Mr. Chairman
ASEAN Colleagues and Observers
Ladies and Gentlemen

Congratulations to you, Mr. Chairman, and to our Vice Chairman and my appreciation to President Estrada for his fine opening address. My thanks, as well, to the Philippines for hosting us all once again.

I would especially like to say how pleased we are that Minister Yaki has been able to join us here. We were shocked to hear of the results of the recent tsunami in West Sepik and offer our deepest condolences to the government and people of Papua New Guinea.

May I also give special greetings to all our Cambodian Friends and express our warmest friendship and support for the people of Cambodia.

Mr. Chairman

I would like to start my statement by congratulating you on your Country’s Hundredth Anniversary – and not just as a formality. It was certainly a tremendous occasion for the Philippines but I think it went beyond that.

It was a timely reminder to us all. We may have some economic problems at the moment but we also have a lot to be very proud of in this region. We have many fine achievements. Perhaps the finest of all is this association.

So, looking back at your great event, Mr. Chairman, I was most impressed by some of the statements and interviews you made at the time regarding ASEAN. I particularly liked one in which you mentioned how important it is to your people.

It was good to know that your country’s commitment is as strong as ever, In the same way, it has been pleasing for us in Brunei Darussalam to hear your thoughts strongly echoed throughout our region. During the past few months, our Head of State has had the privilege of visiting all our fellow members and we were most encouraged by the strong sense of unity and partnership he received. It gave a very welcome sense of balance to all the negative news the region has been getting.

In saying this, I have no wish to downplay the serious matters which affect us as individual members. However, I am confident that problems will not divide us. In fact, in many ways, I hope they will bring us closer. If so, this will be strong proof that the founders’ vision we celebrated last year is still very much alive.

We said a great deal about the ASEAN spirit at that time and I’d like to think we can now show it was more than just words.

Of course, we are going to concentrate a lot on economic affairs this year but I hope we can also have a good look at the new vision we have set ourselves, “Vision 2020″, and see how we are going to implement it.

As I mentioned last year, the tasks we face are just as demanding as those faced by our founders in 1967. Possibly, they are even harder. Most of the current concerns are quite new to us. They are also very complex. It could take us some time to solve the immediate financial problems.

Nevertheless, in one respect, we are much better off than our founders were. Back then, the future of Southeast Asia didn’t really matter too much to the world at large. Today, however, it is in everyone’s interest for us to succeed.

We also have the mechanisms in place to do this – AFTA, the ARF, our functional cooperation programmes and, very importantly, the help and support of our dialogue partners. In other words we have ASEAN.

That should be a great source of encouragement.

In the past, the association’s vitality has been built upon the individual strength of its member countries especially their economies. In the future, however, the converse may be true. The strength of individual members may well depend more and more on the strength of ASEAN.

So I come to this meeting, the first since we set up our new vision, with a good feeling of anticipation. Naturally, I am looking forward to discussing possible solutions to our regional problems, and we are not short of offers, but whatever solutions we arrive at, I hope they will ensure one thing – that the future is in our own people’s hands.

This is an exciting challenge.

The biggest task of all, however, I think goes far beyond practical, day-to-day concerns. Here, I refer to the dramatic evidence we have had of the role of market forces in modern life. They lay down a number of basic rules we have to learn, apply and stick to. I have no difficulty with that but, at the same time, somehow human values must prevail.

People, families, communities, cultures and beliefs are not just “utilities”. They are important for their own sake. They have “intrinsic value”. This is what ASEAN has always stood for. This is why we in Brunei Darussalam consider the association to be exceptionally important. Not just in good times but, perhaps even more so , in difficult times.

If it remains strong and unified; if it maintains its successful working method; and if it continues to promote its traditional values of good friendship and neighbourliness; we have no fears about the future of Southeast Asia.

Together, we can accept all its challenges.

With that, Mr. Chairman, may I wish you much success in hosting this very important series of meetings.

Thank you.