In one sense, this ceremony is of little importance. It is simply the handover of the administration of a secretariat from one head to another. Yet, in another sense, this transition could have deep and far-reaching significance. How deep and how far-reaching would depend on what we make of it — the member-states of ASEAN, the many ASEAN bodies, the ASEAN Secretariat, the new Secretary-General, indeed the people of ASEAN.
For this event offers all of them, all of us, an opportunity for renewal – a renewal of our active devotion to ASEAN’s purposes, purposes marked out by our leaders from the day of ASEAN’s founding, but a renewal also in our resolve to put new content into those purposes and climb up farther on the steep slope toward ASEAN’s ultimate vision.
When I assumed the position of ASEAN Secretary-General, I told the staff of the Secretariat that, during my term, I would like to see ASEAN move forward on the path of larger, deeper and faster integration. Integration was to be our consistent watchword on my five-year watch.
At that time, I referred to three forms of integration. One was the integration of the ASEAN market. The second was the integration of the new members into the ASEAN regional body. The third was the integration of all modes of ASEAN cooperation – political, economic, and social – into one coherent and coordinated effort.
It had become clear that ASEAN had to become an economically integrated region if it was to have any chance of competing with rising challengers on all sides in a globalizing economy. ASEAN has done quite well in achieving the initial AFTA target of bringing tariffs on intra-ASEAN trade down to no more than five percent, even on the twice-accelerated schedule. But ASEAN is as aware as any investor that it takes more than tariff-cutting to create a market sufficiently integrated to attract investments in today’s world. ASEAN has laid the foundations for other elements of an integrated market – liberalized trade in services, including financial services, the free flow of investments within the region, liberalized conditions for tourism within and into ASEAN, harmonized product standards, mutual recognition arrangements, seamless transportation and telecommunications networks and modalities, the coordination of customs procedures, and so on. However, as I declared in my report to the ASEAN leaders last November, “Regional economic integration seems to have become stuck in framework agreements, work programs and master plans.”
Thus, the coming years ought to see ASEAN moving on to the stage of implementation. This means several things. One is approaching regional integration schemes no longer as venues for trading concessions but as common endeavors to achieve the regional purpose on which the progress of our economies in large measure depends. Another is taking seriously the findings and recommendations of the study of ASEAN’s competitiveness that we have commissioned. Another is supporting the work of the high-level task force that is to map out the next stage of regional economic integration — and following through on it. It would help, as the economic ministers have decided, to apply the ASEAN-X formula to the implementation of arrangements previously agreed upon.
I took up the post of ASEAN Secretary-General less than three years after Viet Nam’s admission into the association and half a year after that of Laos and Myanmar. Cambodia was still on the verge of membership. It was clear then, as it is clear now, that the association’s enlargement must not result in a two-tier ASEAN, that the newer members must be integrated into ASEAN as rapidly and as fully as possible. For this purpose, ASEAN’s leaders launched the Initiative for ASEAN Integration, and the newer members, supported by all of ASEAN, have drawn up a work plan to carry it out. Through this initiative, ASEAN’s older members are to assist the newer ones to the best of their capacity. With it, the newer members can exert regional leverage in obtaining technical and other assistance for their collective development. But central to the initiative are the policy and other measures that the newer members have to undertake for themselves. IAI must be high on the national agendas of the newer members as well as on ASEAN’s regional agenda.
ASEAN’s purposes cannot be achieved piecemeal but must be carried out as a coherent and comprehensive endeavor. Atmospheric and marine pollution, as we know only too well, respects no national boundaries. Neither do communicable diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Many crimes – drug-trafficking, trafficking in persons, gun-running, piracy, terrorism – by their very nature have an international dimension. ASEAN must continue to deal with them, with even greater urgency and resolve, on a regional scale. Other critical undertakings – in science and technology, training and education, cultural awareness and development – can and do benefit from regional cooperation. But all this has to be pursued also as part of a larger regional effort, and here the Secretariat has a particularly crucial role to play in coordinating the overall effort and ensuring its coherence.
These forms of integration – market integration, the integration of the new members, and the integration of areas of ASEAN cooperation – I marked out as ASEAN’s agenda at the beginning of my term. But in the course of that term I came to realize that these three kinds of integration cannot be achieved without a fourth; and that is integration of the spirit. What I mean is that the people of our region must begin to think of themselves as citizens of ASEAN as well as of their own countries. They must absorb the reality that, more and more, their interests and the interests of their nations coincide with those of the region as a whole, rising above the mutual suspicions and little rivalries that are the legacy of a receding past.
In the light of our historical background and the immense diversity of the people of our region, this may sound like an idealistic dream. But we must draw a sense of realistic urgency from the necessity, in today’s world, of dealing with more and more of our problems and reaching for more and more of our aspirations together, as a cohesive region, rather than as a mere collection of states. And we can derive confidence and inspiration not only from Europe’s recent history but, above all, from our own national experiences. After all, each of the ASEAN countries is blessed with a great multitude and rich variety of ethnicities, cultures, religions and languages and yet has transcended its diversity to create a nation commanding the allegiance of all. Surely, we can aspire, as we must, to create out of our ethnic and national diversity a region that can and must act in solidarity in the pursuit of common interests and a common vision.
These four forms of regional integration are, to me, the never-ending tasks that ASEAN has to undertake, to which I sought to make a small contribution in these past five years. I hope to continue doing my bit in other capacities.
Let me take this opportunity to thank ASEAN’s member-states for the support and cooperation that they gave me during my term. My special thanks go to the Government of Indonesia, as host of the Secretariat, in particular the Department of Foreign Affairs and Minister Hassan, for the unfailing assistance and solicitude that they extended for the effectiveness of the institution and for the comfort, security and well-being of its staff, including my family and me. Not least, I thank the Deputy Secretaries General and the personnel of the Secretariat for the work that they put into carrying out our growing responsibilities. I am grateful for their friendship, with which my family and I were blessed.
Finally, I wish my successor and friend, Ong Keng Yong, success in this exhilaratingly challenging job. His success is in the interest of the people of ASEAN. I trust that the people of the Secretariat will give him their full measure of devotion and support.