The Honourable Deputy Prime Minister,
Honourable Ministers, Honourable Members of Parliament,
His Excellency Mr. Ong Keng Yong, Secretary General of ASEAN,
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Let me begin by expressing my sincere appreciation to His Excellency Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General of ASEAN, for inviting me to deliver the 2006 ASEAN Lecture in commemoration of the 39th ASEAN Anniversary. I wish to commend the Secretary-General for giving greater exposure to the ASEAN Day by taking the ASEAN Lecture outside of Jakarta every other year. My appreciation also goes to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, the co-organizers of this event.
2. Allow me also to join in welcoming all present, in particular the Ministers, Members of Parliament, the diplomatic corps and the students present in this hall today. Your presence reflects your interest in ASEAN. I am encouraged that the observance of this anniversary has received the support of the common people of Malaysia and other ASEAN countries. I consider that interest as a demonstration of their support for ASEAN as an entity which belongs to them, the people of ASEAN.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
3. When ASEAN was established in 1967, skeptics and detractors were many. After all, ASEAN was founded in the midst of regional strife and internal conflicts, juxtaposed against the background of a raging Cold War at that time. Furthermore, before 1967, several attempts at creating regional coalitions in Southeast Asia had failed. The vision of the founding fathers that ASEAN would be a new kind of regional organization that could help ensure a stable and peaceful region was seen as utopian by some, and as unrealistic by others. After all, Southeast Asia had been known as the epicenter of conflict through the ages, which culminated in the Cold War rivalry for influence in the region.
4. But ASEAN persevered. We moved in gradual but sure steps. Gradually we proved the detractors wrong. Slowly, ASEAN became relevant in the evolving regional architecture. By 1976, when the Leaders of the original five member countries met at a Summit Meeting in Bali, they were able to affirm the solidarity between ASEAN countries and their goodwill towards each other when they signed two important documents: first, the Declaration of ASEAN Concord and second, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. The T.A.C became such an important ASEAN document, not because it was an instrument that was able to resolve disputes but because it was a concept which successfully kept the peace. The pivotal position that document commands in regional diplomacy has been established by the fact that it is now legally subscribed to not only by the ten ASEAN members, as a condition of membership, but also by no less than 10 non-ASEAN partners, as a demonstration of solidarity and friendship. Indeed, it is a condition for joining the East Asia Summit.
5. The evolution of ASEAN was so slow, and the development of trust and confidence among the regional countries was so gradual, that the third ASEAN Summit Meeting did not take place until 1987, a good ten years after the second Summit in 1997. Today, 39 years since the beginning, ASEAN Leaders meet not only during their annual Summits; they consult each other regularly in between Summits. One thread which has remained unbroken since the beginning is the spirit of belonging and accommodation woven into the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. I give top marks to the Leaders who created that Treaty for having planted an idea and created a bond which has tied ASEAN countries together all these years.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
6. In celebrating the past, it is pertinent that we also reflect upon the future. And, the future of ASEAN will be contingent upon the degree of success of community building and the strengthening of ASEAN institutions. In talking about the future, it is most appropriate that ASEAN Day this year is dedicated to “ASEAN and Young People”, which is the given theme for the commemoration of this event. I say it is appropriate because the future belongs, unavoidably, to the young people of ASEAN. It is critical that we of the present generation leave behind a legacy that we can be proud of and meets the expectations of the young people of today who will inherit the ASEAN of the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
7. ASEAN is very important to Malaysia. ASEAN has had a great impact upon the country’s international relations. Malaysia is a Muslim country which takes seriously its membership and responsibility as a member state of the Organization of Islamic Conference. And, as a member of the Non Aligned Movement, Malaysia abides by and applies the principles of independence and non alignment in its relations with other countries in the world. However, in the construction of its world view, it is ASEAN which factors significantly in Malaysia’s strategic thinking about regional affairs as well as about the wider international environment.
