08 Aug 2019
Our Guest of Honour, the Honourable Deputy Minister Alvin Botes,
And his Delegation,
My ASEAN Colleagues and Distinguished Guests,
1. Welcome to the Singapore High Commission. As the current Chair of the ASEAN Pretoria Committee, it is my honour and privilege to host this lunch to celebrate the 52nd anniversary of the founding of ASEAN.
2. ASEAN is the acronym for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, comprising 10 countries, and if I may list them clockwise geographically: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia. Seven of us are represented here in Pretoria. Brunei is represented by its High Commissioner resident in Singapore. Historically, this region known as “South East Asia” in the West provided a buffer between the Chinese and Indian civilisations. ASEAN was founded in the midst of the Cold War in an effort by some ASEAN Member States to have better control over our destiny. In the Bangkok Declaration signed on 8 August 1967, two principles have transcended the Cold War context, namely (i) to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region; and (ii) to provide peace and stability. Given the importance of Constitutions in South Africa, mention must be made of the ASEAN Charter adopted in 2007. The ASEAN Charter, which is the closest thing to our “Constitution”, provides for non-interference, no-use of force, peaceful resolution, all in accordance with international law, and domestically, the adherence to the rule of law, good governance, the principles of democracy and constitutional government, respect for fundamental freedoms, the promotion and protection of human rights, and the promotion of social justice. In practice, ASEAN’s success is based on pragmatic inter-governmental cooperation on one hand and external engagement through “Open Regionalism” on the other.
3. The ASEAN model is based first and foremost on mutual respect and self-respect. We reject any one race, religion, ideology or state that claims a superior knowledge of human or divine truth or absolute right. Diversity and differences do not have to be surrendered as precondition for closer political, economic and social integration. Given our disparities, we had avoided the good-to-have but impossible goals of a common currency and the free movement of people. Tellingly, previous attempts at organising Southeast Asia based on one ideology or another have failed. ASEAN citizens have inherited deep, different civilizational worldviews. Upon which are built the major religions of the world. Apart from Thailand, we were colonised, some more than once. During Second World War, we were occupied to varying degrees. We have different forms of Democracy, including Constitutional Monarchies, Communist States and a Sultanate. As a result, some of us eat with chopsticks, some with fork and spoon, and some with our right hand. We are richer for our differences.
4. ASEAN could not have succeeded if it did not also embrace the outside world at the same time. Our population of 650 million, a vast majority youth, and a GDP of US$3 trillion would make ASEAN the 5th largest economy in the world if we were one country, and at current growth rates the 4th largest by 2050. These are big numbers, but ASEAN isolationism was never an option. We still need the UN, WTO, FTAs and EPAs with the rest of the world. At the recent ASEAN meetings in Bangkok, close to 30 foreign ministers from around the world showed their faces, including from the US, China, Russia, India and the EU.
5. No doubt, Africa integration will evolve in its own way in accordance with the imperatives of history and the aspirations of Africans. You have the AU, other pan-African and sub-regional institutions, and the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area), in which South Africa has a leading role. South Africa can also play a role in bringing AU and ASEAN closer. In this connection, we welcome South Africa’s interest in associating itself with our Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. South Africa’s total trade with ASEAN stands at about US$8 billion. There is plenty of room for improvement. South Africa can also provide harbour and support for ASEAN companies arriving on your shores. Together we can grow ASEAN-Africa relations.
6. To conclude, my ASEAN colleagues and I would like to thank the Honourable Deputy Minister for his company today. Your presence speaks louder than words. It reflects the importance that the Government of the Republic of South Africa attaches to relations with ASEAN as an organisation and ASEAN Member States. We welcome your interest in ASEAN. In ASEAN, we value the personal, the informal and the practical, especially food. So Deputy Minister, I hope that you would feel at home with the simple Singaporean fare spiced with some ASEAN characteristics that we will be serving. I also want to thank my ASEAN colleagues for entrusting me the opportunity to organise this event and their support for my chairship. Finally, on the occasion of ASEAN Day, let me propose a toast to the good health of all present, to greater ASEAN solidarity and closer ties amongst the peoples of ASEAN and South Africa.
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