Your Royal Highnesses
Your Excellencies
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Iam deeply honored to welcome you to the Thirty-first ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. I would also like to acknowledge and welcome the Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea, H.E, Roy Yaki, and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, H.E. Dr. Chem Widhya, who are attending this Meeting as observers.

I congratulate H.E. Prof. S. Jayakumar on his election as Vice Chairman. I shall look forward to his enlightened advice for the successful conduct of this Meeting.

I would also like to express our appreciation to our Secretary-General Rodolfo C. Severino, Jr., his predecessor, Dato’ Ajit Singh, and the staff of the ASEAN Secretariat for their unfailing support and assistance during our year-long ASC chairmanship.

A Year of Solid ASEAN Achievements

By all normal lights, an assessment of ASEAN progress in the year just past should be glowing. ASEAN lived up well to the aims and purposes of the association as contained in the Bangkok Declaration of 1967. We advanced regional solidarity in Southeast Asia in the political and security field, in economic partnership, and in functional cooperation.

In the Political and Security Field

The admission of Laos and Myanmar into ASEAN brought the dream of our founding fathers of an ASEAN-10 closer to reality. The unprecedented ASEAN Leaders’ meetings with the leaders of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea at the Summit in Kuala Lumpur heralded the beginnings of deeper and broader Pan-East Asian partnership.

Tomorrow, all ASEAN members, together with Cambodia and Papua New Guinea, will sign the Second Protocol to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, to further strengthen peace, security and political stability in the region. And on the following day, we would see the results of our year-long and sincere efforts to assist our Cambodian brothers restore political stability in their country. We encourage them to take hold of their future by uniting for a free, fair and credible election on Sunday. Their success in that endeavor is success for ASEAN too.

We are heartened too by the continuing success of our initiative, the ASEAN Regional Forum, in promoting greater transparency and mutual understanding in the region and in instilling among its participants a collective commitment to regional peace and stability.

In Economic Partnership

In the economic field, we signaled to the world our firm commitment to greater openness and freedom in trade and investment by taking positive steps to accelerate, not retard, the establishment of AFTA and the ASEAN Investment Area. Our resolve to move ASEAN to greater economic prosperity and cohesion was demonstrated by the adoption of new procedures to facilitate the participation of new investors in the ASEAN Industrial Cooperation scheme. We have also moved to transform ASEAN into one tourist destination when we adopted the Plan of Action on ASEAN Cooperation in Tourism during the first meeting of our Tourism Ministers held in Cebu in January 1998.

Our solidarity also shows in our unstinting collaboration to address the causes and effects of the year-old financial and economic crisis in the region, as evidenced by our efforts to elaborate and win the support of our international partners for the Manila Framework of 1997. Our agreement to establish the ASEAN Regional Economic Monitoring System is singularly significant, as it indicates our willingness and readiness not only to benefit from, but also to be collectively responsible for the region’s economic health. We have also begun to promote the use of our local currencies to spur growth in intra-regional trade and to reduce our vulnerability to wild fluctuations in exchange rates.

In Functional Cooperation

The past year also saw us breaking new ground in our efforts to more effectively address transnational issues and to advance functional cooperation. We demonstrated our resolve to take action and combat transnational crime together when we adopted the ASEAN Declaration on Transnational Crime during the first conference of our Ministers of Interior and Home Affairs held in Manila in December 1997. We also witnessed the adoption of the Manila Declaration on the Prevention and Control of Transnational Crime at the Asia Regional Ministerial Workshop on Transnational Crime in March 1999. And we are glad to build on the momentum generated by these two events by signing during this meeting the Joint Declaration for a Drug-Free ASEAN.

Greater regional cooperation was evident also in the Regional Haze Action Plan we devised to respond in a more coordinated and effective manner to any recurrence of the haze problem that affected much of the region last year. The first meeting of ASEAN Ministers on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication held in Kuala Lumpur in October 1997 afforded us another forum for dealing with the human and social fall- out of the economic crisis. And much was accomplished likewise in building a “technologically competitive ASEAN” and in planning for an ASEAN Satellite Channel.

Indeed, by putting to work the goodwill and habit of cooperation we have built during the last three decades, ASEAN has achieved a lot. But you and I know that we can accomplish even more. Allow me therefore to point out a few other areas where me may direct ASEAN cooperation in the coming years.

ASEAN Cooperation on Water Conservation

The first concerns the vital resource of water. Problems associated with water have assumed global importance and the potential of emerging as national security concerns. It has been said that after oil, water will be the next incendiary issue to be addressed on a global scale.

Countless people throughout the world do not now have access to safe water. And increasing human, industrial and agricultural wastes threaten water supply and quality everywhere, with adverse effects on ecosystems, human health and safety, and food security.

I believe that the time has come for ASEAN to cooperate on water conservation and management to enhance our capability to sustain growth and our way of life.

At the Second ASEAN Informal Summit in Kuala Lumpur, our Leaders resolved to cooperate with one another in ensuring the conservation and sustainability of water resources and the systematic transfer of knowledge and technology in water management. Our officials have begun to pursue this decision and a mode of cooperation on water conservation is now under consideration by concerned committees. I therefore propose that at the earliest time possible, we provide greater impetus to the work already begun by encouraging the exchange of water information and developing mechanisms for more intense capacity-building, monitoring and application of technical knowledge.

Regional Cooperation on Nuclear Safety and Waste Management

A second area concerns the trans-boundary movement of nuclear waste and other hazardous materials.

At the Third ASEAN Regional Forum in July 1996, I stressed the need to property monitor and manage the acquisition, use, processing, transport, storage and disposal of nuclear energy fuel and toxic waste in the region. In Kuala Lumpur last year, ASEAN Leaders welcomed the Philippine initiative on nuclear safety and nuclear waste management.

I am pleased to announce now that as an initial step to implement the proposed regional cooperation on the issue, an ASEAN experts’ working group meeting will be convened in Manila in August 1998. It is our hope that the meeting will further galvanize regional interest in the issue and lead to the development and establishment of regional mechanisms for cooperation on nuclear safety and toxic waste.

Globalization and A New Architecture of the International Financial System

A third area for proactive ASEAN cooperation proceeds directly from our current regional experience in the financial sector.

The world does need to address the issue of reforming the international financial system to make it more responsive to the concerns and requirements of both developing and developed countries. As President Estrada pointed out this morning, the instabilities occasioned by abrupt and massive movements of capital are serious threats to the survival and development of nations.

We believe ASEAN has much to contribute to the shaping of a new architecture of the world financial system to fit this age of globalization. We are learning valuable lessons from experience. Our insights could help the world avoid the travails we are currently going through. We could take the lead on this issue.

The Way to Greater ASEAN Achievements

Colleagues and friends, one year ago, I said that our goal in ASEAN is not simply to have the association grow in size. “More importantly,” I said then, “we want the ties among ourselves to deepen and strengthen so that ASEAN will one day become a genuine regional community. Yet, such a community will elude us in the end if we ignore the importance of the, moral and human dimension that has helped keep us together as friends and partners in ASEAN for three decades. That dimension is reflected in certain values that are held dear by all our peoples. Without those values of tolerance, patience, openness and consensus-building – in short, all that have made it possible for our nations to willingly share risks, responsibilities and rewards – there would be no ASEAN today.”

Our experiences of the past year convince me even more that ASEAN could achieve greater feats if we can cooperate among ourselves in the spirit of more openness. We should be able to speak more freely on issues occurring in one member country that affect others, with a view to building more solid ground for regional action. For a stronger ASEAN, we need to think, talk and act regionally, even and particularly on thorny issues.

Thank you.