Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the launch of the Asia-Europe Foundation.
I am delighted to co-officiate at this launch together with my Dutch colleague, Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo.
The Asia-Europe Foundation is the first institution to be established under the ASEM process. Singapore is pleased to host the Foundation. In accordance with the request of our European partners and the decision of the ASEM SOM, in Dublin, we have incorporated ASEF under Singapore's domestic law. I am pleased to announce that my government has agreed to exempt the Foundation from tax as an institution of public character. In addition, we have also agreed to extend, unilaterally, to the Foundation, many of the privileges and immunities of an international organisation. We hope that this will create a satisfactory environment for the Foundation to carry out its work. We will have an opportunity to review the status of the Foundation next year in London. Our Leaders will have an opportunity to decide, in the light of experience, whether to retain its present status or to reconstitute the Foundation as an international organisation.
The Asia-Europe Meeting in Bangkok, in March 1996, began a new chapter in the history of our two continents. For ASEM to succeed, it must be firmly anchored on four pillars. The first pillar consists of the thickening web of relationships between our political leaders. The second pillar represents the growing ties and rapport between our officials. The third pillar comprises the networking between our private sectors. The fourth pillar is the engagement of our scholars, intellectuals, cultural leaders and outstanding young citizens.
The purpose of ASEF is to strengthen the fourth pillar. This is necessary in order to ensure that our growing political dialogue and burgeoning economic ties rest on the secure foundation of mutual understanding and enjoy public support. This is also desirable because culturally, Asia and Europe have so much to offer each other. I hope that in a modest way, ASEF will succeed in building many cultural and human bridges between Asia and Europe.
Let me conclude by wishing the Asia-Europe Foundation a long and useful life.