8. In fact, ASEAN is the corner stone of Malaysia’s foreign policy. That is the measure of the importance Malaysia places in ASEAN. That is also a reflection of Malaysia’s commitment to nurture and strengthen ASEAN. Therefore, I am most delighted that on this ASEAN Day, the Secretary General of our Association has invited me to deliver a Lecture in celebration of this important anniversary in the calendar of regional diplomacy. I thank him for giving me this opportunity and for choosing Malaysia to play host for the event this year.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
9. By comparison with the history of other regional organizations, supported by a good track record of peace and stability in South East Asia, ASEAN has indeed been a success story since its formation 39 years ago. Since we have succeeded in the past, it is my view that the continued success of ASEAN as a regional organization requires that we uphold the value of continuity. However, the realities of international affairs, particularly the inexorable advance of globalization, and the dynamics of regional and international diplomacy, make it mandatory for ASEAN to effect changes at the same time in order to be relevant to the times. ASEAN must always possess capacities to be relevant and responsive to the changing needs of its member countries.
10. I believe the secret for ensuring ASEAN’s future survival and growth as a regional entity lies in our ability to find the right formula for managing continuity and change. It will depend upon the degree of our success in instituting changes without sacrificing continuity. It is my view therefore that in planning for the future, ASEAN should adopt the twin policy of preservation and innovation. That is to say, we must keep with us all that are good about ASEAN; and we make changes when and where changes are necessary.
11. Number one on the list of items to be preserved are the fundamentals enshrined in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. In that Treaty, we have found principles which have proven their worthiness. Abiding by the principles enshrined in the T.A.C, ASEAN countries had been able to build confidence between them. They have been able to prevent internal or bilateral problems spilling over and impacting on the cohesion of the organization. The Treaty spirit has also enabled ASEAN countries to keep extra-regional influences from u
psetting regional unity and solidarity.
12. Therefore, in the task of reforming and renewing ASEAN, we must preserve the fundamental principles written into the Treaty, the most important of which are worth repeating, namely:
Mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations;
Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another;
Settlement of differences or disputes by peaceful means;
Renunciation of the threat or use of force;
13. The concepts and principles contained in the Treaty might indeed require refining or updating in order to be relevant and responsive to the changing needs of member countries. In fact, differing reactions to the political developments in Myanmar had subjected the T.A.C principle of “non-interference” to much debate and discussion. Indeed, that principle might require refinement especially in the face of the onslaught of globalization. I believe the new ASEAN Charter which is yet to be written is the right place to update the enduring principles of the T.A.C. The important thing is to decide not to abandon without reservation the principle of “non interference”. That principle is our ultimate defence of the inviolability of the nation state, particularly in this age of globalization and modernization.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
14. In the context of innovation, number one in the list of changes to be effected in the affairs of ASEAN is to make its activities more people centered so as to bring the organization closer to the people. In the last 39 years, ASEAN had been very much an inter-governmental association. ASEAN in the next 39 years should become more people-centered as an organization. This task definitely calls for creativity and innovation.
15. This task should be part of the process of preparing the legacy to be inherited by the young people of ASEAN. This process is particularly pertinent because more than 50% of the 542 million people in ASEAN countries are made up of youth born after the birth of ASEAN in 1967. The ASEAN Statistical Yearbook 2005 records this fact. Therefore, the theme of this year’s ASEAN Day is indeed appropriate and relevant, to say the least.
16. During its chairmanship of ASEAN in the past one year, Malaysia had deliberately taken several initiatives to bring ASEAN more close to the people of ASEAN. For instance, the First ASEAN Education Ministers’ Meeting was convened in Singapore in March 2006. We do hope that ASEAN countries can agree to instill awareness of ASEAN by introducing the ASEAN element in the school curriculum at all levels or in other study programmes. That can help to implant the ASEAN regional identity into the young minds in schools throughout the ASEAN region. I think we should also begin planning the establishment of an ASEAN University.
17. ASEAN Day, like today, is meant to bring ASEAN direct to the people. From now on, this day will continue to be observed simultaneously region-wide. We should look forward to the day when ASEAN Day gets celebrated like the respective National Days of ASEAN countries.
