Former ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan dead at age 68

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Thailand’s Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, a former Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is shown in this Thursday, May 26, 2011, file photo. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)
Thailand’s Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, a former Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is shown in this Thursday, May 26, 2011, file photo. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)

Bangkok — Former Association of Southeast Asian Nations Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan has died at age 68.  The Democrat Party said Surin died Thursday in Bangkok of a sudden heart attack.

Dr. Surin is a 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 10-member ASEAN from 2008 until 2012. His name was also mentioned as a possible candidate for United Nations secretary-general.

Surin remained active in regional diplomatic circles until his death.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Dr. 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 recognized by global leaders.”

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

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 organizations 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 onto the platform of ASEAN?”

He also suggested that a new era — possibly one of less cooperation — 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.”

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha released a statement of condolence and lamentation over the passing of the noted political figure and diplomat. He wrote that Dr. Surin was a capable and principled member of the political community and long served his nation to the acknowledgement of both his countrymen and the international community. He called his passing a major loss to the Kingdom and urged citizens to follow in his good examples.

United States Ambassador to Thailand H.E. Glyn T. Davies said Surin was “a statesman, a scholar and a visionary who was integral in the prosperity and development of both his home country and the ASEAN region.”

Dr. Surin’s family will be performing funeral rites for him in accordance with the Islamic faith later today with top level officials traveling to his home in Nonthaburi province to express their condolences.

His sister, Huwaideeya Pitsuwan Useng, said her brother’s body will be buried at the Tha It Mosque.