A warm welcome to you and to our ASEAN representatives. May I also take this opportunity to extend our very best wishes to Mrs. Shipley and the New Zealand Government and to all our many friends in Aotearoa.
It is good to see you here and, of course, it is also a special pleasure for us in Brunei Darussalam to be hosting the ASEAN-New Zealand Dialogue again, as this was our first major responsibility as a new ASEAN member back in 1985.
Since then, we have seen an enormous number of changes both in our own association and throughout Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. ASEAN has new members, more Dialogue Partners and many new mechanisms. We have also seen the arrival of APEC, the ARF, the Asia-Europe Meeting and the WTO. Also, inevitably, in the ten years since we shared this chairmanship, we have all seen rapid changes and their consequent effects in terms of economic progress,
During all this time, New Zealand has been a steadfast friend and partner and we have much appreciated the ways in which we have successfully worked together for the development of our region.
Now, with the changes in economic fortunes in Asia over the past year, we ASEAN members are entering what could be termed a new period in our relations with each other and with our Dialogue Partners.
Certainly, the three pillars of our work remain in place, that is to say, political, economic and development cooperation. In the same way, the process of our work is still what it has always been; consultation and partnership, with special emphases being placed on cooperation in security issues, the need to stimulate trade between us and the importance of people-to-people contacts.
Nevertheless, I am sure we will probably all agree that, given the new circumstances arising over the last year, we will possibly have to see the extent to which our work may need to be refocused. Put simply, both you, and all of us in Southeast Asia, are under some financial Constraint and are very closely assessing priorities in our individual economies.
Having said that, however, I would like to make one important point here at the outset. We regard what has been happening here in the region as just temporary. We wish to look above all at the long term and, to do this, all of us in government and in our respective private sectors see the need to rebuild confidence over the next two to three years.
That represents the period covered by this co-chairmanship and it would be good to think that it will conclude with confidence restored and Southeast Asian economies on track once more.
In other words, our Dialogue will be taking place during some of the most critical years in recent ASEAN history and I am very much looking forward to building on the excellent past relationship we have had with New Zealand and seeing how we can best work together under what I have called “the new circumstances” in which we all find ourselves.
Having said that, Mr. Co-Chairman, perhaps I could now look a little more closely at some of the practical aspects of our cooperation.
I would like to start with what many of our officials in the region consider a priority resulting from Asia’s overall financial criris. By this, I refer to security concerns.
Just before looking at our own region, though, may I congratulate you on the role that you personally played, Mr. Co-Chairman, in the search for a peaceful resolution of the Bougainville conflict. This was a fine New Zealand initiative and, together with other regional partners, you have made an excellent contribution in helping to resolve a very difficult dispute in the peaceful manner in which we in ASEAN hope all such problems can be approached.
Going back to Southeast Asia now, we are all hoping that the situation in Cambodia can similarly improve. A lot will depend on the outtome of their elections, of course, but we very much hope that, with peace restored, Cambodia will be able to take up its membership in ASEAN. New Zealand’s assistance in monitoring the elections and helping to provide what is needed to ensure a secure election environment is much appreciated.
We are also very happy with your contribution to the ASEAN Regional Forum. We continue to regard the ARF as a very important mechanism for the whole of the Asia-Pacific. It is proving extremely useful in discussing traditional security matters and also in addressing the many political issues which can affect security in our region. New Zealand has enhanced its commitment to this forum by co-chairing a number of ARF meetings such as sessions on disaster relief and peace keeping and we welcome these efforts wholeheartedly,
In terms of international security, recent developments in nuclear testing naturally concern us and I know that you in New Zealand will be equally dismayed by the resumption of actions which your country has done so much in the past to try and discourage and eventually eliminate.
The recent nuclear tests in South Asia were indeed a setback to our aims in ASEAN. As you know, our objective is to establish a Nuclear Weapons Free ZOne in Southeast Asia and tO support fully efforts to establish similar treaties and arrangements in other parts of the world, such as you yourselves are part of in the South Pacific.
So in spite of the latest developments, ASEAN will make every effort to realise this overall objective and, in the case of our own Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty, will continue to seek its full backing by all members of the international community.
I understand New Zealand has engaged in intensive discussions on measures that could be taken to settle the situation which has arisen in South Asia. This is greatly appreciated and we would be very pleased to hear your thoughts on this matter.
CURRENT FINANCIAL AND ECONOMIC AFFAIRS
Turning now to other areas where I know we share similar concerns, perhaps I could make a few points about what is on everyone’s mind and that is the economic uncertainty caused by the financial crisis we have been experiencing in Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia over the last twelve months.
