Your Royal Highnesses,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. In his opening address yesterday, my Prime Minister drew our attention to the new regional and international context for ASEAN’s next phase of evolution and challenged us to face up to both the problems and opportunities. I am not going to pretend that we have arrived at all the answers. This would not be credible. And the essential challenge that ASEAN faces is one of credibility. But I can state with confidence that we have taken a firm step forward in beginning a process of self-renewal.

2. It has been a stimulating and rewarding meeting. When Singapore took over the ASEAN Chairmanship last year, we knew that ASEAN was sailing into uncharted waters in stormy weather. Our responsibility was to keep the ship afloat and prepare to set a surer course to the future when the clouds began to break and conditions became more propitious. Our goals were modest, and I think we have achieved them. It was simply to lay the foundation for the next phase. At least, I hope that colleagues will agree that we have left the ASEAN ship in no worse condition than when we took the helm.

3. The Foreign Ministers’ Retreat exceeded my expectations. Our frank and candid discussions led me to one important conclusion. The challenges that we face – how to integrate old and new members at different levels of economic development and political systems; how to enhance regional cohesiveness without sacrificing national distinctiveness; how, in short, to adapt ourselves to globalization and maximize its opportunities and potentialities while minimizing its downside – are not unique. As we enter the 21st century, every country, every regional and international organization, faces similar challenges in their own way. In this respect, ASEAN is only one specific example of a more general phenomenon.

4. This insight gave us the confidence to proceed. I believe that the free exchange has underscored to all of us that whatever our differences and difficulties, ASEAN was simply too important to all of us to be allowed to fail. What we had achieved over the last 32 years was too valuable to be lightly discarded. I want to thank all my colleagues for having enthusiastically and fully participated in the Retreat. This was an experiment that succeeded only because of you.

5. The issues that we surfaced at the Retreat are complex. There may not be immediate answers to all of them. In fact, some solutions will even engender new kinds of problems. Change is never a comfortable process. But it is an inevitable one. And to successfully adapt we must embrace change, not just as a necessary evil, but as an integral part of our organization. It is a process with no definite end.

6. I now hand over ASEAN’s helm to good hands. I am confident that my friend and colleague, Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan of Thailand, will continue the process of self-evaluation and renewal that we have begun in Singapore. He has a heavy responsibility and a full agenda. He knows he can count on our full support.

7. I now declare the 32nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting officially closed.