Tuesday, December 29, 2009


15-16 DECEMBER 2009

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Let me begin by thanking the organiser of this conference for inviting me to deliver the keynote speech at such an august gathering of think tanks, academicians and members of the civil society. I am indeed honoured and privileged to be given this opportunity to speak at such an important juncture of the history of Taiwan/ASEAN cooperation. This is my first visit to Taiwan.

Distinguished Delegates,

2. I have been assigned to speak on the subject of the Macro Aspect of ASEAN Integration. I will therefore deal with it on the basis of the historical perspective of ASEAN Integration, Challenges and Opportunities confronting this process and the lessons that we could learn from each other as we chart our course into the future.

3. Having served as Malaysia’s Foreign Minister for over nine years, I can certainly say that ASEAN integration should no longer be an issue. I can also confidently say that ASEAN is a success story and that cooperation has transformed ASEAN to greater unity and cohesion. It is judgmental but based on the progress ASEAN has made in its 42 year journey to fulfill the aspirations of its founding fathers, as enshrined in the Bangkok Declaration of 1967, “to bind themselves in friendship and cooperation, and through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity, the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity”. ASEAN definitely has come of age after four decades. This is the guiding light and principle that made ASEAN to be practical and pragmatic. The practice of open regionalism and being an inclusive organization has brought peace and stability to our region.

4. The then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan acknowledged ASEAN’s role when he said, “ASEAN is not only a well functioning indispensable reality in the region, it is a real force to be reckoned with far beyond the region. It is also a trusted partner of the UN in the field of development….” His statement speaks volume for ASEAN. However more needs to be done to further strengthen the organizations in its community building efforts and translating the Charter into a functioning living document. Please bear in mind that as an organization, we never adopted radicalism as a mode for change. It’s always through evolution. We also hold dearly to the principle of non interference.

5. No doubt ASEAN has made its mark. It is for this reason its recognized and respected throughout the world. Towards this end it has become an inseparable part and parcel of the overall network of bilateral relations and regional cooperation. In promoting ASEAN’s interest it has entered into strategic alliances with other regional blocks, countries and institutions which further strengthen and contributes to its integration. Due to our policy of friendship and cooperation we have not imposed on Member States a common position at the multilateral level or in its relations at the bilateral level.

6. ASEAN has faced and withstood many challenges, internal as well as external amidst the many changes in regional and international environment since its establishment. Notwithstanding this, ASEAN has stayed its course, maintained its principles and objectives and adapted itself to suit the time. Nevertheless ASEAN cannot take things for granted and rest on its laurels of adulation and self-praise.

7. The measure of ASEAN’s success is underscored by milestones, which have collectively shaped ASEAN to what it is today. Fortunately ASEAN’s trajectory, propelled by the thrust of its founding document has been on an upward trend. Unquestionably the world has changed from what it was, when ASEAN was founded. The Cold War has ended and the world is no longer divided by ideological differences as it used to be.

8. The three key factors that we desire to achieve is peace, freedom and prosperity for our peoples. ASEAN has gone through a period of trials and tribulations. Over the years the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) has become an important instrument of ASEAN external relations. The number of countries that have acceded to the Treaty is a clear proof that our dialogue and sectoral partners accept ASEAN’s principles of resolving conflicts through peaceful means. Through Treaties like Z0PFAN and SEANWFZ we promote the principle of an enduring regional peace.

9. Vision 2020 was adopted by ASEAN in 1997 with the singular purpose of a peaceful and harmonious coexistence amongst countries in the region. In 2003 this vision was further consolidated through Bali Concord II, for building an ASEAN Community based on the ASEAN Political Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Hitherto due to the success of cooperation and intensified working closely together on various plans and programmes. ASEAN has advanced its goal of establishing a Community from 2020 to 2015. We are witnessing the growing feeling of ASEAN-ness among ASEAN Member States and its citizens.

10. In its external dimension, ASEAN has established a very constructive, productive and balanced relationship with its dialogue and sectoral partners. In this regard ASEAN has formed various vehicles and fora, such as ASEAN Post Ministerial Conferences, ASEAN plus Three Cooperation, ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit (which includes countries outside the region namely India, Australia and New Zealand). ASEAN Member States who are members of APEC has also played a significant role in APEC for regional interest.

11. It has always been the practice of ASEAN to avoid discussing or criticizing each other openly or in the glare of publicity. However, behind closed doors we do convey the message we wanted quite candidly. Our friends did get bewildered to watch our courtesy and politeness when dealing with failure to observe international norms and standards. The simple explanation given is, “This is the ASEAN way”. But it is the culture and the value systems that made us what we are. Of course today even this has slowly begun to change. I can say the way we look at the question of non-interference has also shifted somehow, particularly when a crisis or an incident can affect the region is a whole. This is what I mean by evolutionary.

12. We have recognized earlier on in our history that to succeed in the integration goal the driving force has to be economic cooperation. It is for this reason the AFTA was signed in 2005. It is further augmented by other cooperative instrument such as Free Trade Agreements (FTA), Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with our East Asian neighbours and Dialogue partners. ASEAN is determined to realize a single market and production base by 2015 by adopting the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint.

