Thank you very much, Secretary-General Rod proud of you. The Philippines is very proud of such an outstanding ASEAN Secretary-General. That is why we have the Sikatuna Award conferred on you.
Mrs. Severino, Deputy Secretary-General Tran Duc Minh, ASEAN Ambassadors. I would also like to greet the former Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Ali Alatas, and to thank him for all his contributions to the peace process in Mindanao. Members of the Philippine delegation, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am very happy to be here, here in the very heart of ASEAN. The Secretary-General has said that my visit to the ASEAN Secretariat is a sign of my personal commitment to the institution. And yes, he is right. But it is more than that. We want also, on behalf of the Philippines, to let the world know that we are proud of the ASEAN Secretary-General.
When we were at the ASEAN Summit in Brunei, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong made an observation. He said that, “Why was it that only the ten leaders had nameplates?” He added that, “the Secretary-General is doing all the work; he is as important as all of us and that, therefore, he should have a nameplate too,” like Kofi Annan in the United Nations. So when we all went back after lunch, there was a nameplate for Mr. Severino. And we are very proud to have a Filipino ASEAN Secretary-General that the ASEAN leaders consider as their peer in intellect, in integrity, in efficiency, in competence, in vision.
Having said that, by being here at the ASEAN Secretariat, is also an expression and a reflection of the Philippines’ commitment to ASEAN, not only because we have a Filipino Secretary-General, but because of ASEAN itself, of the value that my country and my government place on ASEAN.
Certain questions are relevant. For instance, what is the measure by which we value ASEAN? What is the source of the strength of our commitment to ASEAN? The answer is simple: We in the Philippines see our national interests bound more and more closely with those of the region, of Southeast Asia, of ASEAN. We are deeply convinced of the validity of the foundations of ASEAN regionalism.
We accept the reality of Southeast Asia’s immense diversity – in history, culture, language, religion, political system, and social organization. But notwithstanding all the diversity, we are also aware that God and history have placed us together in this same corner of the world. We Southeast Asians, therefore, as Southeast Asians, as God wills it, as history recommends it, we have to transcend our differences and view ourselves increasingly as one. In a world of uncertain security and economic flux, we know that the individual nations of Southeast Asia, even one as large as Indonesia or as economically advanced as Singapore, cannot have peace, cannot thrive, cannot hope to prosper, cannot have confidence in the future, unless they work together, stand together, pool their resources, share more and more of their interests, trust one another, and increasingly speak as one in the councils of the world.
To the promise and challenge of globalization, to the ebb and flow of economic adversity and opportunity, we subscribe to ASEAN’s response – democratic reform, domestic reform, the economic integration of the region, and strong linkages with the rest of the world.
We recognize that we as a region must work together to face the expanding number and scope of the challenges that transcend our national boundaries and require regional action. The threat to the environment. Communicable diseases. Drug-trafficking. Trafficking in human beings. And, yes, human rights, especially the rights of women and children. And then now there is terrorism.
Vulnerability to Terrorism
The September 11 attacks on the United States powerfully, graphically, tragically demonstrated how vulnerable we all are – more than ever before – to terrorism. ASEAN has condemned those attacks as an assault on our common humanity. The Philippines, on its own, has done so.
Each ASEAN country, in its own way, is contributing to the global campaign against terrorism as called for by United Nations resolutions before and since September 11. I recently signed a law to put teeth into our fight against money-laundering, a part of our endeavor to keep the criminals from financing their destructive operations and hiding the profits derived from them. Our stake in this is large, a stake arising from the impact of terrorism and criminality on investments, on tourism, on trade, on people’s livelihoods and personal safety, and on the prospects of an early economic recovery.
ASEAN brings a regional dimension to the effectiveness of the national and international struggles against terrorism. At our summit in Bandar Seri Begawan last week, the ASEAN heads of government declared our resolve to fight international terrorism by all necessary means in accordance with international law and the resolutions of the United Nations. At that meeting, I called for the early conclusion of an ASEAN convention making clear the steps that we must take in order to carry out, with specific measures, our proclaimed resolve. We also helped in putting together the declaration on terrorism that the APEC economic leaders issued in Shanghai last month, in which the leaders pledged their economies to cooperate on concrete ways of combating the scourge of international terrorism.
Our ASEAN declaration during the Brunei Summit did not begin from there. It began from each of the ASEAN countries introspecting how do we address this new international scourge. And it moved forward because, in the APEC meeting, the chairman of ASEAN, the Sultan of Brunei, called the ASEAN members who are also APEC members to a meeting. And there, during a luncheon meeting, he informally asked whether the leaders wanted to have an ASEAN declaration. And around the table, among the seven members of ASEAN who were also members of APEC, the answer was, yes. And so the Sultan of Brunei asked how should ASEAN begin in preparing a draft. But because the Philippines had been working on a draft earlier than that, I informed the ASEAN members that the Philippines had the first draft. And so, in that luncheon, we circulated the first draft and a result we moved faster especially with the very good homework done by the Secretary-General. We came up with ASEAN Declaration on Joint Action to Counter Terrorism, which I believed was not just a matter of motherhood statements, but contained many operational, implementable provisions that we are now seeking to implement and carry out.
