Excellency Mr. Ong Keng Yong, Secretary General of ASEAN,

Excellencies Ambassadors of ASEAN Member Countries, Dialogue Partners, other countries and representatives of international organizations,

Excellencies Heads of ASEAN Delegations to the ASEAN Culture Week,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, we are very delighted to celebrate the 37th anniversary of the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  The festive mood is double as this anniversary coincides with the inauguration of the ASEAN Culture Week in Viet Nam.

Looking back into thirty seven years of existence and evolution, despite such enormous difficulties and challenges as the 1997 economic-financial crisis, 1999-2000 economic recession, widespread terrorism and epidemics, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are proud to declare that ASEAN is the most successful grouping of small and medium-sized developing nations striving for a common goal of peace, stability and development. Capitalizing on past achievements, we are firmly moving towards building a dynamic, cohesive and integrated ASEAN Community based on three main pillars, namely political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and social and cultural cooperation. These pillars are intertwined and mutually reinforcing for the purpose of ensuring a durable peace, stability and shared prosperity of each country and our region as a whole.

We are pleased to see that the success of the Association is attributed not only to increasing economic integration and political and security cooperation as other regional organizations but also to the “ASEAN Way” that makes us unique. The ASEAN Way is a harmonious combination of national priorities and the Association’s interests, and a dynamic, wise and flexible approach that enables us to optimize our geo-political regional strength. That is also the way we take the advantage of the cultural, social, political and economic diversity of member countries to turn challenges into opportunities, confrontation and competition into dialogue and cooperation. Above all, ASEAN Way is manifested in the upholding and wise and flexible application of ASEAN fundamental principles, including those of consensus and non-interference.

After nearly four decades of existence and growth, ASEAN now is facing a historic turning point that is to transform a dynamic and resilient Association into a community which is politically coherent, economically integrated, and bonded together in caring societies as enshrined in the Vision 2020 and the Bali Concord II.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

ASEAN member countries are very diverse in the areas of economic development, politics, culture, language, religion and geographical conditions. However, our nations share a common goal of striving for economic growth and regional peace and stability, the basis for sustainable development of each nation and the region as a whole. This convergence of interests is the key factor leading to the increasing need for cooperation among nations in various areas on the principle of equality, mutual benefit and support.

The Association has managed to establish appropriate frameworks and mechanisms to support and strengthen regional cooperation in all fields, while dynamism and flexibility have been maintained to respect the diversity of the member countries. The fundamental principles of the Association, including consensus, respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference, help keep the balance between regional cooperation and national interests, thus contributing to upholding harmony and unity in diversity.

However, rapid globalization and its far-reaching impact pose major challenges for our Association to maintain this dedicated balance. A number of questions have been emerged for ASEAN as well as other regional organizations, but no answers have been found yet such as whether the long-lasting respect of ASEAN to its principles of consensus and non-interference would hamper the pace of regional integration and especially regional capability to collectively respond to trans-national issues? Or whether the existing structure of ASEAN’s could still be responsive in a rapidly changing environment in the region and the world?

Globalization has increased interdependence among nations.  A crisis or epidemic may erupt in a country or region, but their impact could quickly spill over to other countries and regions.  It is noteworthy that ASEAN has always managed to identify an appropriate level and suitable framework for regional cooperation which allow member countries to collectively settle issues of mutual concerns. But we do not abuse regional cooperation to leverage pressure on other countries or use it as an excuse to interfere into other’s internal affairs. Thanks to this unique “ASEAN Way”, many issues facing the Association have been addressed successfully while ASEAN’s non-interference principle continued to be upheld.

Increasing globalization has made competition fiercer, especially in economic sphere. The only way to improve competitiveness for an Association of small and medium-sized economies is to accelerate regional economic integration and speed up the establishment of a single market. In this regard, initiatives have been taken to accelerate regional economic integration.  More should also be done to narrow development disparities within ASEAN and ASEAN diversity should also be transformed into an active factor to create economic complementarities among member economies. In so doing, ASEAN economic integration will be accelerated. In addition, there is a need to harmonize increasing trend of bilateral cooperation in and outside the region with the current framework of our regional cooperation.

When we are working towards the establishment of an ASEAN Community, institutional restructuring of ASEAN is an urgent issue. However, this cannot be done overnight without a thorough consideration, especially long-term effects on the fundamental principles and the future of ASEAN.

ASEAN attaches great importance to its outward-looking policy, to expand  its cooperation to other organizations and dialogue partners, including China, Japan, Republic of Korea, the European Union, Russia, the US, Australia, India and others, with a view to consolidate peace, security and overall economic development. ASEAN has been a driving force in regional cooperation through such fora as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and playing a central role in building an East Asian Community as a long-term goal. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We believe that, ASEAN fundamental principles will still be the foundation for the existence and development of our Association in the long run, even when the ASEAN Community is materialized as enshrined in the Bali Concord II.  Our confidence is based on the following factors:

First, the fundamental principles will continue to play a leading role in the cause of regional integration of member countries, especially as ASEAN always appreciates diversity and national identity of member countries in the fields of political system, culture, history, economic development level, language, religion, human resources, natural conditions, geographical location etc.  ASEAN also continues to encourage countries to participate in regional integration process on voluntary and non-binding basis.

