The Honourable Dato’ Seri Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed a privilege and an honour for me to extend my deep appreciation to the Honourable Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi, for being here this morning to officiate the opening of the 39th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (or in short, the AMM). I am sure this gathering would bring back fond memories for the Honourable Prime Minister who presided over the 30th AMM nine years ago.
2. I am also pleased to officially welcome my ASEAN colleagues to Kuala Lumpur to attend the 39th AMM since we last met at our Retreat in Ubud, Bali last April. Allow me to also extend a special welcome to our new colleagues, H.E. Dr. Thongloun Sisoulith, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lao PDR as well as H.E. Dr. Pham Gia Khiem, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam. Since they have just been appointed and are both attending the AMM for the first time, I welcome them to Malaysia as well as to this fraternal gathering of ASEAN Foreign Ministers.
3. I also wish to warmly welcome H.E. Moi Avei, Minister for Petroleum and Energy of Papua New Guinea to the AMM as a Special Observer of ASEAN, and also, H.E. José Luis Guterres, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Timor-Leste as Guest of the ASEAN Standing Committee (ASC) Chair, to the Opening Ceremony this morning.
4. Last but not least, let me also bid a warm welcome to His Excellency Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General of ASEAN, and all Distinguished Delegates. I sincerely hope that the meeting arrangements made would be satisfactory to enable all of us to have successful deliberations at the 39th AMM as well as the subsequent meetings with our Dialogue Partners.
Honourable Prime Minister,
5. As you are aware, Sir, the annual AMM provides the platform for the Foreign Ministers to review developments in ASEAN and the world which impact upon either individual ASEAN Member Countries or ASEAN as a grouping. Together, the Ministers will reflect and deliberate upon the various issues and challenges of concern to ASEAN. They will also discuss future action that will contribute to the betterment of ASEAN.
6. The occasion also provides the opportunity for the Ministers to reaffirm their commitment to intensify effective regional cooperation to pursue our goal of realizing the ASEAN Community. For Malaysia, this will also be a time for the others to assess as to how Malaysia has fared during its chairmanship of the 39th ASC over the past one year. The major task for all the Ministers is to collectively strengthen ASEAN for the benefit of Member Countries.
7. Malaysia has selected the theme “Forging a United, Resilient and Integrated ASEAN”, as a follow through to the theme of “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” for the 11th ASEAN Summit hosted by Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on 12 December 2005. The key ingredients of unity, resilience and integration must come together if ASEAN is to succeed in its quest to achieve the ideal ASEAN Community.
8. We would recall the sense of urgency which our Leaders had to reinforce ASEAN. This has been translated into a consensus to have an ASEAN Charter that will spur the realization of the ASEAN Community and beyond. The Eminent Persons Group on ASEAN Charter (EPG) established by the Leaders is now working hard to ensure that the ASEAN Charter will comprise appropriate elements necessary to strengthen ASEAN and cope with demands of the 21st century. We have high expectations on the EPG’s consultations with a cross-section of society throughout ASEAN including Parliamentarians, Civil Society Organisations and the private sector. I am confident that the EPG would be able to provide innovative, yet practical recommendations, in the Final Report to be submitted to the ASEAN Leaders at the 12th ASEAN Summit in December in Cebu, the Philippines. Following consideration of the EPG Report by the Leaders, a High Level Taskforce will be established to carry out the actual drafting of the ASEAN Charter based on the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of the ASEAN Charter and the recommendations of the EPG. It is my earnest hope that the exercise to overhaul ASEAN will further streamline ASEAN mechanisms and optimize the use of its limited resources for maximum benefit.
Honourable Prime Minister,
9. As ASEAN progresses, it is timely that we work harder to endear ASEAN to our peoples and ensure that ASEAN will be in their ‘hearts and minds’. For all the benefits ASEAN has generated for the region, there is still little awareness of ASEAN or none at all among the general public. It is ironical that ASEAN is seen by some as an elitist organization and known only in officialdom and the learned segment of society. Yet, ASEAN exists with very much the interests of the people at heart, through the promotion of regional cooperation and a stable and peaceful regional environment. Obviously, much needs to be done to change the concept and image of ASEAN at the grass-roots level.
10. Bearing this in mind, Malaysia has endeavoured to pursue a people-centred agenda throughout its ASC Chairmanship. My ASEAN colleagues will probably agree with me that we must embark on outreach programmes that will bring ASEAN to the people, and vice versa.
