A Lecture by

H.E. Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

President of the Republic of Indonesia

On the Occasion of

The 38th Anniversary of

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Jakarta, 8 August 2005

Your Excellency Mr. Ong Keng Yong, Secretary General of ASEAN,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to thank the Secretary General of ASEAN for inviting me to give this lecture on the occasion of the 38th anniversary of ASEAN.

Thirty-eight, in terms of the development of the human personality, is an age associated with the high noon of maturity and stability. At 38, ASEAN has shown not only maturity but also, perhaps, wisdom beyond its years. We can cite as proof the caliber of its recent initiatives and decisions.

A distinctive mark of maturity is the recent decision of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting to allow Myanmar to forego its turn as chairman—so that it could focus on an internal process of reconciliation and democratization that is crucial to the national life.

This demonstrates ASEAN’s fully developed capability to solve its own problems. It shows a delicate sense of balance between non-interference in the affairs of a sovereign state and upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In the same Ministerial Meeting, ASEAN made significant progress in crafting a new regional architecture that would be showcased with the holding of an East Asian Summit in Kuala Lumpur later this year. What is remarkable about this regional architecture is its inclusiveness, something that Indonesia worked hard to ensure.

Thus, the East Asian Summit will be attended by Australia, New Zealand and India, aside from the ASEAN family and our Northeast Asian neighbours—China, Japan and South Korea. ASEAN, of course, remains the driving force of this East Asian process.

This is a feat of geopolitical networking by all the countries involved.

Another gem achievement of ASEAN collaboration in that Meeting is the signing of an Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response. This is a major follow-up to the ASEAN Special Summit on aftermath of earthquake and tsunami that was held in Jakarta last January—just eleven days after that massive tragedy.

Here world leaders rushed over to pledge their contributions to the rescue and relief effort and to the subsequent rehabilitation and reconstruction of the devastated countries, including Indonesia.

It was a sad time for us the affected countries, but it was also one of the finest hours for human solidarity.

That quick response and now this follow-up Agreement, which earmarks personnel and resources for instant mobilization in case of natural disaster, demonstrates ASEAN’s capability to act quickly and decisively in the face of a crisis. It is a splendid reflection on our regional resilience.

On this 38th anniversary of ASEAN, therefore, we do have much to celebrate. It is not for nothing that ASEAN has been called one of the world’s most successful regional groupings.

Still, I believe we can make a more meaningful observance of the occasion by conducting a bit of serious introspection.

We can, for instance, ask ourselves the question of whether ASEAN has managed to become true to its name as an association of nations, or it has remained an association of governments.

This is not an idle question, nor is it merely one of technicality. It goes to the core of ASEAN’s reason for existence. It becomes more relevant as ASEAN strives for economic integration—within itself and with other regions.

The problem here is not that ASEAN is not useful to the lives of the peoples of Southeast Asia—because it is. It has, in fact made a great deal of difference in terms of the peace and the relative prosperity that they enjoy.

The problem is that we still can do better in ensuring greater participation of the regional peoples in the decisions of ASEAN.

All the decisions about treaties and free trade areas, about declarations and plans of action, are made by Heads of Government, ministers and senior officials. And the fact that among the masses, there is little knowledge, let alone appreciation, of the large initiatives that ASEAN is taking on their behalf.

This does not in any way detract from accomplishments of ASEAN. I the 38 years that ASEAN has been in existence, the regional governments have been prudent in their collective choice of political, economic and sociocultural policies.

Those are policies of cooperation that have worked. For the better part of almost four decades, the combined economies of the ASEAN members outstripped that of the rest of the world.

Indeed, the founding ministers of ASEAN, from their statements after having signed the Bangkok Declaration of 1967, envisioned popular participation in the work of Association.

It is also on record that Indonesia’s Foreign Minister at that time, our Adam Malik, was an ardent advocate of the people’s involvement in ASEAN cooperation. He did at one time propose to his ASEAN Colleagues the creation of a fund to support a regionwide effort to promote popular understanding of the Association and its work.

For about a decade after that, however, the Ministers and officials who ran the Association were focused on its survival. It was a time of turbulence in Southeast Asia. And at that time, even at the highest levels, we the member countries knew very little of one another—the result of the mutual isolation we suffered in the long dark night of colonial rule.

We had to go through a learning curve about trusting one another. We had disputes that smouldered, and mutual suspicions that had to be allayed. We had to take the time to cultivate the habits of dialogue and consultation, the art of deciding by consensus.

In the course of that long learning process, we were so focused on internal procedure and on external relations that we were not able to establish a way of involving our peoples with vigour and meaning. Admittedly, the private business sectors were brought in early on as we intensified our economic cooperation. In more recent times, Eminent Persons also began to be regularly consulted.

But the perspectives from the boardrooms and from the groves of academe are not the same as the view from the grass roots. And that grassroot view can make a difference.