Second, ASEAN integration has so far been gradual and in tandem with specific conditions of member countries and common expectations of the Association as a whole. All agreements are reached on a voluntary and consensus basis. That makes ASEAN evolution and ASEAN Way unique and distinctive.

Third, maintaining peace, stability and cooperation in the region is the overall objective of the Association. It should be noted ASEAN is the most successful association in harmonizing diversity and differences among nations and consequently, minimizing the danger of these diversity and differences evolving into regional disputes and conflicts. Hence, the upholding of consensus and non-interference principles will continue to be the foundation for maintaining peace, stability and political and security cooperation in the region.

Last but not least, in substance, most of ASEAN’s fundamental principles are also similar to those written in the UN Charter to govern international relations, which have been observed and upheld by the regional and international organizations.          

In short, for ASEAN to exist and develop, the Association should adhere to its fundamental principles. Given rapid changes in the region and the world, a certain level of flexibility may be thought-out. But the extent and framework for such flexibility should be seriously considered so that it would neither be used as a pretext to intervene in the internal affairs of a nation nor be harmful to what have made up the strength of ASEAN.

Ladies and Gentlemen,   

ASEAN’s 37th anniversary celebration coincides with the opening of the ASEAN Culture Week in Viet Nam. On this occasion, I would like to emphasize the importance of culture in maintaining the relevance of ASEAN and its fundamental principles. They are reflective of Asian values which are characterized as industriousness, thriftiness, loyalty, disciplines and hierarchy, family relationship, and sense of community etc.  These values have been there for thousands of years not just created as a reaction to the wave of westernization. They have been manifested as Asian way in international relations such as tacit consultations, closed door diplomacy, and not rushing to regionalize or internationalize disagreements or disputes among nations. Culture is therefore a source of strength for the maintenance of Asian identity as well as the fundamental principles of ASEAN.              

Culture plays an important role in building the image of ASEAN. It is impossible to build an ASEAN community without preserving and further enriching cultural identities of ASEAN and its peoples. Culture helps build the ASEAN spirit on which national citizens will think and act more regionally. The concept of homeland is born and nurtured by a deeply imbued cultural environment since the early childhood. ASEAN’s youth, through frequent cultural interactions between distinctive cultures, has the opportunity not only to broaden their knowledge but also develop a sense of regionality.

The ASEAN Culture Week in Viet Nam this time is precisely part of our efforts to preserve ASEAN cultures and promote Asian values, making it a basis for maintaining our Association’s fundamental principles.

Since its inception, ASEAN has attached importance to cultural exchange and other activities aimed at promoting awareness and understanding of ASEAN cultures. Today, as we have embarked on the establishment of a cultural and social community of ASEAN, cultural exchange activities need to be further strengthened.  It would be a long process to translate the concept of ASEAN citizenship into reality. Cultural exchanges will be the only way to shorten the process. For this reason, Viet Nam, during the ASEAN Summit in Singapore December 2000, initiated the ASEAN Culture Week to be rotated on a yearly basis among member countries.  And this year, Viet Nam has the honor of hosting this event in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. In the future, besides the ASEAN Culture Foundation, we need to mobilize more resources from the private sector as well as international organizations for this important cultural activity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A comprehensive assessment on ASEAN’s relevance requires a broader look at the peace, stability and prosperity of the entire region as well as the prosperity and happiness of every citizen of ASEAN. This is ASEAN’s biggest success which was the foundation for the ascendancy of Asian dragons. The principle of consensus and non-interference has brought countries in the region together and enable them to participate with comfort in the regional cooperation process on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, mutual accommodation and respect.

The observation of these fundamental principles is not a synonym of conservatism and stagnation. ASEAN has become and will continue to be an economically dynamic association, a driving force for peace and development in the region and an indispensable factor in Asia-Pacific cooperation and the world. Especially, ASEAN has been and should continue to be the nuclei of regional cooperation arrangements such as ASEAN+3, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia-Europe Meeting Process (ASEM), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), etc. ASEAN’s role in other major international institutions as the United Nations and the Non-aligned Movement has also been enhanced.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Being part of the ASEAN family for nearly a decade, Viet Nam has always attached great importance to the promotion of its relations with ASEAN countries as well as the Association’s unity and cooperation. Viet Nam successfully held the 6th ASEAN Summit in December 1998 and fulfilled the tasks as the Chair of ASEAN Standing Committee and ARF in 2000-2001.  Viet Nam has greatly contributed to the development of ASEAN with important documents like the Hanoi Plan of Action, the Hanoi Declaration on Narrowing Development Gap for Closer ASEAN Integration and together with other ASEAN members, to the Bali Concord II and its plans of action.

Viet Nam will continue to be a reliable partner in every cooperation schemes of ASEAN and ARF as well as cooperation frameworks driven by ASEAN, in order to strengthen   ASEAN solidarity and regional integration towards a dynamic, resilient and prosperous ASEAN Community.

On the occasion of the 37th anniversary of our Association, I would like, on behalf of the Government and people of Viet Nam, to join the Governments and people of other ASEAN countries in wishing ASEAN peace, sustainable development and prosperity in the 21st century.

I declare open the ASEAN Culture Week in Viet Nam and wish this event a great success. May this Culture Week be forever a memorable event in the heart of ASEAN and international friends.

Thank you.