Ladies & Gentlemen,
1. On behalf of my ASEAN colleagues, I extend a warm welcome to His Excellency the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, Mr. Jacques Poos, who leads the EU Troika, His Excellency the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Michiel Patijn, His Excellency the Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) United Kingdom Derek Fatchett and His Excellency Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr. Manuel Marin, to Kuala Lumpur on the occasion of the 30th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting/Post Ministerial Conferences.
2. 1997 is a significant year. The ASEAN-EU dialogue has seen 20 years of active cooperation; ASEAN is 30 years old; and the EU celebrates its 40th anniversary. During this time, dramatic and unexpected changes have taken place in the geopolitical and economic landscape of our two regions.
3. The chases in Europe brought about by the collapse of communism and East Asia’s rapid economic growth are known to all of us. Both ASEAN and the EU are undergoing significant transformations. The most challenging being the expansion of our respective groupings.
4. When our relations began in the 1970s, there was less international confidence in the future of Southeast Asia. Many believed that Southeast Asia and ASEAN, would falter. However, having successfully overcome the difficulties of the 1970s, ASEAN today is on the verge of achieving its founding fathers’ vision of a thriving Southeast Asian community.
5. In like manner, during the same period, Europe faced many serious challenges. The end of the Cold War, the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, have changed the face of Europe. A “borderless” Europe is fast becoming a reality. The EU is looking at expansion to bring in new members from Central and Eastern Europe. At the same time, the EU remains a global economic powerhouse, and a leader in technological advances and innovations.
6. This enlargement process brings with it a fresh set of challenges for both ASEAN and the EU and in our relations with each other. I had the privilege of co-chairing the 12th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting on 13-14 February 1997 in Singapore with my good friend and colleague, His Excellency Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo. At that Meeting, which saw, for the first time, the participation of all the ASEAN and EU Foreign Ministers, we were able to have frank and candid discussions on various issues, the most important being that on the future of ASEAN-EU relations. The candour displayed at that Meeting augurs well for the dialogue process, although I believe that we need a deeper and more thoughtful examination as to how the dialogue will evolve. One thing which is clear, however, is that both ASEAN and the EU value this relationship and want it to continue to thrive.
7. We should therefore take this opportunity to continue where we left off at the AFMM and review the purpose and direction of the ASEAN-EU Dialogue. The Dialogue is among the oldest formal linkages between ASEAN and its various dialogue partners. It is the only one of ASEAN’s dialogue relationships that has regular Ministerial level meetings outside the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conferences. Since the first Ministerial Meeting was held in Brussels in 1978 and the EC-ASEAN Cooperation Agreement was signed in 1980, we have laid a solid foundation of cooperative experiences and the building up of an officials network designed to ensure a further strengthening of the dialogue relationship. It is significant that in the last few years, both ASEAN and the EU, independently, have also recognised the need for and benefit of renewing and reinvigorating the relationship. The establishment of the ASEAN-EU Eminent Persons Group was one of the steps taken to explore ways to give fresh impetus to the relationship. Its report, “A Strategy for A New Partnership” was constructive and useful.
8. When we first embarked on the dialogue, the relationship was based largely on that of donor-recipient. The EU represented some of the most advanced developed countries in the world, while ASEAN comprised struggling developing countries. Today, ASEAN has become one of the most economically dynamic regions of the world. The EU remains a major global economic power. This provides a strong basis for the new dynamic relationship which we entrenched in the Joint Declaration of the 12th AEMM. We believe that our cooperative endeavours based on the Joint Declaration would yield solid benefits for both sides. It is encouraging that ASEAN and the EU are discussing practical and concrete programmes to launch a new dynamic for economic cooperation between the two regions. The EU Council approved the Commission’s paper on a new dynamic in March 1997 and the ASEAN Brussels Committee with the approval of the ASEAN Standing Committee will be discussing with EC officials the Commission’s proposed programmes for cooperation.
9. With the recent expansion of ASEAN, both ASEAN and the EU are confronted with a new set of challenges. How we resolve them to our mutual advantage will be a test of our maturity, wisdom and political judgement. Let us takes a flexible and pragmatic approach – an approach that has served us well and work out practical ways to intensify our relationship while managing our differences. In this regard, I am pleased to note that the recent declarations issued at the EU’s Council Meeting on 2-3 and 26 Jun 97 respectively reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to the ASEAN-EU Dialogue.
10. As the ASFAN countries take-off, they present EU companies with enormous investment opportunities. The World Bank has estimated that for the next ten years, there would be more than US$150 billion worth of infrastructural projects in Asia. Over the next decade, ASEAN countries will embark on numerous infrastructural projects such as the Mekong Basin Development Cooperation project. European technology can play a major role in this area, and this will not be a one-way flow. The infrastructure projects will naturally attract European capital goods.
11. Secondly, as the ASEAN economies mature, ASEAN will offer an ever expanding market for European goods, both capital and later consumer goods. Thirdly, ASEAN Countries arc also fast becoming exporters of capital. It is only a matter of time before ASEAN companies become significant investors in Europe.
12. Finally, ASEAN is uniquely placed to serve as a gateway for the flow of trade and investments between Europe and Asia. EU companies, especially SMEs can form joint ventures with their ASEAN counterparts to exploit the business opportunities in this region.
Role of Private Sector 13. At the AEMM,, we agreed to help create opportunities and establish a conducive environment for our private sectors to interact, exchange ideas and form partnerships to seize the potential opportunities. In this respect, I am pleased to note that the ASEAN-EU Partenariat has started in May with the meeting of the ASEAN and EU National Counsellors. The Partenariat proper will take place in November in Singapore. This, I believe, is an important harbinger of increased private sector cooperation. As we draw the private sectors of our two regions into the cooperation process, it will become a major driving force for the relationship.
14. ASEAN-EU economic cooperation is only one facet of our dialogue relationship. The maturity of our relationship must be accomplished by a better understanding of one another’s sensitivities, motivations and aspirations. The 12th AEMM demonstrated that ASEAN and the EU can conduct its political dialogue in a very candid, respectful and constructive way. Spontaneity was enhanced by discussing sensitive issues in an informal setting and without the encumbrances of prepared texts and set speeches. While it may not be possible for us to agree on all issues, through frank and open discussions, we can develop a healthy respect and appreciation of each others’ positions.
15. We realise that for us to sustain our relationship over the long-term, it is important that tile linkages go beyond the political and economic areas involving only business, political leaders and government officials. We need to bridge the cultural gap at the people-to-people level.
16. Greater people-to-people contacts will be promoted. This include media exchanges, civil servant exchanges, academic and private sector institutional links and fellowships. We can broaden the scope of our cooperation to the promotion of tourism and cultural activities, thus giving us a better understanding of each other.
17. The ASEAN-EU relationship, solid though it is, cannot and should not remain at its present level. It must be intensified or risks becoming less relevant to the needs of our people and regions. Both ASEAN and the EU, I am confident, will rise to this challenge. With this meeting, Singapore completes its tenure as the country-coordinator for the ASEAN-EU Dialogue. I wish Thailand, the next country-coordinator, every success in moving this Dialogue to a higher level.