Your Royal Highnesses,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Thai Delegation, I would like to thank Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for the thoughtful comments in his Opening Address, which will guide our deliberations in the next few days. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the Government and people of the Republic of Singapore for the warm welcome and generous hospitality accorded to me and my delegation since our arrival in this beautiful garden city.
Let me also extend my congratulations to Professor S. Jayakumar, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Singapore, for his resourceful leadership in guiding the ASEAN Standing Committee in the past year. As a distinguished senior colleague, and a long-time friend, he has won my great admiration for his skills, and I look forward to his continued leadership and guidance in our deliberations over the next few days.
Allow me to extend a warm welcome to another colleague, His Excellency Hor Namhong, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia, who is attending the Meeting for the first time as a member of ASEAN. Let me also greet the distinguished representative from Papua New Guinea, who is attending our Meeting as an Observer.
Many developments have taken place in the region since we last met for the 31st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila. The 6th ASEAN Summit, held in Hanoi last December, has endorsed the Hanoi Plan of Action. Cambodia became the tenth member of the ASEAN Family this past April, finally fulfilling our forefathers’ vision of uniting all the countries of the region under the ASEAN umbrella.
Yet while a lot has been accomplished, much more still needs to be done. The adverse effects of the regional economic and financial crisis remain. The Hanoi Plan of Action needs to be transformed into reality, and sustained by political will and commitment. The enlargement of ASEAN, while achieving greater strength in numbers, must also be accompanied by a heightened responsibility and meaningful cooperation. So as we stand on the eve of the new millennium, and at this last ASEAN Ministerial Meeting of the century, we need to ponder and reflect on what lies in store for the Organisation.
Concerns and doubts have been raised about the standing of ASEAN as a regional Organisation and its ability to play a leading role in the international arena. The effects of globalisation and the region’s economic and financial crisis have not only caused outsiders to doubt our efficacy, but also forced us to re-think our role. To be sure, tremendous success has been achieved over the past 30 years by what some people call the “ASEAN Way”– a process of consultation, engagement and consensus-building that has not only managed to keep the peace in the region, but has also contributed to regional cooperation. Nonetheless, globalisation and geo-economic realities necessitate a thorough review of our position. Are we tigers ascendant, an integral part of a new Pacific Century, or are we last year’s wounded cubs, transposed and forgotten? Are we a force to reckon with in the region, admired and respected, or are we just passersby, seen but not heard?
Thailand’s position is clear. We are for a strong and dynamic ASEAN, determined and convinced of its responsibilities. We are for a relevant ASEAN, able to carry forth its task in the region. Yet, more important, we are for a caring and cohesive ASEAN, responsive to the aspirations of its peoples and true to the trust bequeathed to us by our forefathers.
To ensure ourselves a place in the next millennium, ASEAN must become stronger, more dynamic and relevant. This involves a commitment to regionalism. Because of the size of our economies, we can no longer afford to compete individually amongst ourselves, and with the outside world. Our development must be balanced, integrating the economies of the new members with the relatively more developed markets of the original members. A coherent strategy for development of the Mekong Basin is clearly an important agenda that needs to be addressed in the new century.
For ASEAN to be viable as an Organisation, we must coordinate more closely our policies, especially on important political, economic and social issues of concern. We must also have courage and be innovative, be willing to test the waters and explore the possibilities that may exist. ASEAN may need to build on the success of existing regional security institutions, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), in order to preserve the stability of our region and avoid danger of over-reliance on third parties. We need to expand the horizons of our cooperation and solidify our actions to achieve the goals set forth in the ASEAN Vision 2020.
Relevancy involves being able to adapt to the changing environment, being in tune with the dynamics of the world. This is the principle of national and regional resilience. During the past thirty-two years, ASEAN was able to overcome major challenges to its survival and obstacles to the advancement of its goals by placing regional interests before individual national interests — by making short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits. It was in this spirit that ASEAN was able to resolve some of the biggest problems of its earlier years, including territorial disputes and the refugee problems. It was also in this spirit that ASEAN was able to launch AFTA — the ASEAN Free Trade Area — in 1993. By looking beyond our immediate interests and concerns, ASEAN member countries have benefited from a substantial growth in intra-ASEAN exports, making ASEAN an important market for all the member countries.
In moving towards closer economic integration in the region. The search for a suitable formula to balance regional with national interests will continue in such areas as the acceleration of AFTA and the ASEAN Investment Area, liberalisation of trade in services, facilitation of intra-ASEAN transport, and enhancement of industrial cooperation. The region’s interests must continue to prevail for the long term dynamism and competitiveness of Southeast Asia.
At this juncture, Mr. Chairman, I would like to take a moment to express, on behalf of the Thai Government, my deepest appreciation to our fellow members of ASEAN for the outcome of the campaign for the post of Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). As you are aware, the WTO General Council decided yesterday, 22 July, to appoint Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce of the Kingdom of Thailand, to serve a three-year term as WTO Director-General, starting 1 September 2002.
