I am pleased that the World Economic Forum has chosen this Summit to take place in this modern city of Asia whose leader for the past two decades has been playing a vital role for the development and prosperity not only of Malaysia but also of the developing countries.
Indeed, Asian perspectives have been better appreciated within and outside Asia by leading Asian statesmen such as Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, to name but a few. Admittedly much valuable effort by those leaders has helped respective Asian countries to achieve higher goals for the benefit of their respective people. But, admittedly too, Asia as the world’s important continent is still in need of greater cooperation at the time when the other continents of the world have decided to launch various kinds of region-wide cooperation, from the most fully integrated to a much less integrated form of continent-wide cooperation.
On my part, never do I believe that this is the time for any of us in Asia to afford to sit back and enjoy whatever heritage our predecessors have left for us. Never….because I believe that Asia as a whole still has a lot more to offer for the betterment of the Asian people than what we actually have at present. Geographically and culturally, we may be a continent of diversity. But our diversity leads to rich resources while rich resources are the basis of our strength. It is only imperative upon all of us to effectively build our strength upon our diversity, no less.
As I speak today, Thailand has emerged from the ground zero of economic crisis and bounced back.
We are now ready to reap the benefits of globalization and liberalization, but this time, better prepared and better equipped, to do it in a sustainable way.
To put what I have said in an Asia-wide perspective, it is an encouraging sign that our region is on the road to recovery. This means that now is the best time to renew Asia’s foundations of growth by building on our diversity and comparative advantages, which is the theme of this Forum. Now is the best time to forge our strategic partnership and reawaken our inner strengths. If the Asian countries can engage more with one another, Asia will be stronger than today. I believe Asia’s future rests upon its ability to harmonize the region’s diversified characteristics and to develop a sense of unity and, at the same time, a sense of interdependence. I have all the reasons to substantiate my words.
I was very pleased that since I took up office I found out that this same view had been shared by no fewer than 17 other Asian leaders from the westernmost to the easternmost of the continent. What happened in Cha-Am, Thailand in June this year marked the testimony of this conviction…. The Asia Cooperation Dialogue or the ACD was then inaugurated. We were able to translate our vision into action.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the reasons Thailand has been thinking of .a forum such as ACD is because prior to and after the Financial Crisis of 1997, we had in place various international forums addressing the parameters for cooperation between state to state and function to function. We had in place various regional organizations and commissions dealing with different aspects of regime negotiation and discussion, be they tax regimes, territorial boundaries, and so forth. But, we had had no forum for cooperation and dialogue on the continent-wide basis to serve as a catalyst to support both our individual countries and the existing regional groupings with strength from within.
Approximately 3.2 billion people or more than half of the world’s population live in Asia. Asia accounts for a quarter of the world’s exports and global GDP. Asian economies represent one third of the world’s economy. Over one trillion US dollars or over half of the world’s foreign exchange reserves are from Asia. With abundant natural resources: from gold and spices to natural gas and petroleum; with human resources and valuable assets; and with its scale of food production, Asia should be an amazingly rich continent! But are we?
In reality, poverty amongst our people remains one of the major problems that we, many countries in Asia, are seeking to overcome. Poverty makes it harder for each of us to be a strong trade partner between ourselves. Poverty makes it harder for each of us to be strong and healthy trade partners with the rest of the world. Despite our rich potential, basically we are still poor. A rich continent, weakened by its poverty.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The ACD is not just a cooperation. The ACD is not just a dialogue. But, simply, the ACD is both a cooperation and a dialogue. It is a capacity building process based on trade, economic, social and possibly political cooperation dialogues, relying upon the flexibility and a comfort level of all its participants. Driven by positive thinking, the ACD will be an evolving, informal, and non-institutionalized, open and inclusive process. The ACD, as an Asia-wide forum, will fill in the gap left by this continent’s “missing link” between existing inter-regional groupings such as APEC and ASEM, and existing sub-regional groupings, such as ASEAN, ASEAN plus 3, SAARC, BIMST-EC and GCC. The ACD will create synergy among bilateral, multilateral, sub-regional and regional strategic partnerships in areas of common interests.
Although the ACD was initiated by Thailand, it became abundantly clear from the consensus in June that the ACD belongs to all of Asia. Therefore, the ACD must enable Asia to create more wealth from its diverse potential. It must enable Asia to create more wealth and reduce poverty to the minimum, if not completely eradicated. It must enable Asia to create more wealth that makes our Asian continent a stronger market both for intra-Asian trade and trade with the rest of the world. To be sure, ACD will not only be limited to the government sector. We have invited the private sector and academic circles to participate as well, especially since we would like to work on the ACD on a strategic basis without trying to seek consensus on every project of cooperation. Therefore, consensus will be on a group basis, not a consensus of the whole.
