Southeast Asia is a hard region for anyone to straddle. There is no common language, sovereignty is strongly asserted, and there are plenty of deeply-felt enmities. If there was one man in recent history who managed to overcome some of these obstacles and project the region's vitality and importance it was Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand, who died of a heart attack on Nov. 30 at the age of 68.
Surin was best known as a gregarious, always obliging, and highly articulate statesman who first came to prominence as foreign minister of Thailand in the 1990s, and later served as secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations from 2008-2013. Had it not been for the political polarization of his country from the turn of the century, Surin might have been chosen to replace Kofi Annan as United Nations secretary-general. There was a lot of international support for his candidacy at the time.