Your Excellency, Mr. Masahiko Koumura,
State Secretary for Foreign Affairs,
Distinguished Delegates from ASEAN and Japan,

1. It is my honour and pleasure to co-chair with Your Excellency this important Meeting. We are pleased to note the significant developments in the multi-sided cooperation between ASEAN and Japan since our last meeting. The ASEAN-Japan Summit last December has provided additional momentum to and charted out directions for enhancing ASEAN-Japan cooperative relationship. Most recently, the 16th ASEAN-Japan Forum in Hanoi has focused on the current economic and financial crisis, its impacts on the region, and measures to overcome the crisis as well as concrete steps to be taken to implement decisions of the ASEAN-Japan Summit.

2. The persistent economic and financial difficulties in the region continue to be our primary concern. Our imperative task is to intensify cooperation to prevent the crisis from worsening and spreading into other regions. Several active measures have been taken by ASEAN countries with a view to implementing reforms and structural adjustments within the national framework, in keeping with regional and international efforts, especially those by international fmancial institutions and major economies, in order to achieve an early economic recovery and restoration of financial and economic stability. In spite of these difficulties, ASEAN remains committed to implement its liberalisation programmes in the areas of trade, investment and services through AFTA, AICO and AIA, etc.

3. ASEAN follows with concern Japan’s economic recession, particularly the depreciation of the Yen which is affecting the regional economic recovery and stability. ASEAN welcomes the package of stimulus measures recently introduced by the Government of Japan as well as Japan’s policy of boosting domestic demand as the main measure to bring about economic recovery. ASEAN sincerely hopes that Japan’s economy will soon recover and back to the path of domestic demand-led growth and a strengthened Yen.

4. ASEAN appreciates Japan’s efforts in helping ASEAN countries overcome the crisis, even when Japan itself is in difficulty. Given the importance of the Japan’s economy to the region and the increasing interdependence between ASEAN’s and Japan’s economies, ASEAN expects Japan to continue to play a leading role in helping economic recovery of ASEAN countries. We agree to the suggestion made by Japan at the recent ASEAN-Japan Forum in Hanoi on using Japan’s “Special Funds” in WB, ADB and UNDP to help ASEAN countries mitigate the social impacts. We propose that relevant agencies of ASEAN and Japan be tasked to consider its implementation at an early date. We welcome Japan’s contribution to the ASEAN Foundation in the form of “Solidarity Fund” and look forward to discussing with Japan details concerning its utilisation. We hope that the fund will be utilised in the most effective way conforming to ASEAN countries’ essential needs in the present period.

5. Economic cooperation continues to be a main area of ASEAN- Japan partnership. Along that line, ASEAN would like Japan to improve market access for ASEAN products so as to reduce large deficits in ASEAN’s trade with Japan, to accelerate the implementation of trade and investment financing programmes, to increase ODA and preferential credits, assisting in human resources development and transfer of technology, to promote Japan’s SMEs in the region and increase assistance to ASEAN’s SMEs.

6. With regard to the ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Programme on Human Resource Development, we are of the view that these scholarships should be provided to people in sectors vital to ASEAN’s economic development, taking into account specific characters and development need of each ASEAN country so that this programme can be most effective. On its part, ASEAN also needs to combine this programmes with existing ASEAN Human Resource Development Programmes.

7. ASEAN welcomes Japan’s different forms of participation, including the participation of the private sector in the development of ASEAN Sub-regional Growth Areas, with the ASEAN Mekong Basin Development Cooperation included. We would like Japan, together with other interested parties, to consider developing the less developed and disadvantaged inter-state areas between Vietnam- Laos-Cambodia-Thailand in the East-West Corridor of the Mekong Basin. The priority areas may be transport and telecommunication, tourism, cross-border trade, exploitation of natural resources, particularly the utilisation of water resources and hydroelectricity, services and cultural development there.

8. Development cooperation remains an important component of ASEAN-Japan cooperation. ASEAN welcomes Japan’s commitment to continue and even to consider increasing development assistance, to help new ASEAN member countries to integrate into regional and global economies, and to contribute to narrowing the present gaps in ASEAN economic development.

9. Japan has a very important position and role in the Asia-Pacific region and the world. We welcome Japan’s active and constructive participation in regional affairs to promote regional peace, stability and prosperity. Enhanced ASEAN-Japan cooperation in regional and international fora such as ARF, PMC, APEC and ASEM is of great significance.

10. Bilateral political and security dialogues and exchanges between Japan and each ASEAN country have been carried out. This serves as an additional channel contributing to enhancing the multi-sided ASEAN-Japan cooperation.

11. We are also pleased to note that the bilateral relations between Vietnam and Janpan has continued to develop satisfactorily in recent years. This year, we have celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. We are confident that with the new Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Obuchi the friendly and cooperative relationship between Vietnam and Japan will be further enhanced and serve positive contribution to the strengthening of ASEAN-Japan dialogue relations.

12. Vietnam as the country coordinator for ASEAN-Japan relations, together with other ASEAN countries, share the common optimism on the future of ASEAN-Japan cooperation. We look forward to having an constructive and useful discussion with you.

Thank you for your attention.