S African President’s Asean Address Calls for Interaction

Having made history as the first non-Asean head of state to address an Asean Summit meeting, South African President Thabo Mbeki on Wednesday called for new ties between his continent and the trading bloc.

“With the Asean countries, ta­ken as a whole, there is quite a lot of potential,” Mbeki said, speaking to a crowd of journalists before heading to a banquet at the Royal Palace.

Mbeki, 60, came to address the summit as leader of the African Union, a group whose founding he spearheaded earlier this year, in hopes of doing what two generations of post-colonial leaders have tried but never managed: To build a united Third World that can cross a huge economic, political and cultural divide.

This was the substance of his speech to Asean leaders Tues­day, when Mbeki trumpeted his New Partnership for Africa’s Devel­opment.

“We made the proposal that what we need to do is to begin a systematic process of interaction…so that we can identify those areas of cooperation. I’m glad to say that this suggestion was very well received by all the members of Asean,” Mbeki said.

The South African president acknowledged, however, that the task before the two regions is enormous.

“There never really has been any serious interaction,” he said—but then added that he thought the summit was a step in the right direction.

“It was a good meeting,” Mbeki said.

During the 1990s, South Africa convened a Truth and Re­con­ciliation Com­mittee to atone for the racist apartheid regime that oppressed the country for almost a century.

Asked about what advice his country had to offer Cambodia on dealing with the still-delayed accounting for the Khmer Rouge genocide, the South African president was noncommittal.

“I do not know what Cambodia intends to do, but we took a decision we did not want a tribunal,” Mbeki said. “We’re prepared to give any assistance.”


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