11. We must seriously undertake efforts to inculcate a sense of belonging among each and every individual, and evoke the ‘we feeling’ among our peoples. What better way to do this than to start them from an early age. In this regard, I am pleased to report to you, Sir, that the First ASEAN Education Ministers’ Meeting (ASED) was convened in Singapore in March 2006. With the ASED mechanism in place, we sincerely hope all Member Countries would take the first step to instill ASEAN awareness by introducing the ASEAN element in school syllabus. It would certainly go far in community building through the moulding of the ASEAN regional identity among the school-going population.
12. On our part, the Foreign Ministers had agreed to jointly celebrate the ASEAN Day for the first time last year on a region wide scale with a central theme. We will continue to do so this year. Perhaps, we can look forward to the day when ASEAN Day is celebrated like a National Day, come 2020.
13. As the 39th ASC Chairman, I have also initiated consultation last April with the Philippines’ Speaker of the House of Representatives, in his capacity as the President of the 27th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organisation (AIPO). Together, we have agreed to continue the very useful consultation process. My ASEAN colleagues and I also underscored the importance of engaging with civil society in building the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). Malaysia thus organized the First ASEAN Civil Society Conference as a side event of the 11th ASEAN Summit. For the first time in the history of ASEAN, the representatives of the Civil Society Conference presented their Report to the ASEAN Leaders at the Summit.
Honourable Prime Minister,
14. The success of ASEAN’s community building will, to a large extent, be determined by the balanced and effective implementation of the Vientiane Action Programme (VAP). The VAP is a 6-year ASEAN development plan to guide ASEAN in building the ASEAN Community. Aside from coordination issues, a key challenge will be the availability of resources to fully implement the VAP. ASEAN has sought external funding support and we are thankful to Dialogue Partners who have responded positively. Malaysia believes that ASEAN must find a long term solution to overcome the funding problem. I wish to suggest that ASEAN consolidates all its resources and possibly, channel into one single development fund, instead of a proliferation of funds.
15. In this respect, I think the ASEAN Development Fund (ADF) is the most appropriate. Malaysia has thus contributed a total of USD 600,000 to the ADF. We hope that our contribution will help to expedite the implementation of some VAP activities aimed at narrowing the development gap and enhancing regional integration. We also urge our fellow Member Countries, particularly the more developed economies, to contribute over and above the agreed equal contribution to the ADF in keeping with the spirit of the “Prosper Thy Neighbour ” policy.
Honourable Prime Minister,
16. On the political and security front, ASEAN’s success as a regional organisation would be judged by how it deals with its neighbours as well as partners from outside the region. We remain seized of Timor Leste’s interest to become an Observer in ASEAN. The Foreign Ministers’ decision at the Retreat in Ubud, Bali last April to invite Timor Leste to participate in certain ASEAN activities will indeed be helpful towards this end. ASEAN also welcomes Timor Leste’s interest to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC). We indeed wish that the political and security situation in Timor Leste would stabilize soon with the support of the international community.
17. I am pleased to report that to date, 10 non-ASEAN countries have acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC). We are encouraged by this state of affairs. France had informed ASEAN that it is ready to accede to the Treaty. We welcome this and hope that this accession can be done soon.
18. In my capacity as the Chairman of the ASC, I visited Myanmar last March as mandated by the ASEAN Leaders. On behalf of ASEAN, I had offered ASEAN’s assistance in Myanmar’s democratization and reconciliation process. I had reported the outcome of my visit to my colleagues during our Retreat in Ubud. I hope during the course of the AMM, we will have the opportunity to further discuss this issue.
19. The Ministers have a long agenda before them. As customary, the AMM will discuss among issues, important to ASEAN as well as to ASEAN’s relationships with the outside world. There is a need for the continued reaffirmation of ASEAN’s centrality and cohesion in the conduct of ASEAN’s relations with the Dialogue Partners and in regional endeavours. ASEAN must play a key role in the evolving regional architecture.
20. In successfully convening the First East Asia Summit last December, we have clarified that the EAS, as a Leaders’-led forum, is not meant to be a project-based mechanism. Instead, it is a forum for dialogue on broad, strategic issues, and could be supported by existing mechanisms. We have reaffirmed the role of ASEAN as the core and driving force in East Asia community building through the ASEAN Plus Three process.
Honourable Prime Minister,
21. My ASEAN colleagues and I have a heavy task ahead of us over the next few days. We look forward to a productive outcome that will further add to ASEAN’s standing as a credible, effective and respected regional organization.
22. Without much ado, I now have the honour to invite The Honourable Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Abdullah Haji Ahmad Badawi to deliver his Opening Address to officiate the opening of the 39th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting.