Dear ASEAN Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. The last year proved to be quite an eventful year for ASEAN. When Singapore took over the Chairmanship of ASEAN, we identified three key areas of work, what I then referred to as the 3 ‘C’s. First, the ASEAN Charter; second, community-building; and, third, common challenges.
2. The Charter signed at the 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore will help make ASEAN a more effective organisation with clearer purposes, with a stronger legal framework and a better mechanism for dispute settlement. We must make sure that the Charter comes into force at the 14th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok this December. We have already started taking steps to implement its key provisions. At this AMM, two high-level expert groups were formed – the High-Level Panel (HLP) for the establishment of an ASEAN Human Rights Body and the High-Level Legal Experts’ Group (HLEG) to establish a dispute settlement mechanism. ASEAN will also soon have its own Committee of Permanent Representatives based in Jakarta. We are also strengthening the Secretariat for which it will need additional resources.
3. On community-building, we have adopted the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint. The Blueprint is a roadmap for the remaking of ASEAN into an Economic Community. We are working expeditiously to draft similar blueprints for the ASEAN Political-Security Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. They should be completed by the ASEAN Summit in Thailand this December. We are also working on the 2nd IAI (Initiative for ASEAN Integration) Work Plan, mapping out our efforts over the next 7 years to narrow the development gap in ASEAN.
4. For ASEAN to succeed and endure, the peoples of Southeast Asia must increasingly internalise a sense of common ASEAN citizenship. This will naturally take time. We know we are succeeding if members of each younger generation feel more for ASEAN than their parents. ASEAN has to be built both top down and from the bottom up. Only then will we truly be an ASEAN Community. Recognising this, ASEAN has organised in the past year a range of commemorative activities to celebrate ASEAN’s 40th anniversary and raise general awareness about ASEAN.
5. This brings me to the last ‘C’, the challenges that the region face. The world is changing rapidly. We don’t know how badly we will hit by the gathering financial storm in the US. China’s and India’s growth will provide us some buffer. There is however little doubt that the global economic centre of gravity will shift across the Pacific in the coming decades. Such a major shift is never smooth and we must expect problems of various kinds to surface. Building a robust regional political architecture must be our key priority. We must also respond to transboundary challenges from climate change, natural disasters and the threat of pandemics to global terrorism and food/energy security. At the ASEAN Summit in Singapore, we agreed that sustainable development, protection of the environment and climate change should be high up on our list of priorities. After Cyclone Nargis, ASEAN played a critical role in building a bridge of trust between the Myanmar Government and the international community.
6. Looking ahead, implementing the Charter, forging ahead with Community-building and dealing with common Challenges will remain key tasks, the three C’s which guide our work. In carrying them out, we should always bear in mind three other C’s – credibility, competitiveness and the centrality of ASEAN.
7. First, credibility. We must always ensure that our words are backed up by our actions. Only then will others believe us and take us seriously. We must always fulfil our obligations and honour our commitments.
8. Second, competitiveness. The test of ASEAN’s success is whether it enhances the competitiveness of each and every one of its member states. In a globalised world, each of us is stronger being part of ASEAN than not. The purpose of integration is to enhance our competitiveness, not reduce it. ASEAN helps us each of us to secure our place in the sun.
Centrality of ASEAN
9. With the rise of China and India changing the polarity of the world, we must make sure that the political, economic and security architecture of the region takes into account the interest of ASEAN. Over the years, ASEAN, in a peaceful, non-threatening way, has helped to bring countries in the region together. We have been able to do this through enlightened diplomacy and by offering our hand of friendship to all the major powers. We must never lose this position. We must take an active interest in regional and global affairs and play a role which is helpful to others. We ensure the centrality of ASEAN in the evolving regional architecture, not by force or assertion but by the openness and neutrality of our position and by our usefulness to others.
10. Let me conclude by thanking all our ASEAN colleagues for your support and cooperation in the last year. I apologise for all our shortcomings. It was Singapore’s honour to take its turn in the Chair. ASEAN is a work-in-progress which we took over from the Philippines and now hand over to Thailand.