18. As Chairman of the 39th ASEAN Standing Committee, Malaysia initiated consultations with Parliamentarians in ASEAN countries. We have also begun to engage the Civil Society. The First ASEAN Civil Society Conference was organized as a side event of the 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur at the end of 2005. And, for the first time in the history of ASEAN, the representatives of the Civil Society Conference presented their Report to the ASEAN Leaders at the Summit.
19. As far as the young people of ASEAN is concerned, the most important task that ASEAN governments can undertake is to upgrade their knowledge and skills thus making them valuable and high quality human capital. This is the best preparation we can make for the direct benefit of the youth of ASEAN and for the indirect benefit of ASEAN societies and governments. As a contribution to this effort, Malaysia is planning to implement a youth development package under the Malaysian technical cooperation programme, a project for participation by other ASEAN countries. I am a firm believer that the most important ingredient for good planning and implementation in the development process, both economic and social, is quality human capital. And to secure this, we must invest in the young people of ASEAN.
20. Another area requiring urgent innovation is the need to make ASEAN more pro-active in asserting itself as a group in its relations with other groups or in various international organizations. ASEAN member countries must be prepared to identify issues which are best defended or promoted on a group basis. On such matters, member countries would need to cease taking positions which are purely based on narrow national interests as dictated by bilateral concerns or other considerations. Certain subjects fall easily into this category of issues, for example the need to establish regional systems providing early warnings against natural disasters. Similarly there is a need to establish region-wide measures to contain communicable diseases and other threats to public health. On a different plane, ASEAN must certainly take a common stand in the fight against international terrorism.
21. The list of issues requiring group action by ASEAN are indeed long, especially on the question of international economic cooperation. ASEAN economies would need to compete with the rest of the world, not only on the basis of efficiency and cost effectiveness but also by the strategic application of knowledge and creativity. For instance, unity and solidarity of the group would be vitally needed if ASEAN seriously wishes to be the driving force in the creation of the East Asia Community, preferably through the ASEAN+3 process.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
22. Over and above everything else, the maintenance of regional peace and security must remain our top priority for the next 39 years and more. It would be difficult to build the ASEAN Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community unless peace and security exist in the ASEAN region. We must persevere, however, because community building is one of the best ways of building peace and keeping the peace. Therefore, involving the people of ASEAN more directly in the process of community building should be part and parcel of the innovative strategy to guarantee the future survival and growth of ASEAN in all the three cases.
23. In the context of community building, and to show by example ASEAN’s capability of managing regional peace and security issues on its own, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had asked that I mention in my Lecture today, the International Monitoring Team in Southern Mindanao. This request was conveyed to us by the ASEAN Secretary General. The monitoring team is led by Malaysia. It is part of a peace building and economic development initiative in that part of the Philippines which involves some non ASEAN countries as well. President Arroyo says she views the exercise in Southern Mindanao as a fine example of indigenous peace building in action. I thank her for that, and I would like to assure her that Malaysia will continue to support efforts aimed at establishing peace and stability in that area. We certainly hope that the efforts being made over there will lead to a final settlement between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
24. Earlier in this Lecture
, I have spoken about the important principle of “non interference in the internal affairs of one another” of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. I have mentioned about the problem ASEAN has in trying to engage Myanmar, mainly out of deference to that important principle. Clearly, in the case of Southern Mindanao, we have been able to walk the fine line between engagement and non interference in the internal affairs of the Philippines. I think this experience is a good case study on the feasibility and applicability of the twin policy of preservation and innovation. I would therefore repeat my proposal that this policy be used in planning the reform and renewal of ASEAN, in preparation for the future of ASEAN.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
25. Let me conclude by reiterating that the ASEAN community building process, just like nation-building, is very much a people-centred process. It is not a simple top-down process of command and control. Furthermore, it is a process which requires simultaneous action both at the national level and the ASEAN level. This fact is important for ASEAN countries to recognize and accept. I am confident that the young people of ASEAN, properly equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills, would be ready and willing to meet all the challenges that ASEAN will face in the future.
26. On that note, let me conclude my Lecture by expressing my best wishes and sending my greetings to all the peoples of ASEAN on this occasion of the 39th Anniversary of the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.