The global economic impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States has forcefully brought home to all of us how interconnected and interdependent the international economy had become. Before that strike, the international financial crisis of 1997-1998 had sent the same message. So has the current slowdown of the global economy.
Integrating the ASEAN Economy
ASEAN’s response to the financial crisis was to seek to integrate the regional economy more rapidly and more deeply, accelerating the ASEAN Free Trade Area, laying the foundations of an ASEAN Investment Area, working out comprehensive plans for regional transport schemes, adopting the e-ASEAN initiative. Our response to renewed economic adversity should be to deepen further the economic integration of our region.
This means several things. Maintaining, if not accelerating fu
rther, the AFTA timetable. Identifying impediments to trade and investments – and removing them. Taking effective measures to make trade and investments as easy as possible and as inexpensive as possible. Fulfilling our dream of a seamless transportation network within ASEAN for the freer flow of goods and people. Interlinking our telecommunications systems. This means opening up our services sector to one another – transportation, communications, financial services, commercial and professional services. Making a serious effort to develop our capacity to harness the power of information and communications technology, and working together in this vital area. Helping our newer members integrate themselves in ASEAN and also helping our individual members whether they are new or old, especially those developing economies, to integrate trade policy with development policy and aspirations.
Part of our response has to do with domestic reform. We now know that our economic competitiveness depends in large measure on what are called governance issues – the integrity and competence of the financial system, the judiciary and the rule of law, transparency of governmental and private transactions, fair and open competition, the more equitable distribution of the benefits of growth. While these are largely matters of domestic policy within the sovereign right of each nation, the situation in one ASEAN country affects us all, including people’s perception of the region as a whole. How business is conducted in one ASEAN country tends to affect how the international business community views the rest. This, in a way, is a measure of how integrated the regional economy has become. This is why ASEAN countries must, in their own interest, help one another and encourage one another in bringing about essential reforms.
Whether it is fighting transnational terrorism or ensuring the competitiveness of our economies in a globalizing world, what we require today is no less than a change of mindset – to use a modern cliché, a paradigm shift. We must think regional. We must truly believe that our national or corporate or personal interest lies in the destiny of the region. This is required of our business communities no less than of policy-makers. We have to cast off the kind of thinking that continues to burden many of us – the idea that we are good only for the confines of our national boundaries, whose market is to be protected as our preserve, each nation to its own. This will no longer work in today’s world, even if it ever did.
Globalization is not decided on in a meeting, in the ASEAN Secretariat, even in a summit meeting, or even in a corporate boardroom. It is decided on by technology. It is decided on by individual decisions that, put together, bring about a multiplicity of decisions shaping the new world where we are living in today. Investors today look for large integrated markets, with the efficiencies and economies-of-scale that they provide. Investors have much less interest in small, protected ones.
The Challenge of China
Small, protected markets will no longer work in the face of the competitive challenge confronting us from around the world. China embodies that challenge most starkly in terms of its power and its nearness to us. We in ASEAN like to tell the world, particularly potential investors, that the ASEAN population is fully half that of China, with a gross domestic product the size of China’s. However, this will remain an empty boast if the integration of the ASEAN economy remains nowhere near the integration of the Chinese economy.
In the past month, I made two visits to China – one to Shanghai during the APEC Summit and the other to Beijing for a bilateral visit. In both places, I saw for myself the economic miracle that has so profoundly transformed Chinese society. Never in human history has an economy of such a size grown so rapidly. Never have the lives of so many improved so much in so short a time. The challenge of China is not just the low wages of its workers, an advantage that China is losing in any case. It is also the dynamic surge of its economy and the scale and rapid rise of its domestic demand. It is this kind of market size and market growth that ASEAN as a group must approximate if it is to compete.
In fact, the leaders went further, and as expected by the technocrats, they approved, in principle,
ASEAN views the rise of China and other regional groups both as a competitive spur and as a market opportunity. The Philippines shares this view. The Philippines, like ASEAN as a whole, remains open — and is further opening itself — to the global economy, as China is committed to do in joining the World Trade Organization. Indeed, ASEAN and China, recognizing their common interests, are seeking to link their economies more closely together. In Bandar Seri Begawan, the leaders of ASEAN and China directed their ministers and officials to consider seriously the measures recommended by a joint expert group for such closer linkages.
working towards an ASEAN-China free trade area. Now it is up to the ministers, technocrats, study groups to determine the modalities, the special and preferential treatment, the pace, and how to integrate the development needs of each ASEAN member with the aspiration of the ASEAN-China free trade area.
The Philippines and other ASEAN members, as well as ASEAN as a group, are working to strengthen economic ties with our northern neighbors, not only China, but also Japan and Korea. Also with our southern neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, as well as with the European Union and the United States. We are seeking to expand our economic links to reach out to newer partners, like India.
