Moment of Lightheartedness at Asean Meeting

A small orchestra backs a choir of 20 people clad in long blue dresses as they begin singing to a room full of international delegates. The lyrics of the song scroll slowly along a projector—“Raise our flag high, sky high/Embrace the pride in our heart.”

This is the anthem of the 10-country Asean bloc that, as at all meetings between member states, was performed at the start of this week’s meetings in Phnom Penh between Asean, the European Union and 26 other countries.

“Embrace the pride in our heart/Asean we are bonded as one,” the song continues. “Look­-in out to the world/For peace, our goal from the very start.”

While the spotlight in meetings this week has been on territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the nuclear threat from North Korea, the anthem is one of the more lighthearted mo­ments shared between members of the Asean bloc.

The anthem, entitled “The Asean Way,” lasts for only a minute, but the choir singers are perhaps the only people in the room who know the words to it.

“I don’t pay attention to it that much,” said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, al­though he added that he supported the message of the song. “We still respect each other despite each nation’s choices. That is the principle of Asean.”

Looking at officials present at Asean meetings, it is hard to say whether members of the bloc feel an attachment to the anthem or not. Payom Valaiphatchra, who wrote the lyrics to the song, which was selected to be the regional bloc’s anthem after a competition was launched in 2008, said she had striven to find commonality be­tween the Asean countries.

“In writing the lyrics, I was first telling myself that each word has to be easily understood since the majority of our population does not speak English,” wrote Ms. Payom, who hails from Thailand, in an email.

“In the creative pro­cess, I was asking myself what I would love to see after our integration into one common community—the ideal way of the Asean.”

“Then, a few key words came to my mind—words like pride, bond, care, share, peace, prosperity, to­gether—all are very important elements in building a sustainable society,” she added.

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