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MFA Press Release: Speech by Former Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng at the S Rajaratnam Lecture at Shangri-La Hotel on Wednesday, 23 November 2011

22 November 2011

1 It is my privilege to address such a distinguished audience today at the 2011 S Rajaratnam Lecture.  This morning, I would like to focus on an issue which was of critical importance to Singapore, and on which we took a stand and held firm based on our principles.  This is of course the Cambodian conflict which broke out in the late 1970s, when ASEAN and Singapore contested the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.  As Foreign Minister from 1988 to early 1994, I was involved at the denouement of this issue at the International Conference on Cambodia held in Paris in 1991, which helped in restoring Cambodia’s sovereignty and independence.   The Cambodian issue was also of critical importance to MFA as an institution. It honed the diplomatic skills of a generation of officers who learnt to deal with major powers and work with international institutions like the UN and NAM. They learnt that diplomacy is not just about being "nice" but also about standing firm when necessary.  It was also a seminal issue for ASEAN during which we learnt, despite inevitable differences, to work together for common ends.

 

 

Introduction

 

2 When you cast your mind back more than 30 years ago, it was a different world when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978.  The Cold War bisected the world, with competition between the US and USSR at the centre of global consciousness.  The geopolitical landscape comprised two distinct blocs, with the rest of the world littered with “proxy wars” of great power rivalry and pervaded by mutual suspicion.  Vietnam itself had seen two decades of bloody warfare before US troops pulled out in 1973, with the fall of Saigon coming shortly after.  

 

3 It was against this backdrop that our region and many of the countries in our region began to take their first steps as independent nations.  The very concept of “Southeast Asia” was a new one which Singapore and many around us were grappling with.  We had emerged from colonial rule with nation building as our top priority.  Singapore was a small island city-state in a neighbourhood characterised by its diversity of race, language, culture, religion, political systems, economic models, social values and beliefs.  It was in this context that Singapore and four of our neighbours – Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines – formed ASEAN in 1967.  From its start, ASEAN leaders had an economic rationale to improve the lives of their people and shape their futures through solidarity, collective action and cooperation.  But the grouping had an implicit raison d’être to provide a political framework to manage our political differences, in anticipation of a communist victory in the Vietnam War, which was then unwinding.  

 

4 All the founding ASEAN members had their own histories of suspicion and disputes to overcome.  It was a long and slow process for ASEAN members to build confidence and feel at ease with one another.  Despite annual ASEAN Ministerial meetings and numerous Senior Officials’ meetings, it took almost 10 years for the first ASEAN Summit to be convened in Bali.  A year before, a new security environment in Southeast Asia had emerged following communist takeovers in the then-South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in 1975.  A major fault-line of the Cold War ran through Southeast Asia.  In response to this, the ASEAN Leaders signed the Declaration of ASEAN Concord or Bali Declaration, and concluded the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) as a code of relations.  But despite these achievements, we were only beginning to establish some level of comfort with one another when war broke out between Vietnam and Cambodia.  To say the least, Singapore and ASEAN, as a nascent regional grouping, were singularly unprepared.  In addition to the pressing need to build our institutions and feed our people, we suddenly had to grapple with great power dynamics in an external environment that we had little power to shape.

 

 

What was the Issue for Singapore?

 

5 Before I say more about this, let me say that from the outset, our involvement in the Vietnam-Cambodia War was not about our relationship with Vietnam.  We had our own priorities to attend, and no wish to interfere in the affairs of others or tell them how they should order their house.  In many of the meetings I had with Vietnamese leaders of the time, I told them as much: our response to the Cambodian issue was not a bilateral issue with Vietnam.  We had no sympathies for the Khmer Rouge regime. It was an issue of principle. We made clear that once the issue was settled, we would be ready and willing to render whatever assistance we could to Vietnam. Indeed, I would venture to suggest that the strong and friendly partnership we today enjoy with Vietnam was forged during those years. We did not agree with their actions in Cambodia, but learnt to respect each other as serious countries. We admired the resolve of their diplomats even though it was deployed for a purpose we rejected. Let me give you one small example.  Those of you who have attended UN meetings know that they are notoriously unpunctual. If a meeting is scheduled to start at 10 am it was usual for it to start at 10.30 or even 11.  But invariably two delegations would be there early at 9.30 -- Singapore and Vietnam -- both anxious lest the other steal a march. My officers were impressed. Here at last was someone as kiasu as we were. They told me that these were serious people and we could work with them once the Cambodian issue was settled.

 

6 It was clear to us that peace was a necessary condition for the political and economic survival of small countries like Singapore.  We were surrounded by larger and militarily more advanced neighbours, and could ill-afford to stake our chances of winning any sort of war against them.  The invasion of a smaller country by a larger neighbour, the deposition of a legitimate government by external force and the imposition of a proxy by a foreign power became a direct challenge to the fundamentals of our foreign policy.  In 1965, our first Foreign Minister Mr S. Rajaratnam had stood up at the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) and declared that Singapore stood loyally and unflinchingly by the three essential principles of: (i) preservation of peace through collective security; (ii) promotion of economic development through mutual aid, and; (iii) the inalienable right of every country to establish forms of government in accordance with the wishes of its own people.

 

7 The issue for us is that Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia was a clear case of violation of international borders and an act of external aggression, which would have established an undesirable precedent of international relations if left unopposed.  It was external interference on the basis of internal developments.  We had to respond.  Anything less would have undermined our credibility and posed serious implications for our own security.    

 

8 But we were also aware that we were a new and small country, essentially irrelevant in the larger international order.  ASEAN needed to act as a group for us to have any chance of success. The first task was to ensure a united ASEAN position.  And even then, we were aware that what was happening in Cambodia was essentially a Sino-Soviet proxy war.  While the US had little appetite at the time to meddle in the affairs of the Asia-Pacific after the Vietnam War, Vietnam enjoyed the support of the Soviet bloc, as well as the pro-Soviet countries in the Non-Aligned Movement.  These included countries like India and Cuba, which were influential in their own right.  Although China was previously an ally to the Soviet bloc, it had become openly opposed to the Soviet Union since the early 1960s.  Despite just emerging from the paralysis of the Cultural Revolution and launching its Open Door policy in December 1978, its attack on Vietnam in February 1979 demonstrated its keen interest in the issue.  In the wake of these major players, we had to be realistic and accept that there were limits to what even a united ASEAN could expect to achieve.      

 

 

What Happened between 1978 and 1991

 

ASEAN

 

9 ASEAN’s core objectives from 1978 to the signing of the Paris Agreement in 1991 were primarily to: (i) prevent the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia from becoming a fait accompli; (ii) persuade Vietnam  to come to the negotiating table, and; (iii) ensure a peaceful, negotiated settlement which allowed the Cambodian people the right to self-determination and independence.  We did not seek a restoration of the status quo ante which would have seen a return of the Khmer Rouge. That was unacceptable. On this point of principle, we clashed with China and even with the US that initially sided with China against us and ASEAN. 

 

10 After the outbreak of war, a special meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers was held in Bangkok in January 1979.  Hopes were high as this was the first time ASEAN would meet to discuss our response to the Cambodian conflict.  Our then Foreign Minister Mr S Rajaratnam was instrumental in working with Thailand to initiate and convene the meeting.  ASEAN decided to put out a statement strongly condemning Vietnam for violating Cambodia’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.  The statement also requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to consider the situation and to demand a withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia.  When the Security Council met a few weeks later to consider a draft resolution submitted by ASEAN, we gained 11 votes but saw the resolution vetoed by the Soviet Union.  It was clear from the start that this was going to be an uphill struggle.   

 

11 ASEAN unity was not to be taken for granted. It had to be forged and then maintained continually. The ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting was also not short of dramatics.  The Deputy Foreign Minister of the Philippines could not agree to the statement without the approval of his superior, who did not attend the meeting.  A heated exchange ensued among the respective delegates and it was only by the skin of our teeth that we made it to the press - issuing the statement at 8 pm that very day.  Not issuing a statement would have significantly damaged the credibility of ASEAN.  It was not just Vietnam which was watching for ASEAN’s response but the entire international community.    

 

12 Aside from the Philippines, the other ASEAN members had their own views on how to go about achieving ASEAN’s objectives.  Thailand had an immediate and direct stake, having established huge refugee camps within its own borders to look after Cambodian refugees which had fled the Khmer Rouge regime.  Indonesia had old links to Hanoi which it sought to leverage on, and some years later played a key role in convening two Jakarta Informal Meetings which helped paved the way for the Paris Peace Conferences.  Malaysia did not initially seem enthusiastic when ASEAN first decided that it was necessary to form the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea to bring together the anti-Vietnam Cambodian factions.  Such dynamics defined ASEAN’s campaign on the Cambodian issue.  Despite our differences, we worked together to mount a sustained campaign towards our goal.  

