Excellency,
Distinguished Delegates,

It is a great pleasure for me to extend, on behalf of my ASEAN colleagues a warm welcome to the co-chairman, His Excellency Yukihiko Ikeda, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan and his delegation to our annual ASEAN-Japan dialogue.

ASEAN-Japan dialogue relations

The AEAN-Japan dialogue is an important and one of ASEAN’s most active dialogue relationships. This Meeting provides an excellent opportunity for us to review the state of our dialogue relationship and have constructive discussions on a whole range of other issues of mutual interest.

I am especially delighted that this year coincides with the 20th anniversary of the ASEAN-Japan dialogue relations. During the past 2 decades, we have created a firm understanding and complemented one another throughout our cooperative endeavors.

Today, ASEAN-Japan relations continue to be strong and vibrant, thus contributing to the peace, prosperity and economic development of the Southeast Asian region as a whole. This relationship has developed on the basis of partnership, equality and mutual benefit for the peoples of the ASEAN countries and Japan. It has evolved to be an important factor for Japan’s economic growth as well as ASEAN’s steady and healthy development towards the 21st century.

The 15th ASEAN-Japan Forum, which was held from 26 to 28 May 1997 in Tokyo, marked another milestone in the progress of ASEAN-Japan relations. A wide range of issues covering international, regional as well as bilateral matters of mutual concern and interest were actively discussed at the Forum. In addition, the frank and in-depth discussions on regional political and security issues by Senior Officials from both sides at the Forum were an indication of the increased importance being given to the ASEAN-Japan Forum, which will now, in principle, be held annually prior to the PMC. Significantly, both sides had fruitful discussions and exchange of views on the policy speech by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, given in Singapore on 14 January 1997, to strengthen further Japan’s relations and cooperation with ASEAN.

ASEAN-Japan in Southeast Asia

My ASEAN colleagues and I had a fruitful and constructive meeting here last week. We are pleased with the progress ASEAN has made. We have shared our thoughts and commitments for the peaceful and harmonious community of one Southeast Asia. ASEAN has welcomed its two new members, who Will participate fully in benefit from their membership in ASEAN. ASEAN hopes that Japan will continue to play an active role in the expanded ASEAN, in our efforts to promote peace, stability and prosperity.

The expansion of ASEAN-Japan dialogue relationship in trade, investment, technology transfer and cultural exchange to an in-depth dialogue on political and security issues is indeed very timely. In this context, ASEAN welcomes Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s constructive proposals for political, economic and social development cooperation between ASEAN and Japan. In this era of unprecedented opportunities and challenges, we appreciate the expression of Japan’s desire to broaden and deepen the scope of our relations on a basis of equal partnership and mutual benefit.

Prime Minister Hashimoto’s proposals that our economic cooperation should be supplemented by three additional pillars, namely, closer policy dialogue among our leaders; multilateral cultural cooperation; and greater cooperation on transnational issues affecting the region should provide for a more meaningful relationship between ASEAN and Japan. ASEAN looks forward to exchanging views with Japan at this meeting which will lead to further discussions at our forthcoming summit meeting in Kuala Lumpur later this year.

ASEAN is optimistic that despite lingering uncertainty in the region, the overall security environment in East Asia is one of peace and stability. We firmly believe that the constructive role and cooperation among all the major powers -Japan, China and the US as well as Russia and India– is of vital importance to the maintenance and promotion of regional security. On its part, ASEAN looks forward to working, through its dialogue relationships, and through the ARF process, with Japan, other major powers and regional countries to advance the process of confidence-building to a more meaningful stage.

Economic Cooperation

As we develop new areas of cooperation, we must certainly continue to nurture the economic ties that have long constituted the foundation of our relationship.

Our continued collaboration in multilateral economic fora will be vital to promoting growth and development in the region. ASEAN hopes to coordinate closely with Japan at the forthcoming High-Level Meeting on Least-Developed Countries in Geneva, and to ensure that the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference in 1998 remains firmly focused on trade and reflects a balance of the interest of both developed and developing nations. ASEAN also pays close attention to the role of Japan as a leading trading nation to show leadership in the other multilateral fora including G-8, APEC and ASEM to ensure full benefits to the region.

In this connection, ASEAN and Japan have shared concerns over the emerging trend of state, provincial, local and other authorities in countries outside this region seeking to impose trade sanctions against other States on grounds of alleged human rights violations and non-trade related issues. We learned that Japanese companies have been unfairly treated as a result and that the Japanese Government is taking steps in the WTO in accordance with WTO rules. ASEAN supports Japan’s action because it is of the view that the international trading system would be undermined if this trend persists, and would like to call on all national governments to continue to adhere to WTO rules.

ASEAN attaches great importance to addressing unresolved economic issues between Japan and ASEAN. The trade imbalance in Japan’s favour continues to grow, while Japanese foreign direct investment in ASEAN continues to decline. ASEAN hopes that Japan as part of its ongoing economic deregulation, will persist in reducing non-tariff barriers to trade and further liberalize Japan’s market for processed and semi-processed commodities from ASEAN. While, admittedly, the trade balance can be attributed to structural factors, but trade barriers where they do continue to exist must be dealt with as we seek to put our partnership on a more equal footing.

I am pleased to learn that at the 15th ASEAN-Japan Forum, both sides share the same view that a framework of consultation should be established to address these pending trade issues. ASEAN wishes to propose the establishment in Tokyo of a framework of consultation to be used as a focal point to ensure comprehensiveness and continuity of dialogue on trade matters. Such a framework should comprise representatives from all Japanese authorities concerned with market access, including Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MITI, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health, while the ASEAN side would be represented by senior trade and commercial officials of ASEAN Embassies in Tokyo.

