Your Royal Highnesses Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
I join my ASEAN colleagues in thanking His Excellency Dato'' Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed for his opening address. I would also like to congratulate Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi on his election as Chairman of the 30th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting. My delegation would also like to thank the Malaysian Government and Wisma Putra for their warm and generous hospitality. In this year alone, Malaysia has hosted the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Kuala Lumpur on no less than three occasions.
The backdrop for our Ministerial Meeting this year is the commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN. Founded in 1967, in a regional climate of conflict and turbulence, poverty and despair, few expected ASEAN to survive more than a few years. Instead, 30 years later, it has become the most successful regional organisation among developing countries. We have many reasons to celebrate.
We had envisaged that the high point of our celebrations will be the realisation of our Founding Fathers'' dream of a community of ten. We share the regret of all in this room that this has not come to pass. In the case of Cambodia, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers had requested Foreign Minister Badawi to go to Phnom Penh after our 31 May 1997 meeting to convey to the two co-Prime Ministers, Prince Ranariddh and Mr Hun Sen ASEAN''s hope and expectation that peace and stability would prevail in Cambodia. Minister Badawi was assured by both that Cambodia would respect ASEAN''s wish. Hence, when the peace and stability in Cambodia was shattered by the events of early July, ASEAN had no choice but to delay Cambodia''s admission. Any other decision would have diminished ASEAN''s reputation and standing.
We are pleased that Laos and Myanmar are able to join ASEAN as scheduled this year. They will join us in celebrating the 30th Anniversary. They will also join us in our reflections on the next 30 years. Success in the first 30 years is no guarantee that we will succeed in the next 30. But to improve our chances of doing so it may be useful to distil from our past experience the essential principles that have been responsible for ASEAN''s success. In my view, these are also the principles which indicate the direction in which ASEAN is evolving.
The first principle is the principle of sovereign equality. Today this is also enshrined in the UN Charter and accepted in international law. But viewed against the backdrop of human history, it is a relatively new and revolutionary principle. In the real world, many major powers proclaim adherence to it in theory while quietly ignoring it in practice. One of ASEAN''s real strength is that we honour this principle both in theory and practice. The members of ASEAN come in different shapes and sizes, ranging from a city state to a vast archipelagic state, and with populations ranging from to 300,000 to 200 million. Despite this, no ASEAN member state enjoys veto power. Decisions are made by consultation and consensus (musyawarah and mufakat). All members have an equal say but when decisions are made, the consensus is respected. I am confident that Laos and Myanmar will find this principle congenial and attractive.
The second principle is of non-interference in each other''s internal affairs, a principle which is also enshrined in the UN Charter and in international law. Most of us have diverse populations, with significant differences in race, religion and language, all of which are highly emotive issues. The surest and quickest way to ruin is for ASEAN countries to begin commenting on how each of us deals with these sensitive issues. Each of us deals with them in our own way, in our common effort to achieve harmony and stability in our societies. ASEAN countries'' consistent adherence to this principle of non-interference is the key reason why no military conflict has broken out between any two ASEAN countries since the founding of ASEAN. As any historian of Southeast Asia can tell us, such peace was not the norm for the previous 200 years. The past thirty years of peace is a remarkable achievement. Let us maintain it in the 21st Century.
The third principle concerns the use of force to change an established government or an internationally recognised political order. Any unconstitutional change of government is cause for concern. Where force is used for an unconstitutional purpose, it is behaviour that ASEAN cannot ignore or condone. As a principled and constructive organisation, ASEAN''s reputation will be diminished if does not register its dismay and displeasure at certain conduct unacceptable to the international community. Over the last 30 years, ASEAN as a club has evolved not only certain habits and political values but also core standards of behaviour. This is especially significant because ASEAN is made up of countries with different systems of government. Recently, ASEAN reaffirmed this position by its quick, collective and unequivocal response to the recent events in Cambodia, where ASEAN noted the "unfortunate circumstances which resulted from the use of force". This is not the first time. In the case of the Philippines under Marcos, ASEAN had issued a joint statement in February 1986 expressing concern over the events following the presidential election and stated that "a critical situation has emerged which portends bloodshed and civil war". ASEAN felt that "the crisis could be resolved without widespread carnage and political turmoil" and hoped that "all Filipino leaders will join efforts to pave the way for a peaceful solution to the crisis". The use of force to overthrow the established government is a legitimate concern of the international community because it can also pose a threat to regional stability-a matter of concern to ASEAN. While ASEAN cannot as a principle forcibly intervene to right any wrongs, it can express its stand and undertake quiet, constructive diplomacy.
The fourth principle, which has become increasingly accepted in recent years, is the principle of open economies. To be candid, ASEAN did not proceed smoothly to this principle. In the early years, it took what seemed to be an easier route of economic growth through import substitution. But that model did not work. The rapid pace of liberalisation and globalisation has quickly taught us that deregulation and a free market economy provide the only real road to development. Fortunately we learned this lesson before other developing countries. When other developing countries decided to follow ASEAN''s example and move towards free market economic policies, the ASEAN economies already had a significant head start in the global economic race.
Despite this significant head start, we have still not arrived, as demonstrated by speculative attacks on our currencies in the past few weeks. We need to further strengthen our competitiveness, attract even more investments and get our economic fundamentals right. In the past, each country could do well on its own. Today, if we do not accelerate the implementation of AFTA, we will only damage ourselves. AFTA is the necessary edge that ASEAN economies need to compete in this shrunken world where capital is finite and opportunities are bountiful. We hope that Laos and Myanmar will also accelerate their adherence to AFTA.
The fifth principle, which encompasses all the earlier principles, is that each one of us has made ASEAN the cornerstone of our foreign policies. ASEAN has become a tangible and important factor in the foreign policy calculations of member states. Over the years, regular and frequent consultations have engendered a high level of confidence and comfort, and more importantly the realisation that ASEAN members stand to benefit more if they can forge a common position. As small countries on the world stage, only collective action can ensure that ASEAN''s voice is heard and ASEAN''s interest protected. Almost all ASEAN countries have some form of bilateral differences or disputes with their neighbours. This is normal and natural. In many--if not most--parts of the world, such differences can lead to conflict. But among the ASEAN members, in the interest of preserving ASEAN, we have all agreed that there should be peaceful resolution of disputes. This explains why several ASEAN states have decided to refer their border and territorial disputes to the International Court of Justice for decision.
Just as AFTA has significantly enhanced ASEAN''s economic clout, the political coherence and cohesion that ASEAN has achieved by adhering to ASEAN''s five principles has given ASEAN a significant voice in the international community. Without ASEAN''s participation and support, it is hard to imagine that processes like APEC, ARF and ASEM could have taken off so well. But ASEAN should have no illusions. It is not a major power. Perhaps it will never be. But ASEAN has added real value to the Asia-Pacific region by providing both a role model for international behaviour and acting as a catalyst for constructive change. We did this job well when we were five (initially), then six, then seven. Now as nine, we must ensure that we can also continue to do this when we become ten.
The story of ASEAN cannot be told in one short speech. But I am confident that in the days ahead, as we reflect on the past, present and future of ASEAN, we will conclude that our ability to remain steadfast to these principles will be a major factor to keep ASEAN a strong and vibrant organisation.