In a nutshell, the ACD must be a forum for Asia to pool its inner strengths to create an environment of win-win state of affairs for a wealthier and more prosperous Asia and for the rest of the world.
Entrusted as an initial coordinator of the ACD, Thailand is working very closely and keeping constant contact with our 18 partner-countries (including Myanmar) to ensure that various projects are taking shape within this strategic partnership network. I have instructed Foreign Minister Surakiart to keep up with the momentum by hosting an ACD Foreign Ministers’ breakfast meeting during the UNGA session in New York just last month. The 18 ACD participants have shown their willingness and commitment to be “prime movers” in many areas of cooperation such as e-commerce, agriculture, transportation linkages, biotechnology, SMEs, poverty alleviation, IT development, tourism, e-commerce, energy security and an institute of Asian standards. I am certain that by June next year when we meet again in Chiangmai, Thailand, for the 2nd ACD Ministerial Meeting, the harmony of our diversity will bear fruit.
Distinguished Participants,< /p>
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While following Asia’s 1997 financial crisis, the capacity-building effort in Asia must, on the one hand, be urgently implemented. On the other, however, innovative and initiative thinking in the financial area is needed to help us in Asia to avoid the recurrence of the economic crisis.
That financial crisis has taught us many expensive lessons,
We learned that our foreign reserves could not deal with the impact of short-term capital flows. Sadly and paradoxically, such flows that had been inflicted upon us were the result of other people’s using, manipulating and managing our own capital, very much against our own interests.
We learned that it must be left to us to adopt a new model of development best suited to us and the international environment, bearing in mind the rapid changes in global demand, consumption and over-production. This important task of adopting such a model should no longer be left to anyone but ourselves.
We also learned that countries in Asia, have to be dependent on the resources available to us and build our own strength upon them.
And we are learning that the twin calamities of the 1997 Financial Crisis and the events of 9/11 are choking the two main growth engines of the world, the United States and Japan, in such a way that they may not be able to restart their engines over the short term.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Some of the lessons learned, and the ACD was born.
Yet, the capital and financial agenda remains to be redressed to ensure the full and sustainable recovery of our Asian economies.
With the total combined international reserves amounting to over one trillion US dollars, or over half of the world’s foreign exchange reserves, and with adequate savings, should Asia be suffering from a liquidity dilemma? What are the devices to be created to prevent the recurrence of abuses of our savings by others?
Isn’t it time for Asia to explore the setting up of an Asian Bond market as a financial instrument to help in maximizing our continent’s potential and prevent exploitation of our reserves by others against the interests of oursel ves ?
One of the ways suggested for the development of an Asian bond market is to establish a fund to purchase bonds issued by Asian countries through, on a voluntary basis, mobilizing 1 percent of each country’s reserves. Asia also needs a reliable Asian credit rating agency to have a transparent and impartial analysis of bond issuers and credit ratings. In this way, Asian bond can play an important role as a financial option for both public and private sectors within and outside Asia.
It should also be noted that during the Fourth Asia-Europe Meeting or ASEM 4 in Copenhagen only a few weeks ago, the leadership of the EU and Asia agreed to work towards a closer ASEM economic partnership by setting up an action-oriented Task Force to study areas of cooperation between the two regions. This includes studying the potential of an Asian bond market and a Eurobond market. The findings of this Task Force will be reported to the Fifth ASEM in Hanoi in 2004. While the EU seems to offer Eurocurrency and Eurobond to us in Asia, is it an appropriate time for us to offer Asianbond to our European partners? Given the strength of Asia in terms of population and foreigri reserves, our European partners should have a good reason for optimism of this initiative. It is, therefore, our task to help each other develop this idea and have it concretized in the near future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Asia is to face many more challenges, both positive and negative. We cannot wait to react to such challenges. But we must be proactive with our sense of self and dignity, and with our sense of realism. .Whatever initiatives: the ACD, the Asian bond, or anything else, however bold, however unprecedented, and however hard but if they are based oh realism and do come straight from the heart with genuine commitment, they should be worthy of consideration. Asia today has started to lag behind other regions despite our vast potential.
We have no time for complacency.
I, for one, will be fully committed to returning Asia to the days of prosperity by combining our diverse strengths for mutual benefits. But this is not a one-man’s task. Nor is it any single country’s effort. It is only through collective and concerted efforts of all of us in Asia were we to have any chance to achieve the New Asian Realism.
The collective and concerted efforts to create the New Asian Realism…That is all I am calling for, no more no less.
Thank you very much