Obituary: Surin Pitsuwan, Thai politician, diplomat, possible UN secretary-general

Surin Pitsuwan, politician and diplomat. Born: 28 October, 1949 in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, Thailand. Died: 30 November, 2017 in Bangkok, Thailand, aged 68.

Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Surin Pitsuwan

Former Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan has died at the age of 68 after a sudden heart attack.

Surin is former lawmaker from the party who also served as Thailand’s foreign minister in the late-1990s under a Democrat-led government. He is best known for his time at the head of the ten-member ASEAN from 2008 until 2012. His name was also mentioned as a possible candidate for United Nations secretary-general.

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Surin remained active in regional diplomatic circles until his death.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Surin “contributed greatly to the advancement and interest of ASEAN, as well as the promotion of ASEAN on the international stage. His outstanding personality, knowledge and wisdom were truly recognised by global leaders.”

Surin appeared to be in good health before he died. Posts on his Facebook page show him visiting a Bangkok co-working space the day before he died.

Two weeks ago, Surin spoke at a conference marking the 50th anniversary of ASEAN.

His remarks, punctuated with emphasis in his trademark deep voice, lauded cooperative organisations like ASEAN as a means of “creating a space for the region to talk to itself”. He asked: “How can we unleash the energy, the creativity, the power of 640 million people on to the platform of ASEAN?”

He also suggested that a new era – possibly one of less co-operation – may be emerging.

“It has been an age of multilateralism, talking to each other in a big group,” Surin said. But, he lamented, “the era of multilateralism is disappearing”.

“Be ourselves,” he said of ASEAN nations. “Be self-sufficient. Be helpful to each other before we wait for contributions from the outside.”