 

13 By the time I became Foreign Minister, the Cambodian issue was in its final and most complex phase.  The issue dominated almost all of the ASEAN meetings I attended.  I had many discussions with Ali Alatas of Indonesia, Abu Hassan of Malaysia and others.  The focus for ASEAN then was to ensure that Vietnam kept to its promise of withdrawing its forces from Cambodia and that the government that was established in Cambodia had the mandate of its people.  From meetings with the US State Department to representatives of the UN, ASEAN as a group strived to keep the major powers engaged and sustain the momentum for an international solution to the Cambodian issue.  

 

 

Major Powers

 

14 At the same time, engagement of the major powers was a whole new ball game for ASEAN.  We had to engage the big players on a scale that we were not accustomed to.  I am certain that if you ask any of the Foreign Service Officers to whom this responsibility fell, they will confirm that it was one of our major tests.  

 

15 I remember my meeting with then-US Secretary of State George Shultz on the sidelines of the UN in 1988.  ASEAN was trying to push through a resolution on the Cambodian issue that for the first time took a strong line against the Khmer Rouge.  We knew that China was trying to pressure some ASEAN countries to take a more conciliatory tone towards the Khmer Rouge.  My meeting with Shultz was to lobby the US to support ASEAN and stand firm against Chinese pressure.  At the back of my mind were the actions of the US at the International Conference on Kampuchea in 1981.  At the time, China had objected to ASEAN’s call for disarmament of the Khmer Rouge as a precondition to the establishment of an interim administration in Cambodia after Vietnam’s withdrawal.  Strong words ensued with the Chinese delegation when we tried to accommodate China’s perspective without compromising our own.  We were, however, surprised when the US refused to support ASEAN but tried to force us to back down in favour of the Chinese position.  Then-US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, John Holdridge, had made good on his threat to Foreign Minister Mr S. Dhanabalan to take the matter up with then-Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, apparently going so far as to claim that there would be “blood on the floor” if Singapore did not compromise.  Mr Dhanabalan stood firm, and Mr Lee Kuan Yew even described Holdrigde’s behaviour as “amateurish” to the US Senate a few years later.      

 

16 So it was another unexpected turn of events when Shultz confessed at the start of our meeting that the US-Singapore relationship worked well, but had gone through a rough patch.  He remembered Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s remarks to him that “words were precious because once they had been uttered, they could not be taken back”.  The US obviously remembered their actions in 1981.  My meeting with Shultz was successful.  He reassured me that no one from the US delegation had the authority to dilute the language of the ASEAN resolution.  Our resolution condemning the Khmer Rouge subsequently cleared the UN floor.  

 

17 Taking the stand we did and remaining resolute earned us credibility and allowed us to build the foundations of our relationship with the US today.  In 1985 for example, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was invited to address the 99th joint session of Congress.  It was not usual for the leader of a small country to be accorded such access.  

 

Non-Aligned Movement

 

18 After its invasion of Cambodia, Vietnam had made a strong push to unseat the Democratic Kampuchea representative from the Non-Aligned Movement and put in place a representative of the government it had installed in Phnom Penh.  This was a red line for Singapore and ASEAN as any legitimisation of the Vietnam-backed government would prolong the conflict.  

 

19 A major fight ensued at the 1979 NAM Summit in Havana.  Mr Rajaratnam faced off against a room of Soviet supporters that included Fidel Castro, Hafiz Assad and Saddam Hussein.  Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia stood firm.  We made our case on the dangers of NAM taking sides in great power conflicts.  It was a fierce and emotional meeting, which ended with Vietnam and its Soviet allies eventually getting their way in unseating the Democratic Kampuchea representative.  But this was not the end.  

 

20 At the subsequent NAM Conference in New Delhi in 1981, we worked hard to try and reverse the decision reached at Havana and obtain NAM endorsement for ASEAN’s position on the Cambodian issue at the UN.  This was no mean feat given India’s hosting of the conference and its partiality towards the Soviet Union and Vietnam.  A key feature of these NAM Summits was the sheer number of Soviet supporters, and how they spoke in “concertina fashion” against other countries including us.  We were even accused of being a lackey of the US or an “American dog”.  Although we did not manage to reverse the Havana decision, ASEAN managed to garner more support for our position.  For the first time, we secured the inclusion of the right of self-determination and the withdrawal of foreign forces from Cambodia in the final Summit declaration.  This became the basis of all future NAM communiqués dealing with the Cambodian issue.  As we stood firm and maintained our principled stand, actions like our criticism of and opposition to the US-led invasion of Grenada in 1982 gradually earned us the favour of smaller countries.  Subsequent NAM Summits began to see more discussion about the situation in and around Cambodia, and marked a small but important victory for us.  

