Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Thai delegation, I wish to join my ASEAN colleagues in congratulating you on your election as Chairman of the Thirtieth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. The past twelve months have indeed been very eventful and we are fortunate to have you as Chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee. Under Malaysia’s leadership, much progress has been achieved which means that we will celebrate ASEAN’s Thirtieth Anniversary this year with both substance and style.
Indeed, such celebration has already begun here in Kuala Lumpur. Yesterday, I had the honour to take part in the Second ASEAN Congress, a commemorative event of the ASEAN Thirtieth Anniversary, organised by ASEAN-ISIS. As I delivered my speech in the presence of participants from all walks of life, — people from government, the private sector, academic circle, media and NGOs as well as ordinary citizens–, I felt very strongly that we are indeed setting the right direction for ASEAN in the next century. For ASEAN to remain vigorous the spirit of ASEAN must be, embraced by all the segments that make up our societies.
The lessons from the past and thoughts for the future of ASEAN were eloquently articulated earlier this morning by one of its eminent statesmen, His Excellency Dato’ Dr. Sri Mahathir Mohamad. During the past 16 years, he has shown how to match his vision for Malaysia with deeds. The Commemorative Summit to be held later this year under his chairmanship will once again benefit from his foresight The ASFAN Vision 2020 to be adopted by our Heads of Government will be an important roadmap ushering us into the next century with clarity in purpose.
We celebrate here in Kuala Lumpur thirty years of hard-earned success. Had we at the beginning listened to the skeptics or had we been deterred by setbacks, we certainly would not be where we are now. What the ASEAN experience has taught us is that we can indeed make a difference. And we must be prepared to make a difference where the principles we hold dear are at sake or where our common interest is clearly identified.
From the original five member, we welcomed Brunei Darussalam and then embraced Vietnam as seventh. Yesterday was another historic occasion fitting this year’s celebration when Laos and Myanmar became full members of ASEAN.
Although at this moment we are not yet ASEAN 10 but the spirit of ASEAN 10 has already been with us since the historic meeting of the ten Southeast Asian leaders at the Fifth ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in 1995. Today, I join my ASEAN colleagues to once again extend my very warm welcome to Their Excellencies Mr. Somsavat Lengsavid and U Ohn Gyaw into our fold and the day will soon come when we are able to welcome Cambodia.
The recent developments in Cambodia are unfortunate and regrettable. I am however encouraged by the stands taken by both Prince Ranariddh and Samdech Hun Sen that they are not in favour of the use of force as means to achieve their objective. Thailand as immediate neighbour has had long experiences of bearing the brunt of armed conflicts in Cambodia. My Government has therefore adopted a clear stand that it would not allow any side or group to use our territory against another. Nor would we support the use of force or any armed resistance. We in ASEAN are of course ready to lend a helping hand in finding a peaceful solution because it is in the interest of our region as a whole to see normalcy return to Cambodia and the general elections be held in May 1998 or earlier. But first, the Cambodians themselves must give peace a chance.
As the put thirty years have proven, we are not easily deterred by setbacks. In times of difficulty, we in each ASEAN country have proven that setbacks can be overcome through strength, determination and regional resilience. Our recent experience in the regional financial markets, for instance, reconfirms the value of ASEAN solidarity in preventing external forces from undermining our economic stability. Against this new security threat, ASEAN must further deepen its cooperation to fight against all forms of international economic crime.
With what we have accomplished, I have no doubt that ASEAN is well-placed to take up the challenges that lay ahead.
AFTA is on track. Inter-ASEAN trade has increasingly become a significant portion of our overall trade, Our economic cooperation has been further strengthened with the launching of the new ASEAN Industrial Cooperation (AICO) Scheme, the liberalization of investment towards the ASEAN Investment Area as well as trade complementation and facilitation measures. The progress of such measures as well as new region economic cooperation initiatives, such as our efforts in the Mekong Sub-region – which help to integrate the economies of our new members, will ensure our continued dynamism and place in the highly competitive world economy.
