22 Jul 2002
Thailand hosted the first meeting of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) from 18-20 June this year. I was among the 17 representatives from the Asian participating countries.
When PM Goh visited Thailand in February 2002, PM Thaksin Shinawatra asked for Singapore's support for his proposal on the ACD. PM agreed to support this initiative. We supported it in view of our long-standing approach of advocating a more outward and forward-looking ASEAN and Asia.
The ACD hopes to bring together countries in West Asia, the Gulf countries, South Asia, ASEAN and East Asia. Although there are many existing regional and sub-regional organisations in Asia, such as ASEAN, ARF, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council, there is, however, minimal interaction between them. The ACD, if properly nurtured, could eventually bridge the gap between these different regional groupings in Asia.
At the recent ACD meeting, all the Foreign Ministers present were of the view that the ACD was a good and timely idea. But they cautioned that the ACD must be inclusive, not a closed grouping; nor should it be a regional bloc. It should also avoid duplicating the work of existing regional organisations. The meeting also discussed many ideas and proposals aimed at promoting greater cooperation within Asia. Singapore's own suggestion was that the ACD countries could cooperate in the area of SMEs because SMEs comprise a large segment of employment in Asia. Sir, I believe that the ACD could facilitate closer cooperation among SMEs in the region and Singapore will work closely with Thailand, which is coordinator for the ACD in this coming year.