 

United Nations

 

21 Our campaign on the Cambodian issue at the UN was an equally important theatre, focused on denying Vietnam the opportunity to claim Cambodia’s seat at the UN General Assembly.  With intense lobbying, we pushed through the ASEAN resolution in support of Cambodia year after year with increased majorities.  Our goal was to keep the issue in international consciousness and persuade Vietnam to come to the negotiating table.   When our campaign began, we were unaccustomed to the mores and customs of the UN.  Our diplomats had to learn on the fly and adjust their tactics to the situation.  

 

22 One effective approach to raise consciousness of the Cambodian issue to countries as far flung as Barbados, Trinidad and St. Lucia, was the annual ASEAN reception on the sidelines of the General Assembly.  Before long, this reception became a ritual at the UN and one that everyone wanted to attend.  Maybe our guests liked our fantastic company and it had nothing to do with the tasty food served at these receptions!  We also laid our hands on the best orchids we could find to set the mood and décor of the reception, and found by the end of the event that all the orchids had disappeared – taken by admiring guests.  We created an informal setting to work the ground, convincing various players of our cause and ensuring that the little things like food and flowers would ensure an accurate and long-lasting memory of our efforts.  

 

23 Our campaign at the UN did not just revolve around fancy dinners.  Through sheer hard lobbying and treating all alike as a possible vote in our favour, we worked the halls of the UN tirelessly.  We knew our die-hard opponents were very hard to convince, so our tactic was to try and slowly reduce the number and swing their votes slowly and gradually, but surely.  When it came down to a vote, if we saw that a seat was vacant, our diplomats would rush around and hunt down these representatives, sometimes as far as the restrooms, to ensure that they returned in time to vote for us.  Outside the UN in New York, ASEAN diplomats also made numerous visits to various capitals around the world to get a better reading on the countries we could persuade to switch position in our favour.  In addition, we worked hard to counter Soviet and Soviet-backed rhetoric.   Our red and blue pamphlets were described as the “purple prose of Singapore diplomacy” for their hard-hitting arguments and persuasive style of writing.  Through this process, we became a seasoned player and learnt the tricks of the trade at the UN.  The fact that the number of votes in support of the ASEAN-sponsored resolution either went up or remained constant was a huge achievement for ASEAN.  

 

 

What Lessons Were Learnt?

 

24 The Cambodian issue was one of our early tests as a country and Foreign Service.  Our efforts over those 10-odd years were important both for our foreign policy as well as the Foreign Ministry as a whole.  In that time, our foreign policy matured and grew in strength. I would suggest five lessons were learnt. 

 

25 First and foremost, we hoisted in the importance of being independent and self-reliant.  We have to depend on ourselves to protect our national interest. We developed an independent foreign policy.  We showed the world that in spite of our size, we were prepared to defend our interests even if we were up against major powers like the US and China.  We also taught ourselves to be self-reliant, and gained confidence in our ability to stick to our guns even when no one else would support us.  

 

26 Second, the decade-long campaign also made us realise the necessity of being nimble and pragmatic. We have to be alert to what is happening around us.  We had to work within ASEAN, with the major powers, and at multilateral settings such as NAM and the UN, both with our friends and like-minded countries, as well as our opponents.  Geopolitics is by definition never static and ever-evolving.  We had little choice but to pick up on the changing positions of various players quickly and react accordingly.  While Vietnam had perhaps underestimated ASEAN at the start of the conflict, there was no way to tell that by 1991, the world would have changed so dramatically with its strongest backer, the Soviet Union, crumbling after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  This was a significant external factor that provided us with an inlet to pressure Vietnam into brokering a deal, and indeed led to the success of the second Paris Conference where the first in 1989 had failed.  ASEAN's role was to keep the issue alive until the global constellation of forces shifted in a direction that would make a negotiated settlement possible.