This is indeed a shining moment, not only for Thailand but for ASEAN, Asia, and the developing world as a whole. For without the indispensable assistance and unwavering support of ASEAN, which decided back in September 1998 in New York to endorse Dr. Supachai’s candidacy, all this may not have been possible. At a moment when people are asking about the future of ASEAN — the contribution of ASEAN in the international arena — this successful quest for the WTO top post by our ASEAN candidate, Mr. Chairman, is the truest test of ASEAN’s relevancy, efficacy and resilience. We have made the difference; we can, and we will, continue to make the difference.
Strength is achieved in numbers as well as in actions. With our enlarged membership, we now represent a larger number of people, with greater diversity of culture and interests. We need to show to the world that our enlarged membership, rather than losing a sense of purpose and focus, indicates instead a continued and firmer resolve to achieve even greater goals.
Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai declared at the Opening Ceremony of the Sixth ASEAN Summit in Hanoi last December, and I quote: “ASEAN must be more than the sum of our parts. Our task simply does not end with the expansion of ASEAN to include all 10 nations of Southeast Asia. The broadening of our membership must be accompanied by the deepening of our cooperation in all areas and at all levels and in building ASEAN into a true community, and not just an association of nations.”
Closely linked to this is credibility. The Leaders have already endorsed a set of bold measures to be realised in support of integration. Yet there have been signs of withdrawal and retreat. On the one hand, we have the ASEAN Vision 2020, which talks about “a stable, prosperous and highly competitive ASEAN Economic Region in which there is a free flow of goods, services and investments,..,” yet, on the other hand, we seem to be unable to agree on the sectors to be liberalised. ASEAN’s credibility lies in our ability to implement the decisions that have already been taken, and not to withdraw into our cocoon of comfort and complacency.
The nature of future security threats to the region in the next century is likely to change. Instead of armed aggression and conflict, new types of challenges in the form of economic disruptions and transnational problems, such as illicit drugs, international crime, and environmental degradation, will become more acute. We must be ready to confront the changes that are already occurring. The regional economic turmoil has rendered it irrelevant whether this choice has to be made — it has become a necessity.
As I mentioned earlier, in order to keep up with the changing environment, ASEAN would need to re-think and re-invent. We must ensure that ASEAN remains the pre-eminent organisation in the region — respected both here and abroad. In this time of changing environments, we either have to reform ourselves to meet international standards or we can resist and be overwhelmed at the end, with no control over the pace or direction of change. To paraphrase Machiavelli, that Florentine realist, success is ensured for those whose activities rhyme with the rhythm of time.
Lastly, ASEAN needs to be more people-centered. As we move into the Twenty-First Century and the new Millennium, ASEAN has to be more in tune with and responsive to the needs of its peoples. Reflecting upon the wisdom of the ASEAN Vision 2020, we need to create a community of Southeast Asian nations “bonded together in partnership in dynamic development and in a community of caring societies.”
The Hanoi Declaration states that the ultimate goal of economic development is “to raise standards of living and to promote human development in all its dimensions, so as to enable the people of ASEAN to have the fullest opportunity to realize their potential.” Thailand shares the view of strengthening human resource development as a means towards the development of society and realising human potential. We believe that emphasis on the human agenda and the ASEAN people will help foster a fresh ASEAN image of transparency, communal accountability, good governance, and openness. ASEAN needs to derive its strength not only from the cooperation of its governments but also from the support and endorsement of its peoples.
The regional economic and financial crisis has adversely affected the region’s population. The setting up of suitable and coordinated social safety nets is an integral part of the life-support system for the peoples of the region. Cognizant of the problem, the Hanoi Declaration urged “that efforts to safeguard the interests of the poor form an integral part of our reform efforts.” Already, them are many programmes and plans of action devised by ASEAN aimed at improving the region’s capacity to design social safety nets. and to assess and address the social impact of economic setbacks.
While assistance from donor countries and international institutions is welcomed, cooperation among member countries can be achieved in a number of areas, such as exchange of information, monitoring of social and welfare services, promoting awareness, capacity building., and developing and implementing social safety net programmes especially for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized minorities.
ASEAN should come up with a major project — consolidated and practical — to identify, train, shape and mould a new generation of leadership for this region of ours.
For we owe it to our posterity that their leadership shall be more prepared, more educated, and more enlightened than that of our generation. And when we have good leadership, we will have our vision of a prosperous and secure Southeast Asia fulfilled.
Let me propose to you that we embark upon a new campaign of ASEAN Human Resource Development (AHRD), committing our own resources in cooperation with the generosity and good-will of our Dialogue Partners.
As the past thirty-two years have proven, we will not be deterred by adversity. Our spirit and determination continue to be strong and will shine through. We must together face the changes that have taken place as a sort of challenge, an opportunity to lay the foundation for a stronger and brighter future — a future that firmly solidifies our standing and relevancy in the world. Through perseverance and determination, and through our inherent national strengths and resilience, we will be able to survive and succeed together.