Excerpts of Singapore Foreign Minister Prof S Jayakumar's remarks to the Singapore media at the close of 33rd AMM/7thARF/PMC meetings in Bangkok, 24-29 July 2000.
Minister: On my perception of the whole week's meetings - the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Post Ministerial Committee Meeting. The first point I want to make is that the call in our speech was not a solitary one. You may have read the speeches of Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon of the Philippines and Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid. They made similar calls that we should not be lulled into a state of complacency in ASEAN. So I would say that in my discussions with my colleagues, particularly in the Retreat, there was no disagreement. There was a realisation that ASEAN has to get its act together and change the negative perception of ASEAN. But having said that, obviously it is not one speech or 10 speeches or one week's meetings that will bring about changes overnight. I think the test will be in the actions all of us in ASEAN take in the coming months. There are some factors beyond ASEAN's control such as what happens in the global economy. But much of the solution also rests with the actions of individual ASEAN countries. Ultimately, perception of ASEAN as an organisation would be whether it is perceived to be growing in strength or weakened. This depends on the individual strength and weaknesses of ASEAN countries. The collective strength of ASEAN is dependent on the measures taken by the individual countries.
I think some modest steps have been taken at this meeting such as the
endorsement of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai's proposal for an ASEAN trade fair every three years. This idea built on Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's earlier proposal of ASEAN trade missions to other countries. Then there is the "Troika". This was also a modest step; it should be viewed as an instrument to respond to fast changing events that can affect ASEAN. The underlying reason was that if ASEAN Foreign Ministers and other Ministers meet only once a year, how do we respond to some of these important economic and political changes taking place? That is the basic idea behind the Troika. Now the fact that there has been a decision to translate the Troika into a concept and an instrument does not mean anything significant unless we see how it is actually used. So the promulgation of a Troika in itself is a step forward. But how it is activated, will it really prove to be useful, remains to be seen. But as I said, it is a step forward.
In the discussions there was also a realisation that we cooperate in Human Resource Development and in Information Technology, to ensure that ASEAN as an organisation is not falling on the wrong side of the digital divide.
As far as the AMM process was concerned you heard, Thai Foreign Minister Surin saying that Singapore came up with some ideas; what he referred to was that we made several suggestions for improving the process and this is not only for the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting but also for all meetings with the Dialogue Partners. For example, we should cut down on the ceremonial and formal aspects, cut down if possible on the large number of speeches, and try to move to a more businesslike informal mode; This has met with favourable reactions not only on the proposed ASEAN setting but also on the proposed meeting with the Dialogue Partners.
The mood was good, in a sense that compared to previous meetings, we discussed quite a number of topics, which three or four years ago were considered sensitive and everybody spoke very gingerly on these topics. I think there was a preparedness on the part of all ASEAN participants as well as the Dialogue Partners that this is good; let us move to a more informal, if possible, even a retreat type of setting.
I said just now that as far as ASEAN is concerned, in terms of what is happening in the coming months, an important event in the calendar will be the ASEAN Informal Summit to be held in Singapore in November. This is summit of the leaders of ASEAN. I said it is important because that will enable the ASEAN leaders to take further stock of events and also to give directions to the next meeting of the Economic Ministers. I don't want to pre-judge the meeting but I believe that the focus then will be on economic issues. I believe it will also focus on the question of e-ASEAN. So that is an important event in the calender of Singapore. I think that should be the opener and I can take questions.
Q: Sir, you talked about less formal settings. Would the Summit be a good place to start?
M: Yes, there is an Informal Summit. So your question is?
Q: That is going to set the stage for subsequent meetings, you know rather than all these pomp and grandeur and all these speeches you are talking about.
M: I believe we have to work out the actual setting. But when I made the proposal, if possible, at the Foreign Ministers meeting for example, there was an opening ceremony in which there was a speech by the host Chairman, another by the Head of Government of the host country, followed by speeches of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. More than 10 speeches in all. So I suggested, why don't we just cut it down to the host government leader's speech, plus maybe the Chairman's speech. But to be fair to the next host, Vietnam, perhaps we can discuss the nuts and bolts for this at the next ASEAN Foreign Minister's meeting. For the ASEAN Informal Summit in Singapore, we are in fact going to make it informal.
Q: We have seen some of the remarkable developments of this year's meeting, what are the difficulties that other countries have encountered during this conference?
M: I think the difficulty is not so much in the conference. The difficulty is really during the whole past year, or longer than a year. What I was trying to drive home in my speech that the problem for ASEAN is not at this meeting and therefore, a solution will not be found at this meeting. The problem for ASEAN is how to re-invent itself, get its act together, so that the Dialogue Partners, the countries involved in the ARF, will see ASEAN still as a relevant grouping, and therefore it is worth their while in coming. While bilateral meetings will go on at the side, they must find that it is useful to engage ASEAN. That usefulness will be perceived only if they see if ASEAN is thriving as an economic grouping.
Q: On the discussion over NMD and TMD how can ASEAN countries make sure that the focus will not be diverted at such forums?
