Excellency and Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of my ASEAN Colleagues, I wish to extend our warm welcome to Your Excellency and to the distinguished members of your Delegation to this annual session of the Post Ministerial Conferences (PMC) between ASEAN and Australia.
We meet at a time when significant political developments are taking place in ASEAN. Last year ASEAN admitted two new members and this year it hopes to welcome its tenth member, thereby realizing the long envisioned ASEAN Ten. The Second Informal Summit of ASEAN in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in December 1997 laid down ASEAN Vision 2020 which spelled out what we expect to become in about two decades and identified priority areas for ASEAN cooperation in the political-security, economic and functional fields. As a follow-up step, the ASEAN Leaders will be adopting, during the Sixth ASEAN Summit in December, the “Hanoi Plan of Action to Implement Vision 2020.” We in ASEAN believe that Australia can play an important role in the implementation of Vision 2020.
Meanwhile, the security environment of the Asia-Pacific region continues to evolve as the major powers realign their relationships with one another and with the countries of the region.
The home of more than half of the world’s population and encompassing countries of tremendous diversity in size as well as economic and politico-military strength, in culture as well as political systems, the Asia-Pacific region has for a long time simmered with endemic conflicts and tensions. In such a highly complex strategic environment, the countries of the region have never found it easy to take swift and concerted initiatives-they have had to move cautiously. In such an environment, comprehensive intra-regional consultations are an imperative. Every nation in the region must participate in such consultations if we are to maintain regional peace and stability and if we are to forge a consensus on what the future of our region should be.
In this regard, Australia has assumed an important and constructive role in the endeavour to enhance the stability and security of the region. Australia has achieved this by promoting region-wide consultations and equitable partnerships with ASEAN member countries,, by supporting and actively participating in the PMC and the ARF process. In the ARF process, we particularly appreciate Australia’s co-sponsorship and co-hosting of several Track One and Track Two activities, especially the ISG on CBM’s with Brunei Darussalam which have yielded concrete proposals that will strengthen the ARF process.
As a “Friend of Cambodia,” Australia has also persevered in working with ASEAN to help Cambodia achieve political stability. Indeed Australia played an important role in the successful conclusion of the Paris International Conference on Cambodia (PICC) which served as tile framework for the peace process that led to the rebirth of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
In the economic sphere, the region remains in the grip of a financial crisis that broke out at about this time last year and has,, since then,, brought about severe economic and social upheaval in the countries of East and Southeast Asia. ASEAN member countries have taken steps to address the crisis individually, regionally and in cooperation with international financial institutions as well as friendly countries. ASEAN has urged these international financial institutions and concerned agencies to devise support programmes, to take fully into account the needs of the poor in terms of food, medicine and education for their children. Hence, there should be a strong social safety net programme within the support package. We appreciate Australia’s demonstrated solidarity in the face of the crisis and we trust that Australia, the first developed country to establish dialogue relations with ASEAN, will continue to lend its support to our efforts to address the crisis. Specifically, Australia could extend assistance to the affected ASEAN countries by way of new initiatives designed to enhance confidence in ASEAN as well as to facilitate trade.
ASEAN-Australian relations, established in 1974, have been fruitful as trade between Australia and ASEAN has been steadily growing. ASEAN, however, is concerned that the trade balance has been consistently in favour of Australia.
Both Australia and ASEAN have been strong advocates of outward looking economic regionalism and free trade. It is therefore only natural that a significant linkage has also been established between the projected ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the CER. The linkage would promote economic and trade relations as well as business facilitation activities between the two groupings.
With regard to investments, ASEAN has identified areas for possible Australian investments including food production and processing, pharmaceuticals, textiles, packaging industry, marine industry, and industrial machinery and parts manufacturing. The Australian Government could effectively, promote ASEAN-Australia investments by co-financing or guaranteeing loans. As to the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) it has always been Indonesia’s position that Australia should be participating on the Asian side of that interregional forum.
Since development cooperation is the mainstay of ASEAN’s Dialogue Relations, the ASEAN-Australia Economic Cooperation Programme (AAECP) has been the cornerstone of the ASEAN-Australia relationship. Since its establishment in 1974 it has promoted cooperation between ASEAN and Australia in areas of agreed regional development priorities. Two ASEAN members, Laos and Myanmar, having joined ASEAN only last year, have not yet participated in this Programme. I therefore appeal to the Australian Government for their inclusion in Phase III of the Programme.
Most of the projects in the AAECP are in such areas as food, science and technology, non-conventional energy, marine science and information technology. In line with the decision of the Fifth ASEAN Summit Declaration of 1995 to strive towards technological competitiveness by building on regional cooperation in science and technology, we should like to seek Australia’s continued support for the science and technology cooperation programme, particularly for projects designed to enhance the region’s capability in environmental management, remote sensing and geographic information systems.
A vital consideration in the pursuit of this Programme is the fact that a large part or the ASEAN population, some 95 million people or 19 percent of the total ASEAN population, live below the poverty line. The rate of poverty in each of the ASEAN countries range from less than one percent in Singapore to 46 percent in Laos. Moreover, the current economic crisis has had an enormous impact on ASEAN’s poor. Measures to restore economic recovery and stability should therefore be given the highest priority iii our cooperation. We trust that Australia will Support the implementation of the poverty alleviation programmes in the region by extending technical or financial assistance.
Both Australia and ASEAN have welcomed and encouraged the active participation of our private sectors in the Dialogue process. The ASEAN-Australia Business Council (AABC) has been participating in Dialogue Meetings as well as in the preparations for AAECP Phase III. The new scheme of Linkages Stream introduced within the framework of AAECP Phase III provides a significant avenue for private sectors to take Part in our joint activities in order to promote cooperation in the areas of trade and investment.
Since Australia expressed its intention to establish cultural and information cooperation with ASEAN at the 15th ASEAN- Australia Forum in 1993, both sides have carried out a number of cultural cooperation projects. With the operation of the recently established ASEAN Foundation, we expect cultural cooperation between Australia and ASEAN to intensify. The Foundation has been tasked to promote greater awareness of ASEAN, and greater interaction among the peoples of ASEAN as well as their wider participation in ASEAN’s activities inter alia through human resources development. This would enable them to realize their full potential and contribute to progress as productive and responsible members of society. It would also help bring about the evolution of a development cooperation strategy and further promote mutual assistance, equitable economic development and the alleviation of poverty in the region.
The Government of Australia could help ensure the success of the Foundation by extending technical and financial support as well as ideas for its projects and activities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I should like to express ASEAN’s appreciation and gratitude to the Government and people of Australia for their positive contributions to the development of our region through, their active participation in the political, economic, cultural and development cooperation programmes of ASEAN.
My colleagues and I are optimistic that our deliberations here this morning will again be fruitful and further strengthen the bonds of friendship between ASEAN and Australia.