Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim

Assalaamu’alaikum wa-Rahmatullahi wa-Barakatuh


Distinguished Participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today to attend this ASEAN Forum. This is one of the most meaningful ways by which we can observe the fortieth anniversary of ASEAN.

Let me therefore thank the ASEAN Foundation and the ASEAN Secretariat for organizing this Forum, which has given me a unique opportunity to share my thoughts with you on how ASEAN and its ongoing transformation.

The theme “Rethinking ASEAN towards ASEAN Community 2015″ is timely and fitting. We must indeed do some rethinking.

For the world today is vastly different from what it was when ASEAN was founded in 1967. The Cold War was then at its height and the world had been carved into two hostile camps, with an “iron curtain” standing between them. “Proxy wars” were being fought between these two camps all over the world, including in Southeast Asia.

Not that we had no disputes of our own: we had plenty. That is why we could not unite in spite of several earlier attempts at forming a regional organization.

SEATO was there, but it was just an anti-communist alliance that included non-regional powers among its members. Founded in 1971, the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), which would bring together the Malaysia and Thailand, died in its infancy.

Next came Maphilindo, which would bring together three Malay nations—Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. But it could not work either, since it was formed on the very eve of konfrontasi. Moreover, an open dispute was about to break out between Malaysia and the Philippines on the issue of Sabah.

Meanwhile, the economies of the region were languishing in backwardness.

The formation of ASEAN was regarded as the last chance for the nations of Southeast Asia to achieve some kind of unity. The Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore had to go on retreat on a beach resort in Thailand to carry out the seemingly impossible task: devising an organization that had any chance of staying together in the midst of such turbulence.

But they managed it. And forty years ago almost to the day, ASEAN was born by virtue of the Bangkok Declaration. It was, of course, born for a purpose—and that was for the member nations and their regional neighbours to survive in the harsh geopolitical and economic environment of the time.

The ASEAN members knew what they had to do to survive in that environment: they had to help one another enhance their respective national resilience. And they had to acquire collective regional resilience by cultivating the habits of consultation, consensus and cooperation. Moreover they had to engage non-regional powers and other regions in mutually beneficial cooperation.

ASEAN pursued all of these activities with faith and determination in all of four decades, during which Southeast Asia and the rest of the world underwent profound change. ASEAN also changed but not in a passive way. Through intensive internal cooperation and engagement with other countries and regions, ASEAN changed its environment as much as it was changed by that environment.

Today the Cold War is but a fading memory. The Cambodia conflict has been peacefully resolved through a process in which ASEAN played a key role. All the countries of Southeast Asia are at peace with one another and with the world. Moreover, the ASEAN region is now a free trade area—where intra-regional trade has been growing by leaps and bounds since AFTA was established in 2002.

As early as 1976, ASEAN adopted the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia, which serves as a code of conduct governing relations among ASEAN members and between ASEAN and external powers. Most of ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners, countries with which it has cooperative arrangements, have either acceded or decided to accede to the Treaty.

In 1994, we established the ASEAN Regional Forum for consultation and dialogue on security matters, and for the promotion of confidence building measures, preventive diplomacy and, eventually, conflict resolution.

In 1997 the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty came into force. All ten ASEAN members have signed it, with China being the first nuclear power to express intention to accede to it.

Apart from the ARF, two other vital processes in this part of the world are driven by ASEAN: the ASEAN plus Three process and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

ASEAN plus Three brings together ten Southeast Asian nations with their more economically mature Northeast Asian partners in broadly gauged cooperation that has been gathering momentum since it was launched on the eve of the ASEAN Crisis.

The East Asia Summit (EAS), launched in 2005, brings together 16 countries of an East Asia that has been redefined no longer as a strictly geographic entity but as a group of countries on this side of the world, with long-established habits of consultation and cooperation, and a sense of common destiny.

These three processes need ASEAN to be in the driver’s seat because, in the first place, it is ASEAN that gives them political cohesion. Without that cohesion it would be difficult for them to function on a collective basis.

In the second place, ASEAN needs to be in the driver’s seat because these engagements must contribute to the success of ASEAN integration even while ASEAN itself contributes to the eventual integration of East Asia and even the Asia-Pacific region.

In 2003 ASEAN Leaders, at the ninth summit in Bali, adopted the second Declaration of ASEAN Concord that mandated the establishment of an ASEAN Community, which would rest on three pillars: an ASEAN Security Community, an ASEAN Economic Community and an ASEAN Sociocultural Community. This decision was a watershed in the process of ASEAN transformation.

The attainment of the envisioned ASEAN Community would constitute the ultimate integration of ASEAN and the firmest guarantee that in a world of deepening globalization, ASEAN would never be marginalized. ASEAN would be a more effective player and contribute more to the cause of security, prosperity and social harmony at the regional and global levels.

But such an intensive process of integration would be extremely difficult and slow if ASEAN remained the loose and largely informal regional organization that it is today. That is why at the ASEAN Summit of 2005 we decided to write and adopt what will serve as a constitution—an ASEAN Charter.

That Charter will confer on ASEAN a legal personality. It will also imbue ASEAN with a new sense of purpose, reaffirm and codify the key objectives and principles of ASEAN, strengthen its organization and its institutions, and enable the less developed members to catch up with the others. It will be a brief, visionary and inspiring document.