And yet, at the back of its collective mind, ASEAN must have kept a firm hold on the idea that it is wise and necessary that the people participate in its work. I believe that idea is well implied in various ASEAN Documents, including the statement of Vision 2020, which prefigured ASEAN as a “community of caring societies.”

Indeed, the word “community” has taken on a special meaning in ASEAN.

It has come to mean not only a sharing of purposes and resources but also a sharing of values. It entails the cultivation of a “we-feeling” based on those values.

The challenge of the Asian financial of 1998 and the threat of its recurrence gave ASEAN the idea that it should become a community. In 2002, ASEAN set its sights on becoming an Economic Community.

There was no choice: only through full economic integration would ASEAN be able to tap the potential of its huge market and reap the benefits of economies of scale within the region.

In 2003, Indonesia alerted ASEAN to the need for closer politico-security cooperation to ensure the viability of economic integration. To be sure that it becomes an Economic Community, ASEAN must also become a Security Community.

In the deliberations that followed this advocacy, it was inevitably realized that in the end the backbone of any community of nations is not governments, but the peoples who make up the nations. Governments come and go but the people will always be there.

Mutual understanding and appreciation as well as social cohesiveness must therefore be promoted among the regional peoples to give vigour to the process of community building. Hence, to become a Security Community and an Economic Community, ASEAN must also become a Sociocultural Community.

Thus, the complete picture emerged: at the Ninth Summit in Bali, it was decided that eventually there would have to be an ASEAN Community borne by three pillars—a Security Community, an Economic Community and a Sociocultural Community.

These three pillars are co-equal and mutually reinforcing. When they are finally built and are functioning, the ASEAN Community will automatically come into existence. And that Community will be held together by common ideals and aspirations. It will be driven by shared economic aspirations and a collective political will.

Now, the peoples that make up our region must be enabled to know and understand the social and economic policies and plans being formulated and carried out on their behalf.

I believe that with the help of the mass media and civil society and with probity on the part of governments, a way can be found to enlist the people into the cycle of planning, implementation, monitoring and replanning of programmes and projects.

I am confident that their contributions will be invaluable—for they know what they want and they are aware of their needs.

We in Indonesia learned this much when we decided to engage the victims of the tsunami disaster in Aceh and North Sumatera in planning the reconstruction of their ravaged communities from the ground up.

As a result, we have a good master plan. We know for sure that every project in the plan is matched to a felt need or a cherished aspiration. With the people’s help, we monitor implementation so that we are certain that every budgeted rupiah and every donated dollar are spent according to plan.

I do not see why this idea cannot be applied to national development planning and to ASEAN’s regional and even interregional initiatives. We can and should empower the people to become co-authors if not the principal authors of their own development.

As we sweat to empower our people, I also believe that ASEAN can provide an added value to the global efforts to reach the targets of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

The targets set by the MDGs are compatible with the national development of ASEAN—in some ASEAN members have exceeded the MDG targets already. With our abundant natural resources, human capital, governance, regional cooperation and dynamic economies, ASEAN can do much to reduce—if not eradicate—poverty from our region

I am glad that ASEAN has incorporated various aspects of poverty reduction as a key component of ASEAN’s “open, caring societies” by 2020. Poverty reduction is also strongly featured in our blueprint for the ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

The bottom line is that as ASEAN moves forward, we need to ensure that our peoples have full ownership of the endeavor taken by Governments. Such ownership by the people can be built and nurtured through the active participation of the widest segment possible of our societies in ASEAN’s activities. Not only would this ensure ASEAN’s dynamic growth, it will also help ensure that ASEAN’s activities remain relevant to the daily lifes of our people.

As we seek to strengthen our grassroot support, I am also glad to see that of the many qualities ASEAN possesses, its outward-looking posture stands out. ASEAN has its imprint on virtually every single regional and inter-regional cooperative architecture. Whether it be ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN plus 3, APEC, ASEM, or Vealac, ASEAN is there making a difference, shaping regional and international order.

Indeed, this leadership and outward-looking posture is also being reflected in the on-going development of the East Asia Summit (EAS). In this process, it is important that we maintain ASEAN’s role as a driving force in this latest endeavor not only vis-a-vis its participants which must remain be inclusive in nature, but also in terms of its agenda, which must conform to and be consistent with ASEAN community building efforts.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, let me end by saying that the people are now slowly but surely gaining a stronger and clearer voice. And that voice speaks of many aspirations : of peace and prosperity, of a reliable future for themselves and their family, of freedom and democracy, of human rights and good governance, and of transparency and the accountability of leaders.

Let us listen to that voice—encourage it to speak loud and clear. For in the long run, it will lead us to our true destiny, to the fulfillment of the collective vision that is truly shared by all of us.

Wherever in the ASEAN region that voice is stifled, we become less of a community.

And wherever that voice is allowed to speak freely, and it chooses to do so with responsibility, opportunities are created for progress, for the growth of co-operation, we become more of a community.

Thank you.