Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed a great honour for me to represent the Kingdom of Cambodia at the 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila, the beautiful city of the Republic of the Philippines. My delegation would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Government and People of the Philippines, the host country, for their warm welcome and generous hospitality extended to our delegation, and for the excellent arrangements provided to the Meeting.
May I, on behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), take this opportunity to express my high appreciation to H.E. Mr. Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Republic of the Philippines, for his most inspiring opening remarks this morning. His statement, which has clearly laid out the visions for greater and closer cooperation among the countries of the Southeast Asia, is of great significance.
I also would like to congratulate His Excellency Mr. DOMINGO L. SIAZON, Jr., Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines, on his election as Chairman of the 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. I am confident that under his able leadership the deliberations in this Meeting will be crowned with success.
At the same token, I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to H.E. Professor S. JAYAKUMAR, Foreign Minister of Singapore, on his election as Vice-Chairman of the 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and on assuming his function as the next Chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting takes place as rapid and deep changes have occurred in East and Southeast Asia. No countries in this part of the world have been sparred from their impact. In Cambodia, due to domestic problems and the financial crisis hitting with full force the region, economic activities have slowed down. They result from declining foreign direct investment and reduced tourist arrivals, mainly from the region. Abnormal and prolonged heat, combined with the late arrival of rains, has also affected our agriculture activities. Measures have been taken to face possible shortages in rice production. At the same time, the RGC has to devote substantial human and financial resources for the preparations and the holding of national elections scheduled for this 26th July.
I would like to seize this opportunity to earnestly thank all ASEAN member countries for sending observers on this occasion. This decision and the generous support given by numerous donor countries to physically enabling these elections to take place constitute a great encouragement for the Cambodian People. They are perceived as a vote of confidence in the capability of the Cambodian authorities to hold their first national elections organised on their own since the signature of the Paris Peace agreements in 1991, Though not perfect our preparations hereto have been credited by a large and critical international audience as being fair. 39 political parties, among them FUNCINPEC, are actively competing in the national elections. The free atmosphere, which generally characterises the electoral campaign, is an eloquent testimony of a well functioning democracy in my country. The whole process has progressed by large in acceptable conditions. It shows the political maturity of Cambodian leaders and the Cambodian People reached through long years of untold suffering. A clear reflection of this dynamic force is the large number of voter registration reaching 98% of the eligible population.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since late last year, Cambodia has been back on track. Though slowed down as stated earlier, GDP growth reached 2%, which is anyway in line with worldwide and regional trends. During the second half of 1997, the Riel depreciated only about 25% and remained in overall stable during the first half of 1998. Cambodia has succeeded in keeping the inflation at a single digit level at 8%. Compared to 1996 net foreign reserves, though low with US$ 198 million, reflected an increase of about 20%. Tax revenues increased, investment procedures became easier, and tourism picked up slowly again.
More importantly, key political institutions remained in place and have been gradually strengthened that testify to the political stability of the country. The Constitution of 1993 remained untouched with His Majesty NORODOM SIHANOUK as the Sovereign of the Kingdom. The Supreme Court of the Magistracy and the Constitutional Council have been established. A human rights investigating commission has been created.
Of historic importance has been the ability of the RGC within its first five year mandate to dismantle the Khmer Rouge as a political and military organisation, and to claim back all territory under their control. Hence, unprecedented security prevailed all over Cambodia, law and order improved, Despite many difficulties, the Kingdom of Cambodia is becoming progressively a State governed by the rules of law. Peace, national elections and economic development are the fundamental keys to the present and future of our country.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The elapsed year has proven to be extremely useful for Cambodia to better prepare itself to join ASEAN and to meet the obligations bound with such a membership. It was not a lost year, it was not a wasted time. Within only one year, the overall tone in the region has dramatically changed from euphoria to caution. Not only Cambodia has to review its economic policy, but all countries in the wide region of East and Southeast Asia. Tremendous efforts have been made to stabilize the national currency, to curb the inflation rate, to address unemployment issues, poverty and other acute social problems. In short, top priority now is to stabilize the national economy, The financial and fiscal crises that have hit hard the region have been unprecedented in its scope. They threaten to destroy what has been achieved over many decades through hard work and with pride. It is clear that the said crisis has far reaching political impact.
One important conclusion to me is that the problems currently faced by ASEAN amply show that regional solidarity is more than ever needed. Fire destroying one house can destroy the next one in no time. We need joint and combined effort. Only together can we survive in this modern time of global interdependence.
It means that perhaps because of the turmoil hitting the region that Cambodia remains committed to its declared intention to join ASEAN. It also clearly shows to ASEAN that Cambodia has been and remains a credible sister able to meet her duties with honour within the Family. How many times could we in Cambodia survive the many dooms days predicted by foreign observers.
The same goes with our region. We have the ability to survive the doomsday looming at our doorstep. Our traditional virtues remain strong; community values, learn proficiency, hard work and high saving rate among the population. With wisdom, many obstacles which appear to be insurmountable can be overcome. This should not appear as an expression of overconfidence, But one thing is sure, we cannot lose confidence. Confidence will come with good governance.
Our region of Southeast Asia cannot lay behind other parts of the world. Success can only come through joint and combined efforts, The underlying idea of regional unity and cooperation remains as powerful as ever. Indeed, given the region’s current economic troubles, I believe that regional integration is more critical now for ASEAN’s development than ever before, An integrated ASEAN will possess greater economic resilience and security than any individual member country can hope to achieve alone. We all in the region need, if I may say, in fact mutual understanding, encouragement and support as well as support from our friends beyond our region. Though Cambodia is not yet Member of ASEAN, let us together in ASEAN spirit affront challenges and shape our region. For its part, Cambodia will be Member of ASEAN the day the Association so decides.
Thank you for your kind attention