Ladies and Gentlemen,
The vision that inspired ASEAN’s founding fathers since the creation of ASEAN over a quarter of a century ago continues to guide us as we strive to make Southeast Asia a region of peace, prosperity and harmony. I have listened with great interest to my colleagues who spoke before me. Your thoughts and visions on ASEAN and the region are valuable indeed and serve as inspiration to all of us.
As ASEAN advances ever closer to embracing all of Southeast Asia, we need to ensure that the new ASEAN of the 21st century, while remaining true to the spirit of the founders, measures up to the demands of the post-Cold War international order and the aspirations of all our peoples.With this in mind, I believe the focus of our cooperation should be along three dimensions: how to direct ASEAN towards One Southeast Asia; how to widen and deepen ASEAN economic cooperation; and how to make ASEAN a bigger part of our peoples’ lives.
Towards A Cohesive Community of One Southeast Asia
ASEAN has come a long way since its inception 28 years ago in Bangkok. The accomplishments of ASEAN and its individual members are often held up as models of regional cooperation and economic dynamism. And as a strong ASEAN has helped dispel clouds of insecurity in the region, so shall a community of One Southeast Asia, living in harmony, be a strong safeguard for peace and prosperity in this part of the world.
Recent developments indicate the dawning of a hopeful new era for Southeast Asia. The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) has been acceded to by all ten countries in the region. We welcome Vietnam to our ranks and are pleased that Laos and Cambodia have announced their intention to join us as members in the near future. Myanmar, meanwhile, has sought observer status in ASEAN.
Our meeting with the Heads of Government of Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar tomorrow will allow us to set in motion a process of political dialogue and consultation for the establishment of one community of Southeast Asia.When that time is reached, ASEAN will consist of ten members, which is a vision Thailand initiated and has fully supported all along. Towards this end, I hope that when the next ASEAN Summit is convened in Vietnam, a similar meeting of the ten countries will also be held.
With the Cold War ended, one of ASEAN’s most crucial and immediate tasks is to consolidate the peace. ASEAN has consistently sought to anticipate and adapt to regional security trends, through such initiatives as the TAC and ZOPFAN. The convening of the ASEAN Regional Forum or ARF for the first time in 1994 in Bangkok continues that tradition, while underscoring the central role of ASEAN in today’s evolving regional security environment. Thailand is therefore supportive of the on-going elaboration of the ARF process so that it will become an effective preventive diplomacy forum in the long-term for the peace and security of the region. Next year’s meeting of the ARF in Indonesia will allow us to further consolidate its strength and credibility.
To the roster of ASEAN’s accomplishments on regional security cooperation, this year ASEAN will add the Treaty on Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. The conclusion of the Treaty also comes at an opportune time, as the international community is strongly pushing for the comprehensive nuclear test ban as well as the reduction and elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Towards Deepening and Broadening Economic Integration
I am very proud of ASEAN’s progress and achievements in the economic sphere.
ASEAN’s on-going preparations for the ASEAN Free Trade Area or AFTA is proof enough to the world of ASEAN’s firm commitment to the promotion of economic cooperation.
Here, I wish to congratulate and welcome Vietnam to our fold as she joins our economic cooperative endeavours, including AFIA. Her admission will strengthen ASEAN’s economic dynamism even further.
It is widely acknowledged today that ASEAN is an important regional economic organisation. ASEAN, however, should not be satisfied with its achievements to date. Indeed, ASEAN must continue to deepen and broaden its cooperation with a view to becoming more integrated and responsive to the changing world economy environment after the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations.
The trend towards economic liberalization, both at the global and regional levels, will also lead to increased competition. ASEAN needs, therefore, a broad and far-sighted vision of its role in the future. It must also cooperate even more closely in order to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
Towards this end, I have three proposals to make:
Firstly, ASEAN must increase its role and prestige in international fora and ensure that its economic cooperative endeavours proceed faster than those under the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. In this connection, ASEAN must play leading roles in influencing the future direction of the world economy, during both the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which will be convened in Bangkok in March 1996, and the First Ministerial Meeting of the WTO, which will be convened in Singapore at the end of 1996.
Secondly, ASEAN has to broaden and deepen its cooperation as well as become more cohesive. The acceleration of the AFTA process and the inclusion of agricultural products in it are moves in the right direction and should be continued with a view to achieving concrete results. If AFTA is to truly become a free trade area, I propose that we aim to reduce tariffs to zero per cent by the year 2003.
Thirdly, ASEAN has to extend its cooperation from merchandise trade to also include trade in services. The liberalization of merchandise trade in itself is not enough given the on-going and wide-ranging economic liberalisation efforts underway around the world.
I feel that the proposal by our Economic Ministers to hold negotiations on liberalisation over the next three.years is too long. I propose that these negotiations be reduced to only one and a half years, particularly for sectors in which ASEAN is ready, including tourism, banking and finance and telecommunications.
ASEAN has never been short of cooperative endeavours. The various programmes proposed by our Economic Ministers cover a comprehensive range of sectors, including among other things, energy, agriculture, investment and transport and communications. What we must do is ensure that concrete results are achieved. Towards this end, we must coordinate our policies, our actions and our budgets.
In addition, ASEAN must play a role in linking the economies of the different regions. In particular, it must play a central role in the quest for an effective and free multilateral trading system.
If ASEAN is able to implement the above-mentioned proposals, I am confident that we will, in the future, become one of the world’s more important and dynamic economic groupings.
Towards Strengthening Human Development and Identity of ASEAN
The world unfolding before our eyes is one where technology and economics fuse as never before. In such a world, what will determine continued prosperity will be human capital. As ASEAN societies develop and grow, a well-educated citizenry will be indispensable to sustained economic and social development. ASEAN needs to place human development squarely at the centre of our cooperation to enable our people to realize their full potential to contribute towards the region’s further progress. This collaboration could be in such areas as research and development, upgrading of human resources and technology transfer.
As ASEAN cooperation intensifies in these various fields, a common ASEAN identity will gradually take root among the sectors of the public involved. This is consistent with our aim of making ASEAN not merely an association of states but a community of peoples.
To further foster ASEAN identity and consciousness, we need to enlist the cooperation and involvement of the media, educational institutions and citizen groups, all of whom should hold regular dialogues between themselves. I hope that before the next ASEAN Summit, such dialogues will have already materialised as ASEAN needs to be part of our peoples, as our peoples need to be part of ASEAN.
In the same vein, I believe that ASEAN Heads of Government should meet informally every year in between formal summits. This would enable us to coordinate our views and actions more effectively in the fast changing world. I therefore fully endorse Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s proposal for ASEAN to convene regular informal summits.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we move towards the 21st century, we must also search for ways and means to revitalize our Association to make it relevant in the ever-changing regional, and global context in which we live, and also make it more responsive to the needs of our peoples. Only then can ASEAN achieve its full potential.
I now declare the Fifth ASEAN Summit open.