Your Excellency the Secretary-General of ASEAN,
Excellencies the Directors-General of ASEAN,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As Chairman of the 39th ASEAN Standing Committee (ASC) and on behalf of the Government of Malaysia, I wish to warmly welcome you all once again to Kuala Lumpur for the 4th meeting of the 39th ASEAN Standing Committee.  I hope you have found some time to also enjoy Kuala Lumpur despite the busy schedule.   

2. As Malaysia proceeds to host the last round of meetings during its chairmanship of the ASC, I wish to take this opportunity to record my appreciation to the ASEAN Directors-General and officials from all Member Countries for their tireless efforts and commitment to ensure the success of the work of the 39th ASC over the past year. Our success is also attributed to the Secretary-General of ASEAN who has ably and effectively led his team of dedicated officials to assist and support the work of the ASC.  In this regard, allow me to congratulate all of you for a job well done.

3. I recall that in my Opening Statement at the First Meeting of the 39th ASC last October, I had advocated a people-centered approach in carrying out the broad priorities to ensure that ASEAN remains relevant and effective while remaining outward-looking.  The ASC must also take the lead in guiding and coordinating ASEAN Committees and sectoral bodies to intensify regional cooperation, which underlies the success of ASEAN community building through the Vientiane Action Programme (VAP) and the Plans of Action of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community.  This is indeed a challenge that the ASC must continually address as ASEAN expands into more areas of cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

4. With ASEAN set on realizing the ASEAN Community envisaged by ASEAN Vision 2020, the challenge before the ASC is to ensure that ASEAN remains on track to achieve its goal.  In line with our priority to ensure a balanced and effective implementation of the VAP, ASEAN has established the ASEAN Development Fund (ADF) which was set up to enable ASEAN to fund some of the VAP activities and projects of strategic nature.  In support to the fund, Malaysia has contributed US$600,000.  This includes the additional US$500,000 which I had pledged last year as a reflection of our commitment towards the implementation of VAP.  It is my sincere hope that Malaysia’s contribution will, in a small way, fund some VAP activities aimed at narrowing the development gap and enhancing regional integration.

5. I believe that ASEAN as an institution must be reinforced to withstand the challenges confronting it.  Hence, it is important for us to strengthen the ASEAN institutional framework. With the support of Member Countries, Malaysia has initiated the process of reviewing the ASEAN institutional framework in 2004 at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam. I am happy to note that since then, a number of positive developments have taken place.   The Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Charter has been signed last December.  The work of the ASEAN Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on the ASEAN Charter is making good progress.  Malaysia looks forward to the day when ASEAN makes the transition from an organization with a loose framework to one that is founded upon a Charter. We hope to see this happening by the time we celebrate the 40th anniversary of ASEAN.  Hopefully, the Charter will be ready by the ASEAN Summit in 2007.

6. Streamlining ASEAN meetings is another key aspect, which must be addressed.  It is estimated that there are more than 700 meetings held at all levels every year. The large number of meetings is a drain on the resources of the Member Countries and the ASEAN Secretariat.  Hence, while the creation of the Jakarta ASEAN Contact Group (JACG) may assist the National Secretariats of Member Countries to a certain extent, it is clear that a long-term solution is needed.  In this respect, Malaysia has put forward a proposal for the appointment of ASEAN Permanent Representatives by respective Member Countries to be based in Jakarta.   I am happy to note that the upcoming 39th AMM is expected to discuss and deliberate on this proposal.

7. In keeping with ASEAN’s standing as an outward-looking organization, I have also stressed on the enhancement of relations and linkages with our Dialogue Partners and the international community. Over the past year, our dialogue relations with some Dialogue Partners have reached a new level.  This we very much welcome. The successful convening of the First East Asia Summit (EAS) and the inaugural ASEAN-Russia Summit alongside the 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur last December provide testimony to ASEAN’s forward-looking orientation, while maintaining its role as the driving force and place in the driver’s seat.  In fact, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers have unanimously agreed at the Ubud Retreat in Bali that ASEAN must maintain its centrality in all processes it has initiated with the Dialogue Partners.  This fact must be underlined to all our Dialogue Partners and other ARF members in the upcoming meetings over the next few days.

8. As the ASC Chairman, I am also gratified to say that the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) remains the main mechanism in inter-state relations to ensure regional peace and stability. ASEAN should be pleased to welcome France as the latest country to accede to the Treaty.  The Foreign Minister of France will be signing the Instrument of Accession to the Treaty in Kuala Lumpur on 28 July 2006.  To date, already 10 countries have acceded to the TAC.    This clearly shows that the TAC is gaining more support and becoming an important document in inter-state relations for ASEAN.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

9. In line with our desire to ‘bring ASEAN to the people’, I felt that it would be necessary to highlight the profile and awareness of ASEAN through its activities and the benefits that have been generated. Thus, the ASC decision to celebrate the ASEAN Day for the first time last year in a concerted manner based on a central theme was indeed a notable step in the right direction.  I am glad that Member Countries will continue to do the same for this year’s celebration.   The selected central theme of “ASEAN and the Young People” is most appropriate. I am confident our efforts will further raise the awareness of ASEAN, in particular among the youth, a major and important segment of ASEAN’s society.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

10. With your commitment and professionalism, I am confident that the ASC will continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring ASEAN’s cohesiveness and resilence, while continually monitoring and maintaining a strong sense of regional solidarity in facing any challenges. It is also my fervent hope that the 39th AMM/PMC/13th ARF will result in a successful and productive outcome that will add to the stature of ASEAN in the international community in line with the theme that Malaysia has chosen, which is “Forging A United, Resilient and Integrated ASEAN”.
  
11. Last but not least, as Malaysia passes on the baton to the Philippines as the Incoming Chair of the 40th ASEAN Standing Committee, I wish to express Malaysia’s undivided support and cooperation to the Philippines.  I am fully confident that under the able and wise chairmanship of H.E. Alberto Romulo, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, ASEAN will become stronger and more cohesive.  I am sure that my fellow ASEAN Ministers will extend their full support and assistance to the Incoming Chairman. 

12. In conclusion, allow me to once again express my gratitude to all delegates for the achievements of the ASC over the last one year.  On this note, I am pleased to declare the 4th Meeting of the 39th ASEAN Standing Committee under the Chairmanship of Malaysia closed. May we all have successful and productive meetings in the days to come.

Thank you.