Ha Noi, 26 October 2010

PR-101026

An engagement with stakeholders this morning has demonstrated a strong sense of ownership among the ASEAN citizens, when the Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, held a ten-country video conference with representatives from seven of the ASEAN Member States, as well as with Australia, India and Japan. The dialogue was held to include the stakeholders on ASEAN’s work and prepare them on what they can expect from the 17th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits, which will be held later this week in Ha Noi, Viet Nam.

During the two-hour dialogue which was broadcasted from Ha Noi, academia and researchers, representatives from civil society organisations, and members of the media posed a wide-ranging set of challenging but important questions to Dr Surin. The queries covered issues such as next weekend’s general elections in Myanmar, human rights, Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship next year, as well as the global financial crisis and free trade area agreements.

But most questions centred around the peoples of ASEAN – the community building efforts to reach an ASEAN Community by the year 2015 and its progress and challenges. Questions were also raised on fair employment opportunities and migrant workers, as well as environmental issues such as climate change and haze, development in teachers’ training, women’s participation in society, youth development, and sports.

Dr Surin said the ten-country video conference this morning, which was hosted by the ASEAN Secretariat and supported by the World Bank and the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN), is a demonstration of a form of regional connectivity. He added that the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which will be deliberated upon and adopted by the ASEAN Leaders during this week’s Summit, will be the foundation to better link the region, which will in turn bring political, economic and social benefits to the entire population of ASEAN. The Master Plan is an important document as a well-connected region will help to increase the competitiveness levels of the Member States and of ASEAN collectively.

The following are some of the responses to the questions received during the dialogue:

On ASEAN Community Building, Dr Surin said that ASEAN is committed to be a people-oriented organisation, and the ASEAN Charter has made ASEAN a more open and more prepared platform to address the various issues raised by the ASEAN Leaders on behalf of their people. He added that as long as ASEAN has all the right documents, protocols, regimes and roles in place to lay the groundwork for an ASEAN Community by the year 2015, there is no doubt that the three Communities and the deadline will be met with success. He reminded, however, that due to the differences in the various economic levels among Member States, some countries might gain sooner while some countries might take a longer time to benefit, citing the Mutual Recognition Agreements which allow ASEAN citizens to freely work in seven disciplines in the region, as an example. But he reminded that no grouping starts with perfection right from the very beginning, so it would be worth the effort to ensure all economies benefit from achieving the ASEAN Community. He said that by 2015, more than 600 million people in ASEAN Member States should call ASEAN their home, and to achieve this, the region should collaborate closely and not be divided.

On youth development, Dr Surin said that youth is the majority population of ASEAN and ASEAN has many advocacy projects that are designed to reach out to them to help them understand the role that they could play. Teachers, he highlighted, have the heavy responsibilities of producing inquisitive, mature and well-balanced students. The Dialogue Partners with a better grasp of the English language could help ASEAN schools strengthen its fluency of ASEAN’s official working language. Parents, meanwhile, have the enormous supportive role of preparing their children to recognise their skills and talents, as well as external opportunities, and to encourage them to take advantage the large landscape that is full of opportunities for those who have a healthy sense of competitiveness and unafraid to pursue their ambitions. He also acknowledged sports to be a very important avenue for community building, and did not rule out the possibility for the entire ASEAN region to jointly host one of the future World Cup games in the future.

On the East Asia Summit (EAS), which holds the spotlight for this week’s meetings, Dr Surin said that there is no doubt that East Asia has become a new engine of growth, by pulling the global economy along the recovery path, because the region has demonstrated an admirable level of dynamism after the global financial crisis shook the world. EAS growth is expected to be over 9 per cent, which has a better forecast than the growth of developed countries of a little less than 2 per cent. Against this optimism, he added, ASEAN has the potential to play a modulating role in many variations of architecture and cooperation. Dr Surin added that ASEAN Leaders are unanimous that the EAS should include the United States and Russia, but he clarified that their membership will only begin next year, not at this week’s Summit. He clarified that the United States will be represented at this Summit to observe the atmosphere in order for the United States to prepare their inaugural participation at next year’s first Summit in Indonesia, while Russia will be represented at this Summit due to the 2nd ASEAN-Russia Summit to be held at the sidelines. He also added that the world is confident of ASEAN’s role and as of today, 44 countries have appointed their Ambassadors to ASEAN to be close and contribute to the work of ASEAN, in addition to the Member States’ representation in the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN, whose members are based in Jakarta.

On economic recovery, Dr Surin expressed his confidence that ASEAN will exceed the economic forecasts of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and ASEAN Ministries of Finance, as ASEAN positions itself with China, India and Japan, which enables it to draw synergies from those super powers. ASEAN, he added, has coveted the role of spearheading the evolution of East Asia and any movement that could derail ASEAN as the centre of economic growth will be deeply felt by the other economies. ASEAN has also been repeatedly invited to the G-20 Summits because it has proven its leadership and resilience in the global financial crisis when it recovered faster and with less damage than the other regions. Dr Surin reminded the implementation of the ASEAN Charter has made ASEAN a rules-based organisation, so any commitment made must be delivered. The ASEAN Economic Community Scorecard, for example, is a reminder that despite the achievements, complacency has no room and more work remains to be done. The roles of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) also need to be boosted, because they are crucial to economic development. He pointed out that of the total trade with ASEAN, only about 22 per cent of trade was conducted within ASEAN, which is a low rate for any regional organisation. To improve this situation, the SMEs will need to be assisted and supported because the SMEs have the combined potential to create a massive number of employment opportunities.

On Myanmar elections next weekend, Dr Surin said that ASEAN is concerned, and all other member States have made their views clear and are interested in the outcomes of the elections. Fellow Member States with experience in conducting and managing elections have offered assistance and expertise to Myanmar, and that Myanmar is free to take up on those offers. Dr Surin sees the elections as a true national reconciliation and hopes that the elections’ outcomes will enable Myanmar to be more confident in dealing with the rest of the world and that Myanmar will also benefit from ASEAN Community.

On human rights, Dr Surin updated the audience that the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights is moving along well, with “promotion” and “protection” being the core of the work that the Commission is working on, with the support of the ASEAN Member States. He added that understandably, a lot of challenges related to the promotion and protection of human rights remain, but the Commission is hard at work to produce results. He also agreed that the protection of the rights of migrant workers in the region will need to be prioritised. He added that ASEAN is also opening up avenues to promote the participation of women, and welcomes the involvement of half the population of ASEAN to help achieve the ASEAN Community.

On environment, Dr Surin said ASEAN will coordinate whatever decision concerning the recurrent haze problem, because the impact of haze on the health of the citizens and the environment at large need to be contained. Climate change is also high on ASEAN agenda as the people are suffering from climate irregularities, which affect the way they work and live.

On Indonesia’s chairmanship next year, Dr Surin said that expectations from ASEAN’s largest Member State is high, but he has full confidence that Indonesia will play an effective role, as can be seen from their serious preparation for the Chairmanship. As regional organisations have been recognised to play a serious role in finding regional solutions to regional problems, work is already underway to explore how ASEAN and the United Nations can strengthen their cooperation for the benefit of the region.

The ASEAN Charter stipulates that the ASEAN Summit Meetings shall be held twice annually, and be hosted by the Member States holding the ASEAN Chairmanship. The 17th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits will be held later this week in Ha Noi, Viet Nam from 28 to 30 October. This Summit will be the last Summit hosted this year by Viet Nam, as the current ASEAN Chair, and mark the handover of the ASEAN Chairmanship to Indonesia.