It will also have to be the result of a rethinking of ASEAN. And indeed there has been a lot of rethinking in ASEAN since that histori

c Ninth Summit in Bali.

One way to rethink ASEAN is to consider that for most of the time since ASEAN was founded forty years ago, the glue that held ASEAN together was our economic cooperation, and to some degree, also our social and cultural exchanges.

In the beginning there was a very good reason for this: ASEAN was born in the midst of political turmoil: there was a shooting war raging in Indochina at that time. In their statements after the signing of the Bangkok Declaration, the founding document of ASEAN, the signatory Foreign Ministers emphasized that they did not want the newly born organization to be mistaken for a military alliance.

The founding document itself repeatedly stressed economic and social forms of cooperation and mentioned the promotion of regional peace and stability only as something to be carried out “through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law..”

And that was how it was for quite a few years, during which our official circles carefully avoided the S word: security. Another word that was shunned like the plague was “political.” When they were not grappling with the intricacies of economic cooperation, they directed their attention to social welfare and cultural activities, which, since 1987, they placed under the rubric “Functional Cooperation.”

That term has an interesting history behind it—which reveals something about the early days of ASEAN: functional cooperation was a term invented by the regional associations that cropped up soon after the Second World War. It was their way of presenting themselves as non-threatening. When an activity was described as “functional,” it was understood as having nothing to do with politics or the military, and therefore no cause for anxiety.

And so by concentrating on economic cooperation and functional cooperation, we achieved a certain degree of cohesion and nurtured a sense of common destiny.

It also made it easy for the communist nations of Southeast Asia to join the ASEAN family, as this happened while they were shifting from central planning to a free market system. And instead of striving for autarky, they were opening up their economies to foreign investments. But they maintained their ideology.

The result was that the market blurred our ideological division. It also stunted our political development as a regional organization.

This might have been an appropriate state of affairs forty years ago, but times have changed, and so have our regional and global environments. We are under a different set of pressures now.

It is true that we are still under tremendous economic pressure: a large part of our population live in abject poverty, hence we are struggling to meet our MDG commitments. We must continue to be seized with the challenge of socioeconomic development.

But there are other pressures bearing upon us: all over the world people want to take their destiny in their own hands, to take part in the making of decisions that affect their lives—this is the pressure of democracy.

Not only that: people also want to assert the essential worth of their humanity. They demand the respect that is their due by virtue of the fact that they are human beings. This is the pressure of human rights.

And, of course, there is still the need for security. But even the concept of security today has greatly broadened. It is no longer just a matter of defending the state against an army marching across the border.

Today the concept of security extends to what is called “human security.” This means that we have a common obligation to protect the physical integrity and the dignity of the human being, whether alone or part of a group, against all attackers—be they terrorists, common criminals, the Avian Flu virus or a tsunami.

The human being must be protected even when— perhaps especially when— the assailant is the state, which is supposed to protect him.

These are the new realities—the pressures and challenges of our time. And if we are going to have an ASEAN that is a “community of caring societies,” then it must care not only about the livelihood and the social amenities but also about the fundamental rights of the human being.

Moreover, if an ASEAN Security Community is to be one of the pillars of the ASEAN Community, then it must be a pillar that the human being can lean on when her formally mandated protector becomes her attacker.

Today we have to rethink ASEAN in that new light. We have to think in terms of the need for political cohesiveness among the members of the ASEAN family. Such political cohesiveness should stem from a shared commitment to the fundamental values of democracy, human rights and the free market. Hence, it is an essential part of our transition to a Security Community that we should cultivate these common values.

And it should be an essential aspect of the ASEAN Charter, which is now being formulated by a High-level Task Force, that it make that transition feasible. It is vitally important, for instance, that it should have an enabling provision for the establishment of a regional human rights body.

Otherwise the ASEAN Charter cannot be regarded as the affirmation of a vision and a set of values and ideals that are the hallmark of a caring community.

We expect the Charter not only to have legal efficacy. It must also inspire. Therefore it should not be the relic of a time that is past, of the realities and modes of thinking of four decades ago. It should be the reflection of our responses to the challenges and opportunities today and in the perceivable future.

I am therefore glad that just last week, at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila, our Foreign Ministers agreed on the inclusion of a provision in the ASEAN Charter that mandates the establishment of a regional human rights body.

Thus today I am even more optimistic about how the ASEAN Charter will turn out. Its drafting is about to be completed by thoughtful persons aware of the vast and far-reaching significance of the task entrusted to them. And they have been given guidance by an Eminent Persons Group that includes some of the finest and wisest statesmen the ASEAN region has produced.

I have faith in all of them and in their sense of what is important to the ASEAN region.

They know that social cohesiveness is important, because goodwill and a feeling of belonging together, a consciousness of ourselves as history has made us— is an indispensable prelude to effective regional cooperation. That is what the ASEAN Sociocultural Community is for.

Economic cooperation is important—that is why ASEAN must also rest on the pillar of an ASEAN Economic Community. It is one way of ensuring that there is a daily bread on the family table.

But the human being does not live by bread alone. He must also be assured of his human dignity, without which life is not worth living. That is one of the major concerns of the ASEAN Security Community.

When we are sure that all the three pillars are already there in place, then we know that we have become the ASEAN Community that we fervently aspire to be.

I thank you.