Externally, ASEAN has been successful in presenting a moderate but credible stand in various international fora- It seeks to promote trade liberalization in accordance with the internationally established rules and opposes any attempt to mix trade with non-economic issues. It has played a constructive role in the WTO and intensified economic activities between Asia and the Pacific within the framework of APEC. Here I wish to congratulate the Philippines and Singapore for the successful conclusion of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting and the first WTO Ministerial Meeting last year respectively. For ASEAN to be able to safeguard its interest as well as the interest of other developing economies in WTO or APEC, ASEAN must continue to speak as one. Such spirit of solidarity and mutual cooperation has made ASEAN what it is today. This also holds true for our efforts in ASEM. ASEAN should be more assertive in bringing Europe and East Asia closer together.
Through APEC and ASEM and our expanded dialogue relationships, we have linked up with the main centers of growth in the world economy. By seizing the opportunities of economic regionalization and globalization, we have enhanced our ability to meet the challenge of increased economic competition head on.
We have also taken up the challenge to achieve regional peace and stability. The signing of the Southeast Asia Weapon Free Zone Treaty in Bangkok in 1995 represents our own initiative and determination to made this area safer from the threat of nuclear destruction. It has already come into force in March this year and ASEAN has engaged in a series of consultations with the Nuclear Weapon States to gain their support.
Through its own initiative starting in Bangkok, ASEAN has also created a consultative forum to engage the major powers in and outside our region. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) seeks to enhance regional security, not by building up armaments but rather by enhancing mutual trust and confidence. As the world will increasingly become more multipolar in nature, ASEAN must remain in the driving seat of the ARF process so as to ensure its effectiveness and relevance to our region.
What we have achieved are certainly no small feats. While we can look back with satisfaction, we must continue to strive forward to keep pace with a world that is undergoing great transformation due to the forces of globalisation. And we must do this with increased confidence in our determination to make a difference.
As we move towards the year 2020, ASEAN will have derived its strength not only from unity among governments but unity among its diverse peoples. The ASEAN experience and the ASEAN process must reach out to all spectrum of our societies. Through ASEA.N, this region will become a grass-root supported and close-knit community bound together not only by common interests, but by shared values, identity and aspirations among our peoples.
The establishment of the ASEAN Foundation, to be officially inaugurated when the ASEAN leaders meet at their Informal Summit at the end of this year, will be a major step in this direction. Through this prestigious Foundation, ASEAN will promote educational exchanges among our brightest people, students and scholars, and also support youth volunteers programme to enable our youths to learn more about the culture and traditions of the region through volunteer work. Non-governmental bodies should be encouraged to participate in the establishment of this Foundation in partnership with ASEAN governments.
Much that we would like to shape the destiny of the region with our own hands, we must also contend with the role of external players, namely the major powers.
China will no doubt emerge in the next century as a great power. Japan will have played a greater role commensurate with its economic power, The United States will likely continue to maintain strong presence in East Asia and their interplay will continue to have significant bearing in our region and in Asia and the Pacific in the next century- We must seek to engage the major powers to play a constructive role vis a vis one another and with all the regional countries.
We must ensure that the interplay among the major powers enhance regional security and is conducive to growth and sustainable development for our own people. The proposed Summit meeting between our leaders and their counterparts in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea as part of the Commemorative Summit in Kuala Lumpur later this year represents a unique opportunity to contribute meaningfully to regional peace, stability and prosperity of our region in the next century.
Before concluding my statement, let me sum up my thoughts. Over the past thirty years, we have focused much of our attention in searching for peace and stability as well as promoting economic growth. Indeed ASFAN can claim success in these areas. We have been able to bring to an end one of the world’s most challenging humanitarian problems of Indochinese refugees. Social issues that transcend national borders such as AIDs, drug-trafficking and the environment, are being tabled with greater vigour. And we ;are now becoming a more complete regional community. To put modesty aside, we have become in many ways a model of success.
Because of our success, we will be expected to play a more active role in global affairs, it is timely therefore to examine how we can contribute to the international community, not only for the benefit of our region, but also for other developing nations. I believe the answer lies within us. Our values, philosophies and culture are second to none. The diversity of ASEAN reflects the diversity of the world. Our efforts to achieve harmony in diversity then, may provide other regions with a valuable experience in seeking peace and harmony at the global level. So as ASEAN enters its fourth decade, we must develop an outward looking policy that responds to our needs and our potential. We must stand firm an issues that affect our interests and those of humanity. Then we can congratulate ourselves for a well deserved celebration of ASEAN’s Thirtieth Anniversary.