Asean has been a success, and the stability of the region depends on the unity of the 10-nation bloc, said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday.
"Having persevered for the past 51 years maintaining peace and stability within the region despite its members' diverse political, economic and cultural fabrics, Asean as a regional grouping has indeed been a success," he said before graduating students at Thailand's Rangsit University, shortly after being conferred an honorary doctorate in arts.
"The stability and prosperity of our region rely heavily on a united and integrated Asean," he said, urging Asean to make the most of its 630 million population by investing in essential services and projects within the region.
Tun Dr Mahathir received an honorary doctorate degree in the field of social leadership, entrepreneurship and politics at the private university in Pathum Thani province north of Bangkok. During his two-day trip, which ended yesterday, he was accompanied by his wife Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and other government officials.
He praised the "solid partnership" between Thailand and Malaysia.
"We have had our differences in the past, but it was all resolved through mutual understanding and discussions. These differences have never led us to lose sight of the essential understanding and goodwill in our relationship," he said.
"We are confident that under the able leadership of Thailand, Asean will continue to move forward together and meet the rapid changes and uncertainties on the local landscape," he said. Thailand assumes chairmanship of Asean next year.
This is Dr Mahathir's second trip to Thailand since he assumed premiership following Malaysia's landmark election in May, when longtime ruling coalition Barisan Nasional was toppled.
During his earlier visit in October, he pledged to do his best to help end the violence in Thailand's southern border provinces, where a separatist insurgency has been raging for more than a decade.
Malaysia is facilitating talks between the Thai government and an umbrella group touted as representatives of the insurgents.
In a press conference after receiving the honorary doctorate, Dr Mahathir said the peace process in southern Thailand is going well under former police chief Rahim Noor, but these issues cannot be solved overnight, The Star newspaper reported.
"There are many factions in southern Thailand, and this misunderstanding cannot be solved overnight," the Prime Minister said, adding that the important thing is to end the violence there. Tan Sri Rahim was appointed to facilitate the peace talks between the Thai government and Mara Patani, the umbrella body representing militant groups in southern Thailand.