Mr. Chairman,
Your Royal Highnesses,
Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, allow me to express our sincere thanks to the Government and people of Singapore for the generous hospitality accorded to our delegation and the excellent arrangements made for our Meeting.

I would like to associate myself with other colleagues in expressing our thanks to H.E. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for his important Opening Address, which sets forth directions for our discussion and encourages us in our relentless efforts to strengthen our unity and co-operation for an ASEAN of peace, stability and equitable development, contributing to peace, stability and development of the Asia-Pacific and the world.

I wish also to extend my warm congratulations to H.E. Professor S. Jayakumar, Foreign Minister of Singapore and H.E. Surin Pitsuwan, Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand for your elections as Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively of our Meeting and I am confident that with your experienced and dynamic leadership our Meeting will come to a successful conclusion.

Our special congratulations and welcome also go to the Delegation of the Kingdom of Cambodia led by H.E. Hor Namhong, Senior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, who attend our Meeting as a full member for the first time. Cambodia’s admission into ASEAN has fulfilled the long-cherished dream of an ASEAN comprising all Southeast Asian countries, an ASEAN-10 of Southeast Asia, by Southeast Asia and for Southeast Asia. ASEAN-10 constitutes an important factor for peace, stability, development and prosperity of each country and the whole region.

Mr. Chairman,

Our Meeting takes place in the context of new complicated developments in our region and the world. Economic and financial difficulties in the region have not yet been overcome; regional outstanding issues remain sources of concern. The crisis in the Balkans has made international relations more complicated, undermining world stability, when mankind is desirous for world peace and stability and respect for the sovereignty and interests of nations.

The success of the 6th ASEAN Summit has demonstrated ASEAN’s determination and capability to overcome difficulties and strengthened its unity and co-operation, regaining the confidence of the international community.

The implementation of the important decisions of the 6th ASEAN Summit, particularly the Hanoi Plan of Action would be the focus of the present and future activities among ourselves and those between ASEAN and the outside world.

Against this background, we have to identify challenges so as to work out directions for future development of our Association.

First, how ASEAN can make greater contributions to maintain peace and stability in the region.

Secondly, how ASEAN can quickly mitigate the impact of the financial and economic crisis, ensure the economic recovery and high growth, and socio-political stability, further enhance national and regional resilience.

Thirdly, how ASEAN can strengthen its unity and solidarity, ensure equitable development, especially in an expanded ASEAN, and enhance ASEAN’s role and prestige in regional and international fora, especially in the ARF.

To deal with the above challenges, it is important to consolidate and strengthen ASEAN’s unity and co-operation on the basis of the Association’s fundamental principles, especially consensus, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and “unity in diversity”. The dynamism of ASEAN depends on the achievement of sustained and equitable development along the line: “Each country develops for the development of the whole region and the whole region develops for the development of each country”. The future of ASEAN has been clearly envisaged as “a concert of Southeast Asian nations, outward looking, living in peace, stability and prosperity, bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies”.

To that end, we think it is time to undertake measures, such as setting up “hot lines” at various levels, particularly at the level of ASEAN Leaders, and increased working visits by the Leaders, Ministers and senior officials of various agencies to promote close ties and settle problems that might arise. At the same time, the “ASEAN way” should be preserved and applied in resolving outstanding issues and preventing new disputes from arising. In this regard, we support the formulation of the Rules of Procedures of the High Council as envisioned in the TAC so as to bring the Council into early operation.

The future of ASEAN belongs to our young generation. Therefore, greater efforts should be made to increase closer contacts and interactions among the youth.

Mr. Chairman,

The maintenance of regional peace and stability is of great importance for development and prosperity for each country and the whole region. However, there remain problems which cause concerns.

With regard to the Eastern Sea, it is regrettable that incidents still occurred, disturbing peace and stability in the region. We reiterate our views that disputes in the Eastern Sea should be resolved only by peaceful means, through bilateral and multilateral negotiations among the parties concerned in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1992 ASEAN Declaration on the South China Sea.

Pending a durable and lasting solution, the parties concerned should exercise self-restraint, refrain from any acts that could complicate the situation, and actively undertake confidence-building measures to ensure peace and stability in the region. In this regard, the early establishment of a regional Code of Conduct in the South China Sea endorsed by our Leaders at the 6th ASEAN Summit would constitute an important CBM.

The situation in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region such as the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwanese Strait… underlines the importance of greater endeavours by all parties concerned to settle their disputes and differences by peaceful means through increased dialogues and co-operation.

We are deeply concerned over the serious implications of the Kosovo crisis on the region and the world. It is our hope that peace and stability will be soon restored and the legitimate interests of all ethnic groups in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia be ensured so that the Yugoslav people could concentrate their efforts on the national construction and development.

The above situation all the more highlights the imperative of strict observance of fundamental principles governing inter-state relations especially the peaceful settlement of disputes and the respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations.

Mr. Chairman,

At the 31st AMM, we expressed the belief that ASEAN would be able to overcome the present difficulties and challenges caused by the economic and financial crisis, and to regain its momentum of dynamic development. That belief is all the more reinforced by ASEAN Leaders’ determination and commitments at the 6th ASEAN Summit. We shared the general views that the worst is over, and ASEAN has started to recover.

Among the efforts and measures to address the serious impact of the regional crisis, priority should be given to alleviating poverty, creating jobs, promoting agricultural and rural development at the national and regional levels. In this regard, we welcome the adoption of the ASEAN Plan of Action on Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation as well as efforts by the Member Countries in promoting subregional development, especially the interstate areas along the West-East corridor of the Mekong Basin (WEC). We hope that the second Ministerial Meeting on the ASEAN Mekong Basin Development Co-operation would be convened as soon as possible and propose that a working group be formed to develop a master plan for the WEC development.

Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlement,

Looking back into ASEAN’s 32 years of existence and development, the achievements it accorded and the firm foundation it has laid, we have every reason to believe that strong determination, one-mindedness, and joint efforts to overcome all difficulties and challenges, ASEAN will unceasingly develop and advance forward with optimism into the next century to the realisation of the lofty objectives enshrined in the Hanoi Declaration and the Hanoi Plan of Action to achieve Vision 2020, thus contributing to peace and development in the region and the world.

Brilliant is the future of ASEAN.

Thank you for your attention.