Beyond the Economy
The Philippines’ commitment to ASEAN regionalism, of course, goes beyond the narrowly economic. We face problems that transcend our national boundaries and are, therefore, best met in close cooperation with our neighbors, preferably in the context of ASEAN as a whole. An example is the surveillance of communicable diseases and the prevention of their spread. At last week’s summit, the ASEAN leaders issued a declaration calling for joint ASEAN action in dealing with HIV/AIDS in the region and adopted a work program to carry it out.
The growing menace of terrorism, operating regionally and internationally, compels ASEAN to work together to combat it. It is with similar urgency that we must cooperate in dealing with other transnational threats to our economies and our security – piracy, drug-trafficking, trafficking in human beings, IT-related fraud. We have to do it with greater effectiveness than we have been doing until now.
In sum, the Philippines is in ASEAN, is with ASEAN, belongs to ASEAN, because, in many ways, we can better fulfill our aspirations as a nation through collaboration, cooperation and integration with our neighbors – to spur economic growth, to protect the environment, to harness technology, to combat terrorism and transnational crime, to expand human rights. Through ASEAN, we amplify our voice and magnify our influence in the world.
This is why we want to see ASEAN strengthened. We can do this by encouraging the utmost frankness and openness in our discussions. Also we have to be creative and flexible in expanding and deepening our cooperation. Perhaps above all, we need to further develop mutual trust among ourselves in the way of a true Southeast Asian community.
This is the vision that the Philippines shares with ASEAN. The Philippines will continue to work toward t
he fulfillment of that vision. It is in our own interest to do so.
During the last ASEAN Summit, one of the most contentious issues was whether we should have an ASEAN convention on terrorism aside from the ASEAN declaration against terrorism. I was pushing for a convention on terrorism. But when I saw at the meeting how contentious the discussions were with regard to moving from a declaration to a convention, then I thought to myself that we must remember our diversity and we must work within that diversity. We must see what we have in common rather than stress on what we have different from one another.
I looked at the ASEAN Declaration and saw how well it had been crafted so that the specific implementation provisions could very well be carried out already by the individual countries. I tested it in my own country. There was a provision, for instance, that said that we should cooperate and share best practices. I thought that, if you’re going to be operational, then rather than debating in the meantime over whether we should have a convention that was legally binding on everyone, why not give those indicative provisions in the Declaration a try. In seeking to make the Declaration work operationally even prior to working out a convention, I invited the member nations of ASEAN who wanted to cooperate in the terrorist threats to come to the Philippines and conduct simulation games for emergency response to terrorist threats.
The Philippines had been hosting 17-nation simulation exercises for the past three years on disaster response. Acts of terrorism, of course, are disasters, except that they are not natural disasters, but man-made disasters. And so I thought that, by using the format of disaster response to a calamity, we could also have simulation games on emergency response to terrorist threats. This way, we could exemplify one way by which we could immediately operationalize the recommended actions in the ASEAN Declaration.
Another way by which we could immediately operationalize the ASEAN Declaration is to work with countries who have common borders and whose common borders are very easily moved in and out of by terrorist groups, including their arms, weapons and money. And so I also took the opportunity using the framework of the ASEAN Declaration to invite Indonesia and Malaysia to enter into bilateral operational arrangements whereby, together, we can fight terrorism that may be occurring within our common borders.
Indonesia has recommended that the same arrangement be made for Thailand and Singapore because Indonesia shares common borders with Singapore and Thailand. And so we invited Thailand who readily agreed. We invited Singapore who was at first reluctant, but after explaining the rationale of the five-member nation arrangement, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong instructed his Foreign Minister to join the discussion on this operational arrangement.
What I am trying to say it that, ASEAN is a body where we want to have our agreements binding whenever we can. This one difference between ASEAN and APEC. In ASEAN, we have binding conventions. In APEC, everything is consensus, non-binding, best efforts. But because ASEAN is ASEAN, ASEAN is Asian, we always need to look at one another’s sensitivities and work on what we have in common, while we are trying to work in making common what we have that is diverse. I hope that with the flexibility that ASEAN has shown in the last ASEAN Summit, we can continue to demonstrate that flexibility so that ASEAN can continue to be relevant in the twenty-first century.
I know that for many years, there were questions of whether ASEAN was still relevant. One of the ways to make ASEAN continue to be relevant is to make agreements binding. But another way to make ASEAN relevant is to make sure that when there is new cataclysmic development in the world, ASEAN knows how to respond taking into account our cultural diversities, the different social organizations, and the different historical antecedents. We should look at what we have in common, we should look at our common goals and merge all our differences in what we could do together in action and not only in words.
As we act together, then we move more closely in thinking, in visioning, together for the 21st century and in the new world that requires new vision. ASEAN must always be flexible, ever changing and ever dynamic because the world itself is ever changing and ever dynamic. The one thing that must remain is that the member nations realize that God and history have placed us together. Whatever our differences, God has meant that there must be something that we have in common. And it is ASEAN’s goal to look for what is that thing we have in common at every moment in our history.
Congratulations Secretary-General Severino. May I greet all the members and officers of ASEAN in fraternal salutation.