13. I am outlining what you already know and are aware of in order to demonstrate that cooperative relations within and outside the region has made it possible for ASEAN to integrate. ASEAN Member States have handled its differences be it political, economic or territorial not through confrontation but through dialogues and interactions. However, I dare say we do have serious difficulties from time to time but this has not caused tension that can affect peace and stability within ASEAN.

14. ASEAN accepted the geopolitical realties of our region and our relationship. Of course the consensus based decision making process would appear to outside observers as less efficient and other observers even consider it to undermine the effectiveness of ASEAN. However, this has worked well for ASEAN and avoided unnecessary friction that can stifle and hamper the growth of the organization. With patience and a lot of understanding we build up the trust and confidence amongst us. On many occasions at the beginning of our relationship with our dialogue partners during the Ministerial Partners Meeting, they even made cynical remarks on our step by step approach. But to ASEAN this is one of the most pertinent single factor that cement the building blocks in the confidence building measures practised by ASEAN in order to move forward. I think it is also through this slow process our European friends and partners learn to appreciate our ways. Due to this the relationship between ASEAN and its Dialogue partners became stronger.

15. In today’s context regionalism has become the norm rather than the exception. We cannot live in isolation. All nations have benefited from regional blocs such as NAFTA, EU, African Union and GCC. The creation of a single market and production base, can make ASEAN more competitive, overcome the development gap, and integrate into the global economy. There are many possibilities that can be realized through this process where goods, services, investments and skilled labour can move freely within ASEAN countries. Let me repeat that this may be a slow, step by step move, but it has worked for ASEAN. Our focus in undertaking the doables has been right. ASEAN is thus integrating its economies to strengthen our resilience, while at the same time assessing the challengers and opportunities available to us. As we have learned from Taiwan, it may be useful for you to pay attention to some of the approaches that ASEAN has taken minimize to tension and avoid confrontation to our detriment. Even when bilateral relations between ASEAN countries are strained it has not interfered with our relationship at the regional level.

16. The primary objective is to build long term prosperity and security of the region. It is for this reason that ASEAN from the beginning decided to take a very open and inclusive approach to assist us to integrate faster. This cannot be done by individual country of ASEAN or even by ASEAN alone if we want to compete in the global market place. The original idea of an East Asia Economic Group or Economic Caucus was mooted with this in mind. However, it did not receive the necessary support purely on the basis of distrust and rivalry. However, the financial crisis changed all this and a new mechanism was instituted though it was called by a different name. Dr. Mahathir, a staunch mover of East Asia cooperation said in one of his speeches in 1996 on ASEAN + 3 quoting from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, “what’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”. The ASEAN + 3 process has grown in importance as the partners recognized how vital it is to work together for our mutual interest.

17. It is also true to say that due to our intention to build a regional community; a paradigm shift has to be been made even in term of viewing the question of national sovereignty. In fact identity and independence of ASEAN Member States is better protected and safeguarded through regionalism. In this way our voices could be heard better globally simply by being part of a bigger bloc. Small and big nations can complement each other to maximize their potentials in term of population and markets.

18. As even the big economic powers find it necessary to cooperate under a regional umbrella, ASEAN is no different. It has adapted to the changing international environment by introducing new instruments and mechanisms to consolidate and solidify its collective efforts. By promoting economic cooperation through trade and investment liberalization, the benefits to be gained are tremendous. This after all is in concordance with our desire to see one day the creation of a borderless ASEAN (it would not undoubtedly immediately happen). The truth is, there are many impediments and obstacles that we need to cross over, especially as disparities between and within ASEAN countries are still wide. However, as ASEAN continues to undertake socio-economic programmes it is hoped this will narrow down the development gap. ASEAN needs to prioritise effectively to obtain the desired result. I have from the beginning of my speech been focusing on cooperative endeavours in ASEAN and working closely with East Asian neighbours.

19. Taiwan is a neighbor of ASEAN and located in the East. Without debating on the political issue, peace and stability in the Korean Peninsular and cross straits relations are also crucial to the overall peace and stability in ASEAN region. ASEAN has benefited from Taiwan’s economic success. There is much to be gained through greater collaboration in growth and development without interfering with the status quo or thorny political issues. Undeniably, Taiwan has come forward with much needed capital investment and high technology in ASEAN. For certain Malaysia and other ASEAN countries like to see further expansion of economic relations with Taiwan. For Malaysia, Taiwan’s ‘Look South’ has been catalystic in intensifying cooperation for our mutual benefits. We need to talk on increased economics cooperation, people to people contact and other educational, social and cultural cooperation. Trade and investment between Malaysia and Taiwan has been the cornerstone of our close relationship.

