Mr. Chairman
Your Excellencies
ASEAN Colleagues and Observers
Ladies and Gentlemen

My warmest greetings to all my colleagues and to our close neighbour and observer from Papua New Guinea.

Congratulations on your election, Mr. Chairman, and on that of your Vice Chairman, together with my appreciation for all your hard work leading our Standing Committee. My thanks also to the Government and People of Singapore for the very kind hospitality we have received.

I would particularly like to say how pleased I am to welcome his Excellency Hor Namhong. In 1995, we in Brunei Darussalam had the privilege of hosting the Ministerial Meeting at which the Kingdom first announced its wish to join ASEAN. The years since then have not been easy for the Cambodian people and we are delighted that they are now with us as full members.

Mr, Chairman,

There are ten of us now. That means a lot of speeches so I will try to make my statement brief and to the point.

We have gone through an extremely testing, two-year period. It could have crippled our resolve. It could have threatened the tried and tested manner in which we have gone about building our cooperation. In fact, it could have everything our founding fathers stood for when they evoked the vision of a united region.

But it hasn’t and we are here to ensure that we will not go through this again.

In this spirit then, it is perhaps appropriate to be back in Singapore. Hearing Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s fine opening address, I am reminded that it was here in 1992 that our leaders gave us new directions to follow in mapping out our economic, political and social future.

Seven years later, the result is that we are at the core of several valuable regional and international initiatives. If developed well, they will serve us and our partners for decades to come.

I say “if developed well’ advisedly, however.

We are once again moving into fairly uncharted waters and we have to be absolutely sure that we are well-prepared.

On the other hand, our overall task can be expressed quite simply. Our leaders have directed us to bring into reality Vision 2020 in accordance with the Hanoi Plan of Action.

Very straightforward. Yet, in implementing it, we face a multitude of complex considerations. Do we possess sufficient political will? Are we prepared to offer far reaching commitments ? Are we able to mobilise all our resource efficiently ? Most challenging of all, a question which goes to the heart of our human resources: do our people, our officials, experts, and planners from the public and private sectors, have the skill and imagination to match the demands of the modern world ?

Certainly, our leaders have to provide the political will and we here have to demonstrate our commitment and our solidarity. However, for real substantial progress in all areas of our work, we need more than words of encouragement. For that, we have to took beyond our conference halls.

What will really challenge all we wish to achieve is the ability of our Secretariat, our officials and our experts in the public and private sectors. They have to match every demanding standard set by the modern world for any association aspiring to relevance under today’s conditions. It is they who must lead the way.

We are caught up in a process which is as old as the rivers on which so many of our great regional capitals are built. Like those rivers its steady onward flow is unrelenting and inevitable.

Today its rather awe-inspiring name is “globalisation”. Personally, however, I find it far less frightening and far more understandable for our people to call it by traditional names which really mean the same thing. “Keeping up with the times”. “Modernising”.

We have always had to do this and, as we have shown since 1992, we have managed it very successfully in recent years. Modernisation in itself, therefore, is not a challenge. I am sure none of us intend to end up like so many Southeast Asian King Canutes trying to order the tide to go back.

In fact, if we can implement the Hanoi Plan of Action successfully, we will never find ourselves in this position.

Nevertheless, there is more to it than just keeping up to date. We have to go beyond that. It is not just a question of keeping up with the times but of being ahead of them.

It is going to be exceptionally hard. The gap between the north and the south in research and innovation has become a gulf which is widening every year. New ideas, new processes and new products – these are the driving forces behind successful business enterprises and behind successful public sector initiatives. They are flooding out of the developed world, especially from the great multinational companies of the north.

So where do we stand, Mr. Chairman ? That is what we should be reporting back to our leaders. Honestly and urgently. In other words, are we up to it ? And if not, what do we have to do, right now, to make sure we are ?

It is all very well stating that we wish to safeguard our core position as leaders of our own initiatives like the ARF and the PMC. Can we offer more than a claim on historical rights? Can we produce the outstanding ideas and well-researched proposals which mean we are leading by virtue of quality performance ? As ministers and officials, those are the questions I believe we have to start to answer at this AMM.

If we can leave with a sense of optimism, then I am sure our people have nothing to fear. However, if we cannot offer that, then it is vital that we submit such feelings to our leaders.

After all, ASEAN has played a great part in raising our people’s expectations. Now, in Vision 2020, we have promised that we are capable of delivering.

Let us be absolutely sure that we can, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you.