Like red ants on a log floating downstream each certain it is controlling the direction of the flow.” That was the acute observation of a coarse-skinned farmer staring at the TV screen at a small coffee shop in a 100-year-old market in Suphan Buri province in central Thailand when images of the grand Asean meeting in the capital Bangkok were being beamed across the world.
That phrase in some form is familiar to people in rural areas in many parts of the developing world. It must have been with a sense of deja vu that many of them witnessed once again those who seek to represent them swishing through swank hotel lobbies on their way to and from the pomp and circumstance of flag-bedecked conference halls.
One of the stated aims of the meetings was “to leave no one behind” as the region moves inexorably into the future.
Indeed, the chosen Asean theme for this year is “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”. Initially, questions were asked as to what exactly is to be sustained. Some delegates later found clarity and comfort by recalling the last of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), No 17 — “Global Partnership for Sustainable Development”. But then the Asean leaders issued an explanatory “vision statement” in June recalling almost all the Asean documents dating back to its founding days in 1967. Sustainability was later explained in speeches as “sustainability in all dimensions”. Well, so much for clarity and focus.