As I said before, we do not see this as a long term problem but undoubtedly it is causing many immediate worries to our governments, our business sector and to our people as a whole. We are trying to work together in every way possible and with international authorities to ensure that remedial actions are being undertaken on economic reforms and on any necessary restructuring, particularly in our financial systems. We regard this as very important indeed if we are to revive market confidence in the region.
I know that New Zealand has also been affected, especially in terms of your tourism and export industries. So, at this crucial time, it seems to be very much in our mutual interest to strengthen cooperation through this Dialogue process and we would welcome any assistance that New Zealand can offer in helping our member countries monitor and reduce the impact of the current economic difficulties, possibly through consultations and information sharing.
With regard to more specific commercial activities, I feel that our AFTA- CER Linkage has been of benefit to both our economies in terms of enhancing our trade and investment relations. It is important that we continue to build on this relationship especially given the current economic environment.
Although recent problems have inevitably resulted in a downturn in investor confidence in our region, I am pleased to learn that our Economic Ministers feel that this will not adversely affect the long-term economic potential of AFTA itself and of AFTA-CER.
I am also confident that future activities such as those directed towards human resource development and investment promotion will strengthen our cooperation. As well as this, we hope that the private sector can take advantage of the opportunities offered by AFTA-CER.
On top of these economic worries, the last year has also seen some severe environmental problems, above all the disastrous effects of the forest fires in Borneo and other areas of the region.
ASEAN’s collective efforts have managed to lessen the effect of the consequent atmospheric pollution to a certain extent and we are grateful for the assistance given to us by many countries and organisations.
However, even with the onset of reasonable amounts of rain, the potential for recurrences and consequent disruptions to the agricultural sector and to our ecosystem has to be recognised. So, any assistance from New Zealand in related training activities to enable us to deal successfully with the problem in the future would again be appreciated,
Perhaps I could now turn to wider areas of cooperation and look at APEC. We are encouraged by the progress already made on trade liberalisation, particularly on Early Voluntary Sectoral Liberalisation. These moves reflect APEC’s overall commitment to overcoming any difficulties experienced by individual members.
We accept that there has to be some flexibility in order to allow all members’economies to participate fully.
As the next APEC Chairman, New Zealand will certainly face a number of challenges. Could I assure you that we are extremely confident that you will do a very good job and, on a personal note, we in Brunei Darussalam very much welcome the opportunity of working together with our colleagues from Malaysia and New Zealand to discuss ways that can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the structure and management of APEC.
OTHER AREAS OF COOPERATION
On other areas of economic cooperation, Mr. Co-Chairman, we are very pleased to note the way New Zealand has been working with all our new ASEAN members. We naturally hope all our Dialogue partners will be able to do this very soon.
In this regard, I am pleased to see New Zealand’s involvement in developing the Mekong region. New Zealand’s Mekong Institute has given our friends from Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam the valuable benefit of drawing on its experience in areas such as economic policy, public sector reform and trade.
Perhaps I could now say a few words about our more formal cooperation, Mr. Co-Chairman.
Firstly, I would like to express our appreciation to New Zealand for its Official Development Assistance. This contribution has been most beneficial to us over the years.
I would like to encourage our officials to continue exploring new strategies that can help us keep pace with the changes that are taking place within ASEAN and look into projects which facilitate understanding among our people. I see this as especially important for small and medium-size enterprises and the development of our human resources. I would also like to encourage the participation of the private sector in our programme activities. This will certainly help to ensure that the implementation of the programme is successful.
Specifically I am pleased to note the progress of the present projects under the ASEAN-New Zealand Economic Cooperation Programme. May I also add that New Zealand’s proposal to increase collaboration between New Zealand’s Asia 2000 Foundation and the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies is most welcome.
We are very happy that New Zealand has agreed to include our new members in the programmes, especially in English Language training, as we certainly recognise the contribution New Zealand has made and, I hope, will continue to make to the region in all aspects of education.
Finally, on the subject of education Mr. Co-Chairman, may I also add our continued appreciation to New Zealand for the assistance we have received both directly in the region and through the considerable number of Southeast Asian students who are having the benefit of study in your various institutes of higher education.
As you know, one indirect effect of the economic crisis has been the difficulties frequently experienced by parents and funding agencies in meeting new added costs for overseas study. Consequently, I am sure that many of us in Southeast Asia may be looking to your country as a high level alternative to more traditional destinations for scholarship students and I wonder if you could possibly let us know how your people, and above all, your own education authorities view this trend.
That is just about all I have at this stage, Mr. Co-Chairman. Could I once more say how pleased we are in Brunei Darussalam to be co-chairing this dialogue and how much we are looking forward to continuing our work with you and your officials over the next two years.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the new circumstances we all find ourselves in may mean some refocusing of our priorities but I am sure that, given the excellent relations we in ASEAN enjoy with New Zealand, and the long standing goodwill shared by our people, we can continue to enjoy a most successful cooperative relationship.