 

27 Another important aspect of being pragmatic is to know when to step back and play a supporting role.  The Cambodian issue was essentially a Sino-Soviet proxy conflict. This was clearly beyond the powers of Singapore or even ASEAN as a whole, to resolve. What ASEAN could do was to prevent a fait accompli so that when the constellation of major powers shifted a diplomatic solution would still be possible. Thus when the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council decided to get directly involved in the Cambodian conflict in 1990, we stepped back.  Since the issue had already gained traction internationally, there was no need for us to be heavily involved and indeed, even if we wanted to, the big boys would ultimately have called the shots.  The alliance of convenience between the US and China could not in itself have held the line.  The tenor of the times in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s was such that if ASEAN had not taken the lead to argue the point of principle, the tide of international opinion in the UN and other international organizations would certainly have turned against the US and China, particularly in view of the odious Khmer Rouge regime.  Southeast Asia would today be a different place if the invasion of Cambodia had been allowed to undermine the fundamental principles that are the foundation of regional peace and stability.  In an intrinsically diverse region like ours, a neighbour’s internal arrangements, however odious, cannot be the pretext for armed conflict.

 

28 Third, the process of working closely with our friends and neighbours gave all of us a better understanding of the respective foreign policies and modus operandi of ASEAN members.  When we and our ASEAN colleagues embarked on our series of initiatives against the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, we had little inkling of how long this would take or what exactly we would need to do along the way.  By virtue of our geographic location, it is imperative to try to have good relations with our neighbours.  The Cambodian issue provided opportunities for us to cement these relations.  In fact, many ASEAN delegates knew one another at the personal level and played golf together.  The wives of respective ASEAN delegates also prepared food and visited one another during the festive seasons.  When a decision had to be made, it was not uncommon for a Singaporean official to discuss it with his ASEAN counterparts over the telephone.  The first 10 years of ASEAN’s existence had all been about confidence-building, and the Cambodian issue really drew everyone together.  These personal links helped smoothen the way forward.  

 

29 Fourth, we also developed a better feel and gained insights as to how multilateral organisations functioned – we started to understand their strengths, potential and limits.  We had always intellectually understood that the UN, for instance, could amplify the voices of, and create space for small countries like Singapore.  We learnt first hand how to accomplish this during the Cambodian conflict, and years later, when Singapore was a member of the Security Council.  We recognized that the UN has a unique and legitimate role which should remain central in international diplomacy.

 

30 And fifth, the Cambodian issue also taught us the importance of continually developing and honing an excellent Foreign Service.  By the 1980s we were perhaps no longer what the late Professor Michael Leifer labelled us – “a collection of information gatherers and messenger boys”.  But we were still learning on the job and trying to apply our practical experience of diplomacy.  After independence in 1965, the government had assembled a foreign service from scratch by leveraging on talent from a variety of sectors – former President S R Nathan and Professor S Jayakumar among them - and it was only after 14 years that a small group of professional Foreign Service Officers was emerging.  

 

31 It was through years of working on the issue that this group of officers perfected their tradecraft.  The same group later leveraged on their experience, exposure, and clarity of Singapore’s interests to operate with relative independence.  Many of our senior Foreign Service Officers cut their teeth and learnt their trade during this period, some of whom are still serving career Ambassadors and senior officials today.  Unfortunately, this group of talented officers will not be around forever.  To ensure that Singapore is well-protected, we need to constantly cultivate and rebuild teams with these qualities – the ability to stay focused on Singapore’s interests and objectives, think on their feet, speak off the cuff, communicate effectively, and persevere against all odds.  

 

32 As time passes, the memories and experience of the Cambodia diplomatic campaign will fade and the next generations of officials and diplomats will have no equivalent first hand experience of a similar diplomatic struggle on such a critical issue.  While nothing beats hands-on experience to teach vital skills, which must become internalised and instinctive amongst young officers, what we can do now is to tell the story and train them as best as we can.  

 

33 This is not to say that the nature of diplomacy today is the same as it was in the 1980s.  There have been significant changes in the world, with technology, the internet and social media changing both the way people connect and communicate with one another, and the way diplomacy is being conducted.  Foreign Service Officers today must adapt to and embrace these new developments, while continuing to balance complex and diverse interests, handle crises and be willing to take risks.  But the core purpose of diplomacy – to promote and protect Singapore’s national interests – remains the same, and many of the fundamental skills of effective diplomacy are as relevant today as they were practised 20, 30 years ago. New generations of talented Foreign Service Officers will need to continue to ensure that Singapore’s foreign policy agenda is upheld and advanced.  The Foreign Service must also have its fair share of talent for it to be effective. 

