Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Government and people of Thailand, allow me, first of all, to welcome to our Kingdom the distinguished Foreign Ministers of the ASEAN member countries and Papua New Guinea, the ASEAN Secretary-General, our invited guests, and their delegations. It is always a pleasure for us in Thailand to welcome all of you back to Bangkok. Indeed, as Foreign Minister Surin mentioned just a couple of minutes ago, this is the seventh time Thailand has had the honour of hosting the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM).
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As the first AMM this millennium, this year’s meeting has presented us with an opportune moment not only to reflect upon ASEAN’s past accomplishments, but also to consider the impact of globalisation upon our region as a whole.
If we were to turn the clock back to when ASEAN was established in this very city thirty-three years ago, we would see that ASEAN’s original goals were in fact very modest in scope. Yet, the Bangkok Declaration of 8 August 1967-only three pages long and embodying five articles-contains elements which have since proven to be crucial in propelling ASEAN forward, so much so that the Association has been able to evolve and take on an important role for the region.
Our Association has indeed come a long way. Today, the ASEAN Regional Forum remains the only formal political and security forum in the region, embraced by all the major powers. Highlighting the vast economic potential of Southeast Asia, the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and our other economic initiatives are viewed with keen interest by the world community. Our co-operative endeavours in the social and cultural fields have also continued to intensify, encompassing all sectors of the ASEAN society.
These accomplishments, however, should and must not lull us into a false sense of complacency. With ASEAN’s membership enlarged to include all ten countries of Southeast Asia, the challenge before us now is how to deepen our co-operative endeavours. Such an approach is all the more important if we are to keep up with other regional organisations and remain relevant in an increasingly dynamic and globalised world.
[TOWARDS A COMPREHENSIVE DEVELOPMENT AGENDA]
In moving towards closer regional integration of the ten member countries, there is a need for a suitable formula to balance regional with national interests. In addition, we must consider how best to co-ordinate our many co-operative endeavours and promote a more comprehensive development agenda for the new century-one that will contribute towards the long-term dynamism and competitiveness of the region as a whole. This Comprehensive Development Agenda must be built, I believe, upon the following three main pillars.
[1. OUTREACH TO THE PEOPLE]
First and foremost, ASEAN has to reach out to the people. In being more in tune and responsive to our peoples’ needs, our policies and developmental endeavours should be more people-centred. At the same time, we must continue to develop our human resources, particularly if we are to move towards a more knowledge-based society. This is indeed why Thailand has attached importance to co-operation in the field of education, including closer co-operation and networking among our universities through the ASEAN University Network and an ASEAN Virtual University. This is also the reason why we believe ASEAN should consider the creation of a central fund to support human resources development.
If we are to strengthen our human resources, I believe we must also address the many social and transnational concerns facing us. Issues such as illicit drugs, trafficking of women and children, transnational crime and environmental degradation all represent obstacles to our development and hinder our progress towards sustainable growth in the long-term. As a region, we need to face these problems together, because-directly or indirectly, now or in the future-every one will be affected.
[2. ECONOMIC INTEGRATION]
The second element under a comprehensive development agenda is the need for greater economic integration. ASEAN’s decision to move further towards regional economic integration in 1992 was influenced by both the uncertainties of the global market and the inherent limitations of our own domestic markets. Today, eight years after the launch of AFTA, ASEAN’s combined trade with one another has doubled, while the average tariff rate for products under AFTA has been reduced significantly.
ASEAN should, however, continue to look beyond the geographical limits of AFTA as well. While ASEAN’s combined trade has increased from 10 billion dollars in 1967 to 720 billion dollars last year, we must do even more to increase our trade, both with each other as well as with other countries.
To this end, I wish to propose the convening of an ASEAN Trade Fair. Highlighting the economic progress and potential of each member country, this exhibition could be developed into a showcase of the best and latest products ASEAN has to offer. This event should be able to yield immediate and tangible results and could be organised once every three years, with Thailand prepared to convene the first.
We must furthermore continue to explore the possibilities of closer linkages with other economic centres of the world. The decision of the ASEAN Leaders in Manila last year to forge closer ties with East Asian countries under the Joint Statement on East Asia Co-operation is certainly a step in the right direction.
Although ASEAN has made impressive progress towards regional economic integration, we also recognise that a number of challenges and obstacles remain ahead of us. Because of the financial crisis, there have been difficulties for some countries in meeting their objectives for liberalisation. ASEAN would need to ensure that our success would not be undermined through backtracking of our commitments.
Another very important challenge is the integration of new member countries into the regional and international economy. There is a compelling need to expedite infrastructure development and capacity-building programmes so as to ensure the region’s economic integration. The development of the Mekong Sub-region is therefore an important initiative not only for the newer members of ASEAN, but for ASEAN as an organisation. Indeed, only by closing the gap between old and new members will ASEAN be able to move ahead with the speed and direction expected of it.
[3. ASEAN AS A CONCERT OF NATIONS]
The third and final element for a comprehensive development agenda concerns the need to nurture ASEAN into “a concert of nations”. While each member country may have its own priorities, there should be consonance and harmony in our actions. ASEAN must evolve into a concert of relevance, dynamism and coherence-relevant not only to itself, but also to the outside world.
To keep up with the changing environment, intra-ASEAN relations need to be more dynamic, more engaged, and more cohesive. Flexibility and adaptability should be ensured to maintain ASEAN’s pre-eminent role in the region.
In this connection, I am pleased to have learnt that the ASEAN Foreign Ministers will be adopting a framework for the operations of the ASEAN Troika, which will, I believe, provide our Association with a quick response and effective mechanism to deal with fast developing issues in the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the past thirty-three years, ASEAN has evolved and grown, adapting to changing circumstances. The expansion of ASEAN has helped create a new synergy-one based upon our complementarities and diversities, maximising the inherent comparative advantages of all member countries.
With the new century, the challenge is to adopt a development agenda that is balanced, effective and viable in this time of changing circumstances. But through our continued integration and closer consultations, the prospects for a more vibrant and resilient ASEAN are on the horizon.
On this note, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the honour of declaring open the Thirty-third ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. I wish all of you every success in your deliberations. Thank you. Ministry of Foreign Affairs 24 July 2000