Thailand ASEAN’s Chairmanship theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability” resonates with the international trend of advancing into the digital age. But what is a future-oriented ASEAN without everyone moving forward together ?
Like the rest of the world, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has to be future-oriented and resilient while adjusting to the dynamic environment. This means the 10 member states must look to benefit from the technological advances of the 4th Industrial Revolution, enhance competitiveness, and build immunities from disruptive technologies as well as future challenges.
One of the important tasks of the ASEAN Chair is to host meetings at various levels, from Working Groups to the biannual Summit. Earlier this year from 29 July – 3 August 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand hosted the 52nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM), Post Ministerial Conferences (PMCs) with dialogue partners, and other related meetings. Attended by participants from over 30 countries, the AMM/PMC was one of the biggest ASEAN events of the year. “Partnership” was a running theme for the event, and organising it provided an opportunity for Thailand to promote inclusiveness.
While meetings hosted in Thailand this year are promoted as “Green Meetings” (in line with the “sustainability” aspect of the theme), in every meeting venue, boxes are placed to collect pull rings from aluminium cans which are used to produce prostheses.
Delegates attending the last AMM/PMC received chocolate bars made by visually impaired persons from 60 Plus Bakery & Café as souvenirs. 60 Plus Chocolatier is a disabilities-inclusive business collaboration between Asia-Pacific Development Center on Disability (APCD) and MarkRin Chocolate with the aim to provide on-the-job training for persons with disabilities in the food industry. These chocolate bars were also placed on the Leaders’ tables at the 34th ASEAN Summit as well as at the latest AMM/PMC.
Delegates and members of the media who attended the AMM/PMC also received mementos made from recycled materials as well as items produced by local communities, such as handmade tote bags from Trang Province and indigo-dyed passport covers from Sakon Nakhon Province. These products from Good Goods by the Central Group combine local wisdom with quality materials and contemporary designs. This preservation of invaluable cultural heritage provides sustainable income, and in effect happiness, in local communities around the kingdom.
Booths displaying products from Good Goods were set up within the meeting venue together with other booths showcasing products such as items made by visually impaired persons from the “Pakjitpakjai” project, as well as a Sachiko demonstration by the Thailand Association of the Blind and the ThailandPost in the “More than Delivery” project. Sachiko embroidery is an ancient Japanese stitching method utilising a single thread to make geometric patterns that were traditionally done at night without light sources.
To further highlight inclusiveness, Amazon Coffee for Chance opened temporary coffee shops located in the meeting venue and the media centre, staffed by baristas with hearing impairments. Customers had to order their drinks using sign language as displayed on provided information cards, an experience that put smiles on everyone’s faces. The Amazon Coffee for Chance is a project by PTT Public Company Limited created as an opportunity for students with hearing disability from Ratchasuda College, Mahidol University. Currently, there are four branches of Amazon Coffee for Chance which will soon expand to eight branches within this year. The coffee shop also uses cups and straws made from bioplastic. The small yet meaningful set-up showcased an inclusive society with opportunities for everyone to contribute.
While the “advancing” component of the theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability” has always been incorporated in every ASEAN agenda, the AMM/PMC perfectly embodied “partnership”. A partnership towards a seamless, sustainable and digital ASEAN would not be possible without truly including everyone. By engaging persons with disabilities as well as local communities, Thailand has demonstrated a commitment to bring everyone along in the move forward to raise awareness on the issue of inclusiveness. The 35th ASEAN Summit and other related Summits this month will further demonstrate to world leaders Thailand’s commitment to an inclusive future.