3M Principle as the Multidimensional Principle of ASEAN in Achieving Partnership for Sustainability

Angelo Wijaya
4 min readFeb 18, 2019

As the Chairman of ASEAN in 2019, Thailand chose “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability” as the theme of its leadership this year. In an address on November 15, 2018, Thailand PM Prayut Chan-o-cha delivered a speech before ASEAN leaders during the closing ceremony of 33rd ASEAN Summit that can be broken down into three major parts. First, he highlighted the changes and challenges in the region and the role that ASEAN can play. Secondly, he explained the theme and the rationale behind it. Thirdly, he introduced the 3M Principle and the approach that can be employed to achieve the goal that has been set for this year.

Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand received the gavel from PM Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore as the symbol of transfer of Chairmanship.

Southeast Asia region and the world is now under threat of unilateralism and protectionism. In his address on November, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha mentioned that trade and political competitions are among the disconcerting concerns that ASEAN will face in 2019. In a separate occasion, Arthayudh Srisamoot, Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs spelled out that increasing competition between major powers, retreat of multilateralism, nationalism, trade protectionism, and widening trust deficit between nations as the challenges in the region before the audience in a public lecture in ISEAS, Singapore. In addition to that, many are expecting ASEAN to wrap up the negotiation on South China Sea (CoC) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by the end of this year.

Thai PM Chan-o-cha explained that the “sustainability” in 2019’s theme refers to sustainable security and economic growth, among others while “partnership” refers to the opportunity to make use of ASEAN-based regional architecture as a place for dialogue such as ASEAN Plus scheme, EAS, and ARF. The word “advancing” is chosen to represent the rapid growth of advancement, including those of brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the importance of optimizing those advancement for the development in the region.

In the same speech, PM Chan-o-cha also laid out the 3M Principle to achieve the goals in 2019, which refers to mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual interest. My read and take would be that 3M is a multidimensional principle in which trust is a inseparable part of regional construction in Southeast Asia, respect is an inherent value of the organization (ASEAN), and interest is part of a way forward. To put it bluntly, in the past ASEAN has been able to build trust among the member states and to reduce trust deficit in the region. However, as said by Arthayudh Srisamoot, trust deficit between nations is now on the rise. By emphasizing mutual trust, Thailand would like to remind other members to remember ASEAN’s root to trust-building.

Secondly, mutual respect, which has been the ASEAN value since its founding should also be emphasized in a year of turbulence. That being said, ASEAN members should not forget its chief value. Therefore, presently ASEAN should uphold this notion still when members are heading to solve common problems. Thirdly, a great emphasis should be put on mutual interest. As it has been a major ground that has driven ASEAN together to where it is today, mutual interest as a region should guide ASEAN and its leaders in the future to advance together so that “sustainability” in the form of sustainable security and economic growth can be achieved. In short, mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual interest resemble the dimensional approach of the past, present, and future.

Additionally, ASEAN leaders should not only realize, but also should always bear in mind that Southeast Asia should never be a region of competition, but cooperation and trust. If this is they way that ASEAN will play out in 2019, we should not be doubtful that South China Sea Code of Conduct and RCEP negotiations that reflect ASEAN’s goal on sustainable security and economic growth can be wrapped up before the New Year Ball drops in 2020.


ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute. (2019, January 11). The 19th ASEAN Lecture on “Thailand’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2019: Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”. Retrieved from https://www.iseas.edu.sg/medias/event-highlights/item/8882-the-19th-asean-lecture-on-t hailand-s-asean-chairmanship-2019-advancing-partnership-for-sustainability.

Parameswaran, Prashanth. (2018, November 29). Thailand’s ASEAN Chair Challenge in 2019. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2018/11/thailands-asean-chair-challenge-in-2019/.

Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva. (2018, November 19). “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”: Prime Minister announces theme of Thailand’s 2019 ASEAN Chairmanship. Retrieved from http://www.thaiembassy.org/permanentmission.geneva/en/news/4749/96501-“Advancing -Partnership-for-Sustainability”:-Prime.html.