfoBoard is a part of such improvements.
I am very much aware of the limited resources that ASEF has. However, the responsibility given to ASEF to manage the ASEM InfoBoard is an important one, not only for the practical reason that ASEM does not have its own Secretariat, but, more importantly, because ASEF is a part of the ASEM Process and, by helping ASEM to communicate with the world, the links and consultations between ASEM and ASEF can be continuously strengthened. Afterall, the raison d’état of ASEF is to work for the benefit of ASEM member states.
As for the role of ASEF beyond the ASEM InfoBoard, we are already doing that through the many ASEF programs and activities.
You are taking the reins of the ASEF Board of Governors in a milestone year. As ASEF marks its 25th anniversary, what do you think are the ASEF’s achievements and strengths that you would like to highlight?
During the past 25 years, ASEF has grown from strength to strength. Through the years that I have been involved with ASEF, I have witnessed continuous improvements that have been made in the management team of ASEF, the quality of the projects and activities, and the efficiency of how the resources of ASEF are being utilized. Therefore, I believe that the ability of ASEF to continuously improve and evolve in response to the changes at the regional and global levels is the main strength and achievement of ASEF.
Where do you see ASEF headed in the next 25 years? How can ASEF become more of an International Organisation rather than a Non-Profit Organisation? What pitfalls should ASEF avoid?
Twenty-five years from now is a long time. Already, we are seeing how technology is changing the way we do things. Because of technology, people have become closer, and, to some extent, farther away from one other as well. During the past two years, because of the pandemic, ASEF has been doing more and more activities online. But this can never replace face-to-face human interactions. There is also a big difference between flying from Singapore to Paris to visit the people and the sites, and to be sitting in a meeting room in Singapore and having a video conference with our colleagues and friends in Paris.
Therefore, in the next twenty-five years, what I hope to see is that ASEF continues to become an effective tool in bringing the peoples of Asia and Europe closer together. But, as to how things would work, I am afraid it is too distant a future for me to tell.
In practical terms, with 53 members and its funding voluntary, what concrete steps can ASEF take in the next 3-5 years?
To this question, my response would be that it is our job as members of the Executive Committee and Bureau of ASEF to do our best to ensure that ASEF and its activities are as useful and relevant as much as possible to the ASEM Process and the promotion of better understanding between the peoples of Asia and Europe. The more that we can get closer to achieving these objectives, the more people will see the importance of ASEF and would be willing to provide financial and material support for its activities. Therefore, as members of the Bureau, we must do our best to lay a solid foundation for ASEF in order that will be able to function as an efficient international body for years to come.
The way I see it, there are currently many useful projects and activities run by ASEF that would be very difficult for individual countries or group of countries in Asia and Europe to do them on their own. This is where it becomes quite worthwhile for ASEM member countries to help contribute to the success of ASEF, in order to ensure that all of us will benefit from such achievements now and in the future.
Any closing comments?
I believe we can all agree that ASEF can be a very useful mechanism for the promotion of better understanding and closer engagements between the peoples of Asia and Europe. The past two years have been a very difficult period for ASEF. The ASEF Executive Committee, the Management and the Staff at ASEF have demonstrated to us what perseverance and determination is all about. Therefore, let’s work together to ensure that ASEF succeeds in its tasks and continues to create value for all of us in the years to come.
‘Meet our ASEF Family and Friends’ is an initiative where we want to introduce our ASEF Governors, staff, as well as resource experts, participants and friends who have or had some connections to ASEF – to our growing audiences. We hope to show the human side of our networks as we at ASEF strive to remain a core facilitator of people-to-people connectivity within the ASEM region.
The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) is an intergovernmental, not-for-profit organisation which brings together the people of Asia and Europe to address common challenges. Founded in 1997, it is the only permanent institution of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) political dialogue Process and is publicly funded by voluntary contributions from 53 ASEM Partners.
ASEF promotes understanding, strengthens relationships and facilitates cooperation among the people, institutions and organisations of Asia and Europe. ASEF encourages collaboration across the thematic areas of culture, economy, education, governance, media, sustainable development, and public health. Over the past 25 years, ASEF has brought together more than 40,000 people from Asia and Europe, through seminars, workshops, conferences, publications, web portals, grants, and public talks.
For more information, please visit www.ASEF.org