Bangkok, 8 September 2008
Your Excellency Dr Sahas Bunditkul, Deputy Prime Minister and Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Your Excellency Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to address this distinguished gathering today. The ‘ASEAN Lecture Series’ is a well-established annual regional forum with high-level participation from various sectors of the ASEAN community. This year’s Lecture is convened at a very crucial juncture in history after the signing of the ASEAN Charter last November.
I, personally, have fond memories of ASEAN. As the Governor of Bangkok eight years ago, I had the honour to welcome Foreign Ministers from both ASEAN Member Countries and Dialogue Partners participating in the 33rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and Post Ministerial Conferences. This year, I am pleased to have a chance to welcome ASEAN and East Asian Leaders to Bangkok once again as Thailand is hosting the 14th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits in December.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
When Dr Thanat Khoman first proposed the idea of regional integration back in 1967, I could not help but wonder how it could be possible during the Cold War, and with bilateral disputes between countries in the region still fresh in memory. But he and his colleagues from the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia were so determined to make it possible. Together, they addressed previous shortcomings to create a regional organisation. However, with sheer determination and political will, as well as trust and sincerity, they succeeded and now we have all seen ASEAN evolve into a major and vibrant organisation.
ASEAN has gradually evolved and is now on course to realise the vision and dream of the Founding Fathers. From five member countries in 1967, it now has ten countries. From a small forum focusing primarily on security issues, it is now an emerging ASEAN Community that will touch people’s lives. It was an unknown entity in Southeast Asia, but is now an internationally recognised and respected regional grouping.
In the political and security area, ASEAN political instruments, such as the Declaration on the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN); the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC); and, the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) have all been instrumental in building trust and confidence as well as enhancing Preventive Diplomacy within the region.
On the economic front, the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1992 providing a boost to regional economic growth. Last year, intra-ASEAN trade amounted 404 billion US dollars which accounts for 20% of total ASEAN trade. ASEAN foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow also reached 52.4 billion US dollars in 2006, 28% higher than the previous year’s total inflows. Intra-ASEAN FDI showed a strong 66% surge from 3.8 billion USD in 2005 to 6.2 billion USD in 2006, accounting for 10% of total FDI inflows to ASEAN.
More importantly, the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint adopted by ASEAN Leaders last year will serve as an important roadmap for the realisation of the ASEAN Economic Community by the year 2015. The Blueprint will make ASEAN a single market and production base through free flow of goods, services, investment, skilled labour and freer flow of capital.
But even with liberalisation of trade in goods and services, it would still be a challenge for us to fully utilise ASEAN economic integration if much of the region remains disconnected from global markets. Therefore, regional cooperation in infrastructure development has been strengthened so that ASEAN will be connected with networks of roads, rail, air and sea linkages which will facilitate trade, tourism and people-to-people connectivity.
When I spoke to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers during my term as Bangkok Governor back in the year 2000, I spoke of how Bangkok could serve as the crossroad between Europe and Asia, the halfway point from Germany to Japan or Australia. ASEAN is more of the same. The main difference is that ASEAN is not only the crossroad between two regions, but has become the centre of activity in the Asia-Pacific region.
ASEAN is the central force and architect of important regional frameworks such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Community or APEC; the Asia-Europe Meeting or ASEM; and, the ASEAN Regional Forum or ARF. Through the cultivation of external relations with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, ASEAN is also serving as the link between the Eastern and the Western hemispheres.
Most recently, when Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in early May 2008, causing losses of more than 80,000 lives and immense damage to the country’s economic growth, ASEAN once again proved its relevance.
The ‘ASEAN-led mechanism’ under the ASEAN-UN partnership framework, has been instrumental in coordinating relief efforts from all across the continents to the cyclone victims. Thailand is proud to have contributed Don Mueang International Airport as a UN staging area for relief flights.
Despite ASEAN’s impressive track record or past successes, ASEAN is not a perfect organisation. ASEAN needs to re-position itself to be more active and competitive by intensifying regional integration. ASEAN should aim to be an even more outward-looking regional grouping and a community of caring and sharing societies.
The signing of the ASEAN Charter in 2007 was a significant milestone in ASEAN community-building process. Once it enters into force, the Charter will provide a legal and institutional framework to make ASEAN a more rules-based, people-centred, effective and efficient organisation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
From its inception, ASEAN has always been the cornerstone of Thai foreign policy. Being the birthplace of ASEAN, Thailand is determined to see a relevant and dynamic ASEAN – an ASEAN that has the support and active involvement of its peoples. We want to make sure that ASEAN embarks on this new era with peoples at the heart of our agenda.
Let me reiterate once again that under Thailand’s Chairmanship, we will give priority to realising our commitments under the ASEAN Charter and to revitalising a people-centred community. Efforts will be made to ensure that all the details necessary for the establishment and implementation of new ASEAN organs as envisaged in the ASEAN Charter will be in place. The establishment of the ASEAN human rights body, in particular, is expected to be completed by the end of our Chairmanship.
We also want to make sure that ASEAN is able to address and alleviate issues affecting the people’s well-being in a concrete manner, thus reinforcing human development and security for all peoples in the region. To this end, cooperation in the field of food security, energy security and disaster management will be strengthened.
I personally believe that a community could not be a real community without its own peoples having a sense of belonging and ownership. We will therefore reach out to our peoples to make sure that they are on board with the ASEAN community building process. My first ASEAN functio
n after assuming the ASEAN Chairmanship in late July was to launch a series of promotional activities to raise ASEAN awareness. Priority is given to the youth as they will be the ones who will carry the ASEAN torch into the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One and a half years may be the longest term of Chairmanship in ASEAN’s history. But it will not be long enough for us to realistically think that we can achieve all the necessary elements for the future ASEAN community. We will therefore do our utmost to chart out a course that will lead to ASEAN’s ultimate goals.
As time and tide waits for no one, we have to be action-oriented and try to make things happen as much and as soon as possible. With the cooperation of people such as yourselves who represent all sectors of society, we are confident that by the end of our Chairmanship in 2009, we will have been able to lay a solid foundation for an integrated people-centred ASEAN community.
Thank you very much for your attention and I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.