ASEAN appreciates Japan’s continued financial support and assistance provided to the ASEAN Promotion Centre on Trade, Investment and Tourism. On 25 April 1997, ASEAN and Japan signed the Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU)which extended the Agreement establishing the APC for another 5 years, beginning May 1997. The Government of Vietnam is also in the process of preparing for full membership to the Centre.

The issue of the trade imbalance is very much linked to the question of upgrading the quality of Japan’s investment in the ASEAN countries. On our part, we are doing our utmost to enhance investment climate in the region under the ASEAN Free Trade Area, the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation and the ASEAN Investment Area Scheme, and by providing adequate qualified work forces, a developed infrastructure and legal frameworks. We therefore hope that Japan, on her part will encourage greater direct investment from Japan particularly those that will lead to a deepening and broadening of industrialization in the ASEAN countries as an important means of reducing the trade imbalance.

Development, Social and Cultural Cooperation

Another key issue in the region’s economic development is development cooperation. While Japan is one of the major contributors of such assistance, the under and non-utilisation of funds for financing development cooperation projects can be attributed largely to narrow conditions and guidelines governing the use of Japanese contributions. I am glad to learn that there will be a review of the mechanism for development assistance funds provided by Japan including ASEAN-Japan Development Fund by appropriate officials and agencies concerned, for the purpose of effective utilisation of those funds. As development cooperation is integral to the region’s economic development progress, ASEAN looks forward to Japan’s continued support of ASEAN in this area of cooperation, which will help finance and support its aspiration to improve the quality of life of its people through human resources development by education as well as to promote equitable economic development and to reduce poverty and social-economic disparities.

Similarly, as ASEAN attempts to pursue integrated social development, it needs to mobilize resources to help finance and support its efforts. ASEAN would welcome Japan’s partnership in charting out a resource mobilization strategy. Japan might also wish to support the ASEAN Foundation to be established on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary Commemorative Summit in December 1997 and possibly a separate fund for social development. Prime Minister Hashimoto’s “Initiative for a Caring World” is a useful approach to social development that would complement ASEAN’s endeavors in this regard.

ASEAN welcomes a more prominent role for Japan, by virtue of its economic strength and technical expertise, in the promotion of sub-regional economic development, particularly in the greater Mekong sub-region, in such areas as land and railroad transportation infrastructure and transfer of technology. ASEAN also appreciates Japan’s continued support and her active role in the Mekong Basin Development through the frameworks of AEM-MITI Working Group on Economic Cooperation in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (WGEC-CLM), the ASEAN-Japan Tripartite Cooperation on Cambodia and the Forum for Comprehensive Development of Indochina (FCDI).

In view of the changing situation in ASEAN economies, ASEAN anticipates Japan’s development assistance to ASEAN will continue to bring development and prosperity to the region through useful and effective assistance. ASEAN therefore welcomes Japan’s new assistance initiatives, particularly a support for involvement of private sector initiative in infrastructure development. The promotion of private capital flows for infrastructure development in ASEAN member countries should be commensurately strengthened.

On South-South Cooperation, ASEAN wishes that its close cooperation with Japan in extending financial and technological assistance to other LDCs would lay the foundation for the enhancement of our linkages with other economic regions and sub- regions. As ASEAN expands to include newer members in the region, our attention would be given to lesson the existing economic gap through expanding economic linkages to let new and prospective members to participate fully in and benefit from their membership in ASEAN. In this context, ASEAN-Japan cooperation could be extended to those new and prospective members by providing ASEAN’s experience to them with economic and technical expertise support from Japan.

ASEAN continues to attach great importance to the great efforts of Japan to promote cultural cooperation through ASEAN Cultural Fund, Japan Scholarship Fund for ASEAN Youth (JSFAY), ASEAN-Japan Friendship for the 21st Century and Japan-ASEAN Exchange Programme. With regard to Japan’s proposal to create a multinational cultural mission, I am happy to learn that both sides are coordinating closely in the preparation for this important mission. The discussions on cost sharing for and composition of the mission are also now under way.

ASEAN welcomes Prime Minister Hashimoto’s call for close cooperation on transnational problems such as environment, terrorism, narcotics, infectious diseases and social welfare. While both sides see the needs for a gradual move forward in their cooperation in these global issues, dialogues and exchanges of information should be practical, seeking to understand the nature of these post-Cold War challenges and their implications for the region. ASEAN and Japan should cooperate closely to build and strengthen regional and international frameworks dealing with these issues. On the above-mentioned issues, ASEAN wishes to discuss the matter further with its Japanese counterparts.

I wish to express on behalf of ASEAN, our grateful appreciation to the Japanese government for having been greatly supportive of and helpful to ASEAN’s efforts. Our geographical proximity and close political and economic ties have made us natural partners for the security and economic well-being of our peoples. By deepening and broadening our relations in political, economic, social and cultural areas, ASEAN and Japan’s relations will develop into a successful and lasting partnership, while together we march forward into the future.

Thailand’s three-year term as country-coordinator of the ASEAN-Japan Dialogue will end this month. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere appreciation and gratitude to Your Excellency and your Officials, as well as to my ASEAN colleagues, for the generous cooperation and support each one of you has given us. Vietnam will now take over the coordinating task. Let me assure my Japanese friends and ASEAN colleagues that Thailand will extend its full assistance to future undertakings of the ASEAN-Japan Dialogue. We are confident that under Vietnam’s coordinatorship, ASEAN and Japan will cooperate even more closely to meet the challenges emerging from the rapidly evolving global and regional environment