 

 

Conclusion

 

34 We started applying these lessons immediately after 1991.  I am certain that a celebratory drink or two was hoisted after the Paris Agreement was signed, but we understood that our job was not done.  An immediate priority was our bilateral relationship with Vietnam.  What we wanted was a stable and prosperous Vietnam, free from external influence, and saw this as essential to the stability of Southeast Asia.  

 

35 Mr Lee Kuan Yew met with then-Vietnamese Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet on 31 October 1991, just a week after the second Paris Peace Conference. I also visited Vietnam in October 1992, during which I met President Le Duc Anh, Prime Minister Vo, the new Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam as well as his predecessor Nguyen Co Thach who had been a redoubtable opponent.  During these meetings, I assured the Vietnamese leadership of Singapore’s willingness to assist Vietnam, and that Hanoi was welcome to take part in ASEAN-sponsored activities in the social, cultural, scientific and technical fields.  As the Chairman of the ASEAN Standing Committee, Singapore would seek to ease Vietnam's integration into the rapidly growing economies of Southeast Asia.  In fact by the time of my visit, Singapore had become Vietnam’s largest trading partner with total annual trade worth more than US$1 billion, and 35% of Vietnamese exports passed through Singapore's port.  Today, we have four Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Parks in different parts of Vietnam, and a fifth one in the works.

 

36 We were also happy to welcome Vietnam into the ASEAN family when it demonstrated interest.  At the 25th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila in 1992, all the ASEAN Foreign Ministers welcomed the accession by Vietnam and Laos to the TAC, and expressed confidence that the Treaty would provide the framework for wider and fruitful regional cooperation in the entire Southeast Asian region.  We also agreed to grant Vietnam and Laos Observer status in preparation for their eventual membership which happened in 1995 and 1997 respectively. 

 

37 Similarly, we worked hard to forge a good relationship with Cambodia and to bring it into the ASEAN fold once it was ready.  We contributed police officers and international polling station observers for the 1993 elections administered by the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).  Today, Singapore and Cambodia enjoy good bilateral relations, with high-level visits taking place frequently between both sides.  Cambodia is a high priority country under the Singapore Cooperation Programme, and we established a Cambodia-Singapore Training Centre in Phnom Penh in 2002 under the Initiative for ASEAN Integration to provide human resource development training.  Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, whom I had become acquainted with during the Cambodian conflict, has made several visits to Singapore and was in Singapore for a three-day official visit last July.  Foreign Minister K Shanmugam had also visited Phnom Penh early last month.  

 

38 By steering a neutral and principled path without alignment to any of the big power blocs, ASEAN and its members also gained the respect of countries we worked with and against.  Indonesia re-established ties with China in 1990 after a break of more than 20 years, partly as a pathway to resolving the Cambodia issue.  This set the stage for Singapore to establish diplomatic relations two months later. China subsequently became a Dialogue Partner of ASEAN and this year marks the 20 year commemoration of excellent, broad-based and deepening relations.   Similarly, I was invited by my Indian counterpart to make an official visit to India in early December 1991.  India was keen to develop relations across a broad spectrum of areas including trade, investment and defence.  This precipitated it becoming another of ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners in 1992, with its own 20 year anniversary approaching in the next few months.

 

39 Finally, I suppose one of the most significant consequences for Singapore was that ASEAN became a more cohesive and coordinated grouping.  It was through the careful handling of the Cambodia issue that ASEAN proved its mettle and showed the international community that it had the ability to solve problems, and was a “serious” and “credible” organisation.  Today, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are part of ASEAN.  For the most part, its members have eschewed conflict and tensions to pursue a shared vision of economic growth, development and prosperity.  

 

40 An ASEAN Charter was adopted in 2007 and came into force in 2008, to give the grouping a legal character, entrench it as a rules-based organisation and provide a sense of self greater than the sum of its parts.  This Charter was the foundation from which all 10 ASEAN members decided to set a course towards achieving an ASEAN Community by 2015.  After taking 10 years to convene the first ASEAN Summit, there are now two held each year.  The second in 2011 just ended in Bali a few days ago.  The participation of the US and Russia at their first East Asia Summit, an ASEAN-driven initiative, is perhaps the clearest indication that ASEAN has successfully positioned itself as a neutral platform where extra-regional players can discuss issues in an open and transparent manner.  ASEAN is also central in experiments to shape a new regional architecture to entrench frameworks of cooperation in the wider Asia-Pacific region.   

 

41 While it is perhaps too far a stretch to claim that the Cambodian conflict directly resulted in these positive consequences, it certainly played a role in establishing the foundations which have helped shape the region we live in today.

 

 

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