M:` The thought that there would be some discussions on the TMD and NMD, is it necessarily a minus in getting the focus away from ASEAN? I don't think so, because if you are going to have ARF, one can ask the question shouldn't you expect some of these matters to be discussed? So the fact that Russia and China expressed their views and the United States replied, and although I cannot go into the details of exactly what they said, the fact that they expressed views on an important issue like this, you can say that this is a plus for ARF.
Myanmar is another example of how the comfort level is. Did it take away the spotlight from ASEAN? I don't think so.
Q: Do you think that if there is a wide gap between more developed and less developed ASEAN countries, there would be pressure or at least greater expectation that Singapore would do more than what it is doing now to bridge that divide?
M: In fact, Singapore has already given considerable assistance to the Indo-Chinese countries in the field of human resource development. Every year, ASEAN as a whole, we have trained more than a thousand people from across all of ASEAN. This includes training in IT but as I mentioned it in my speech, obviously those who have got a headstart - Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines - we should assist the other ASEAN members. In the Retreat, we discussed this, and there was consensus that we should pool our resources together. There were also offers of assistance from Japan and India. At the press conference, Japanese Foreign Minister Kono also mentioned that Japan was prepared to work with countries like Singapore.
Q: There is concern that the ASEAN +3 format could spin off out of the orbit and become a separate exclusive bloc. Is there a danger of that happening?
M: I have seen the ASEAN +3 improved in two kinds of format, one is the informal process and this year we have the formal process, a formal meeting. Somewhere along the line, maybe in a year or two, the ASEAN countries will have to think through which is a better format. The +3 format that we have this year was in a larger setting of Ministers +10. So you can imagine how large a group it was. I have also attended the ASEAN +3 in an informal setting. For example, last year the +3 was at a dinner, where we discussed informally. That is the process. It is not a group which has been set up to take specific decisions or take part in decisions on political and economic matters. It is in a form of a dialogue process.
Q: The Troika - its effectiveness seems to depend very much on the Chairman. If you have a disbelieving Chairman or an inactive Chairman or a Chairman whose ideological inclination is not determined, where do you go from there?
M: The Troika can be activated if you have a Chairman who takes the initiative to consult. At the Retreat, we agreed that we must give the Chairman greater latitude, to call up by telephone ... It has happened before in ASEAN that the Chairman is not in the region. He is away accompanying his Leader on some visits somewhere else and very difficult for him to attend to and I know from past experience that some other Ministers were concerned, contacted the Office of that Foreign Minister and said that the three of us were very concerned about it, can we get our act together. So it could happen that way that had three or four other Ministers other than the Chairman contact the Foreign Office of the Chairman ... we had to act together. So in my view, the Troika, in spite of the new decision, may already have had an agreement in running the Troika and that was, when there was the Cambodian problem. We had an ASEAN Troika. It was just due to the exigency of the Cambodian problem. We said, "Look, we can't be meeting at two meetings, emergency meeting, extraordinary meeting or an important meeting", and I remember at one meeting all of us asked ourselves, "How we are going to manage monitoring the Cambodian problem? We cannot be meeting at two days' notice in various capitals". So we said, "Let's entrust the Chairman and two others, as a Foreign Minister's mechanism, let's form the Troika and taper off?. So, we have had the hands-on experience and I believe that is at the service and guidance of future Chairmen ?
Q: You said that if the Chairman is too busy or cannot move, the others can march in.
M: Yes, it is not essential that the Chairman of ASEAN must always be the Chairman of the Troika. He may want to propose that somebody else takes the lead. The idea of the Troika is to have, whether the present Chairman or the past Chairman, some flexibility because we knew that we cannot be very rigid.
Q: Consensus is a big stumbling block here.
M: Of course, it can be a stumbling block but it depends how the others explain the need for action. The subjectivity is particularly on the question of whether the Troika is intrusive into events in one country which that country may consider as purely an internal affair, or it may be viewed as intrusive when it is proposed for a bilateral dispute when there is only one of the disputing country receptive to hold the Troika. It does not follow that the Troika is only going to be activated when there is a bilateral dispute on a particular event in a country. We may want the Troika to get together and examine some new trends and report to the rest of ASEAN. It is not altogether an instrument which has hard and fast rules. It has to evolve, and I hope that the first few instances where it is activated will show its usefulness.
We do not know the nature of the problem that is going to crop out. For example most members of ASEAN seem to agree that had the Troika mechanism existed, say for the past, we could have activated on East Timor. This was illustrated from the discussions as well on who should lead the UN contingent for example. There was a lot of confusion at that time. Was the Filipino going to lead, was it the Thai Commander or was it the Malaysian Commander? There was no mechanism at that stage to quickly arrive at the consensus. So, some of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers said that had there been a Troika, we could have quickly pull our act together and liaise with the Secretary-General Kofi Annan; he was in fact liaising with individual members on the UN Interfet. That was an example.
Q: (inaudible) on North Korea in ARF.
M: I would say that nearly everyone welcomed their entry. They are new to the ARF process and I think they confine their statements and positions more to their entry in the ARF. So it will take a few more ARFs to see how they participate in them.
Q: He has received humanitarian assistance in the international community. What is the response like in the countries of the ARF?
M: It was not discussed in the ARF.
. . . . . .