Good morning to you Mr. Chairman and to our ASEAN colleagues and, of course, our observer Cambodia and our special observer from Papua New Guinea. My congratulations on your election, Mr. Chairman, and that of your Vice-Chairman, Secretary Siazon. Thank you also for the friendship and fine hospitality given us by the government and people of Malaysia.
This is a very busy year for you and quite a difficult one at times. Even when we have finished here, there will be no let up. You have many more important ASEAN meetings in December. This will also mean a great deal of hard work to come so may I congratulate you on the patience and skill with which you have guided our association this past year.
I would also like to thank the Prime Minister for his perceptive keynote address. Dr. Mahathir has always been a strong supporter of our association and has often spoken with great understanding on behalf of our region. This meeting gives us a welcome chance to acknowledge his fine contribution.
These are exceptional times for ASEAN, certainly challenging and demanding, but, at the same time, I feel, very exciting.
Thirty years ago, when this association began, it had little more than a set of visionary statements. Its agenda was short and realistic. Some described as simply as, “at least we are talking to each other”.
We have indeed come a long way since then. The reason for this, I believe, is because, we have always recognised one vital guiding principle for regional associations. To use Dr. Mahathir’s words some years ago, they are “brittle, fragile and fragment under the slightest strain.” In other words, they need to be tended carefully and this is what we have all tried to do. This approach has been clearly evident in a number of difficult meetings we have held this year, especially the special meetings you have recently called, Mr. Chairman.
So, one of the main things I would like, to say this morning is a simple “thank you” to my colleagues. We in Brunei Darussalam have much appreciated the fact that, in this period of expansion, our traditional methods of working together have not been affected. We listen; we don’t tell; we urge; we don’t force; and it is this, above all, I believe, which has brought us to where we are today after thirty years of careful development. It will obviously not solve every problem but I certainly think it is the key to opening up real opportunities for our people – the kind of opportunities which may turn the visionary statements of 1967 into facts of life in modern Southeast Asia.
The result can be summed up quite briefly. The past has been productive. The present is under sound management and the future is very largely ours to construct.
On this note, therefore, may I offer special greetings and a very warm welcome to our friends from Laos and Myanmar. We in Brunei Darussalam join our colleagues in looking forward to working with them.
In the arts, in culture, in literature and in a wealth of experience and talent, they widen the already rich diversity of ASEAN. They have made a bold decision to invest much of their future development in ASEAN. They are offering us their commitment and trust. In return, I am sure that future generations of their people will recognise it as the right move.
Of course, we had hoped that this would be the moment for fulfilling our founders’ vision of having all ten Southeast Asian nations in ASEAN. But the fact that this has been delayed in no way lessens the warmth of our welcome to Laos and Myanmar. What it does mean, however, is that we have had what is perhaps a useful reminder than the concept of ASEAN-10 involves more than fine words. It challenges us now to do whatever we can to urge our friends in Cambodia to achieve the stability their people so clearly need.
This year’s expansion also gives us a useful incentive ourselves, Mr. Chairman. A hard look at the future shows that practical problems lie ahead. Growth rates will be harder to sustain. The demands on us will be more exacting than they have been. Our people see economic growth as only one indicator of progress. They rightly wish to see precise day-to-day benefits and human development in all its aspects. For this reason, I would like to see us complete our agenda in these successfully.
We have shown ourselves able to create impressive regional initiatives but a strong emphasis in our work now, I hope, will be firmly placed on their practical application – so that each family has the chance to turn immediate challenges into personal opportunities; so that everyone in the region can say: “I know what ASEALN has done for me personally”.
This is the most inspiring aim of all. Mr. Chairman. It will provide the most compelling proof that the culture of cooperation we have nurtured these past thirty years is the only one in which our people can successfully develop.
It will show that we are not merely addressing the words of our founders but, in the most important sense of all, the deepest meaning of their vision.
This is what I meant by saying that, no matter what setbacks we have every now and again, these are exciting times for ASEAN, Mr. Chairman, and I look form to a most productive week under your guidance.