May I begin by extending to all of you our most heartfelt greetings. We always hold that PMC is an important forum for the further consolidation of the relationship between ASEAN and the big powers as well as major industrialized countries in the world. This gathering also contributes to further strengthening the friendship and mutual understanding among our nations and promote cooperation for development. Therefore, I hope that this dialogue mechanism will continue to be further strengthened along with necessary improvements in order to keep pace with the new situation when, on the one hand, there is an increasing number of participants and a widening scope of issues for discussion in the immediate future, and on the other, there also exists the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
As number speaks, last year, India, China and Russia took part for the first time in PMC upon becoming ASEAN’s full dialogue partners. This year, our forum is further attended by the Foreign Ministers from Laos and Myanmar as full members of ASEAN. The admission of Laos and Myanmar into ASEAN marks a new step of development in the evolution of this Association, and at the same time represents a great turning-point in the history of the entire Southeast Asian region which is now shifting to cohesion and unity from division and polarization.
As mutually agreed, at this Conference, we will address important political and economic issues concerning the region and the world such as the implementation of AFTA, Mekong River Basin Development Cooperation, Middle East, APEC, WTO, narcotic drugs and environment.
Situated in the lower Mekong basin, Vietnam attaches great importance to the development of the Mekong river basin. As you are all aware of, the Mekong river basin covers a vast territory that concerns directly 6 ASEAN and non ASEAN countries and indirectly the whole process of development in Southeast Asia. Up to now, there are many programmes aimed at supporting the development of this sub-region. These include the important ASEAN initiative launched at the 5th Summit on the ASEAN-Mekong Basin which plans among other things to construct a railway link starting from Singapore to South China. These programmes have, so far, attracted keen interest and positive support from many dialogue partners of ASEAN. I see a need for coordination among such programs so that duplication can be avoided, while mutual supplementarity can be ensured. Subsequently, funds can be focused on and made available for the most important projects, thus accelerating the pace and the efficiency of these programmes.
In order to implement the co-operation programmes in the Mekong Sub-region, support and assistance from ASEAN dialogue partners, many of whom are key donors to those cooperative programmes are necessary.
However, to develop such a vast basin requires huge financial resources. I, therefore, call on ASEAN dialogue partners, for the benefit of developing the whole Asia-Pacific region, to give even stronger support to this endeavour of ASEAN.
Today, at this forum we also discuss matters concerning APEC and WTO. As you all know, after its accession to ASEAN and while actively intensifying efforts to fulfill its obligations under AFTA, Vietnam is striving for membership in APEC and WTO in a near future.
Since it has been discussed, Vietnam’s membership in APEC, I hope, will be considered favourably. For the time being, I would like to ask all countries concerned to support its to participate in three APEC Working Group on Trade Promotion, Industrial Science and Technology and Agricultural Technical Cooperation. Fully aware that in the context of globalization, WTO, the world’s important economic body, is assuming an ever, greater role in the global economic life, we officially applied for WTO membership in December 1994. We are currently in the stage of answering questions posed by WTO member countries on our trade policies, and are making every efforts to adjust them so as to better meet the criteria set for a WTO member.
Since many ASEAN dialogue partners are major members of WTO, I would like to take this opportunity to call for your support and assistance to this move of Vietnam.
Finally, I would like to come to another important issue that is on our agenda today, namely, narcotic drugs control. Narcotic drug abuse is a burning global issue that every nation is focusing efforts to deal with. This is an extremely difficult and complicated task. For that matter, cooperation in drugs control occupies a high priority in ASEAN work programmes. On the one hand, ASEAN has worked out Plan of Action and specific projects including drug-trafficking control, preventive education, treatment and rehabilitation. On the other hand, we call upon the international community to join efforts to reduce demand for drugs, and we look forward to increased support from dialogue partners to assist ASEAN in these cooperative projects.