20. The Charter has definitely made very good progress since its ratification. Maybe speedier than what many observers thought it could be. ASEAN Leaders are convinced that with the ASEAN Charter, Member States will be in a better position to deal with internal and external challenges confronting ASEAN. Of course some of these challenges are more complex and they require not only mechanisms but understanding as well as mutual trust to deal with them. I have seen and experienced in ASEAN meetings, Leaders, Ministers and Officials are more willing to listen and discuss each other’s internal problems in the spirit of friendship, trust and understanding. When we started working on the Charter, many within and outside ASEAN were pessimistic, that it will come to fruition. But we prove them all wrong. The Charter is a very progressive document and in my view that has laid a very solid foundation for cooperation as well as overcome the current weaknesses that still persist within ASEAN. As ASEAN becomes more confident, I am sure the disputes or conflicts resolution can be put in place. Of course there must be a change of mindset. ASEAN Charter merely sets up the legal framework but it is for Member States to make it work.

21. In an ever changing global and regional environment integration means there must be new ways of doing business. Whilst I see the Charter as the new hope for ASEAN to move into the next phase of cooperation, a firm political will and commitment of Member States is required to move into the future politically, economically, culturally and socially.

22. This is the time and opportunity to translate words into solid actions in the conduct of peaceful relations with each other and with its dialogue partners. ASEAN is now 10 to complete the geopolitical make up of Southeast Asia as envisioned by the founding fathers. With enhanced mutual trust, understanding and goodwill between ASEAN Member States, through dialogue and interaction, it will result in continued peace and stability.

23. The feelings of ‘ASEANESS’ and the community building efforts can be imbued with the participation of stakeholders whether governmental, private sector, civil society and other vested groups. In order to meet this objective a more broad based people centered activities covering all spectrum of ASEAN societies has to be organised. In the final analysis, our intention to inculcate ASEAN-ness will depend on the involvement of our peoples. The ASEAN government must be more sensitive and people-oriented. We should encourage greater grassroots interaction and activities, and organize programmes that will promote their participation. The Hanoi Plan of Action which was adopted in 1998 and its successor, the Vientiane Action Plan (VAP) adopted in 2004 laid down principles which will be instrumental in unifying as well as cross-linking the strategies and goals of the three pillars. ASEAN has shown it could tackle and cooperate regionally in cross border matters such as tsunami, cyclones, avian flu, haze, other natural calamities and crimes successfully. We have the strong support and cooperation from our friends outside ASEAN because ASEAN is perceived as an effective regional organization in shaping the regional architecture, be it in East Asia or the larger Asia Pacific area.

24. I am confident with the Charter, ASEAN cooperation towards faster economic growth and development to improve the quality of lives of our peoples will succeed. Obviously, ASEAN has to practice good governance, democracy and human rights that come along with economic prosperity.

25. By 2015 our goal of becoming a Community predicated on the three pillars will give rise to a prosperous and dynamic ASEAN community. The three pillars are being strategized as a tool for ASEAN integration. As a person outside the government I am encouraged to read reports, statements and speeches made by ASEAN Leaders and the Secretary General that reaffirmed this belief that with the coming into force of the Charter, ASEAN Member States will comply and observe the rights and obligations as enshrined under its constitution. Their enthusiasm and strong commitment to strengthen the ASEAN Secretariat including the establishment of various mechanisms and bodies bode well for ASEAN to handle these challenges.

26. The issue that can affect cooperation and friendly relations is on the question of overlapping claims amongst countries within and outside ASEAN. Great care should be taken to ensure we are not estranged or divided as a result of it. Of course the most ideal way is to achieve settlement through negotiation. But this may not be possible at all times. Where these failed, we should adopt the route of referring it either to ICJ or other reputable international tribunals. However, the outcome is not always popular nationally. Now that ASEAN has a Charter and the role of the Secretariat is being enhanced, Member States must be willing to submit to regional solutions and look at proactive actions to avoid the differences from turning into new tensions or disputes.

27. I am confident ASEAN cooperation will be growing stronger and stronger in the years ahead. ASEAN recognises that it will not be in a position to weather the storm of financial and economic crisis in an effective way alone or in isolation, but together much can be achieved. Economic integration is the only viable alternative for growth and development.

28. I trust the bottom line for every country in ASEAN is to see its people happy because they enjoy a good standard of living. With every country in ASEAN enjoying economic development, there will be new opportunities. We have witnessed even without diplomatic relationship Taiwan has been forthcoming with trade and investment. I am confident that we can reap the benefits of our cooperation for prosperity and a better future.

29. I strongly believe every Members State, big or small, has a significant role in strengthening our unity and solidarity. True we are geographically located in South East Asia, but at the same time we are also part of East Asia and the Asia Pacific region. Taiwan is part of the East Asian economy.

30. I like now to touch on some of the challenges facing ASEAN as we approach 2015. No doubt ASEAN has already achieved significant level of stability. We are free from wars for a long period of time which should allow us to focus our attention to economic development. However we should not take this for granted. We should continue to work together so as to ensure whatever we have attained thus far can be sustained. What do ASEAN need to do in order to fortify and strengthen peace and stability in our region? As the basis of our strength is collective action and cooperation, we have to pay attention to some of the critical factors.

31. Firstly now that we have set our goal and vision. ASEAN has to enforce the Charter in its letter and spirit. The next step to be taken is to establish a warm cooperative relationship for peace between the nations of South East Asia and its East Asian neighbours.

32. Secondly the aspiration of our people is to enjoy better quality of lives, free from poverty. For this reason ASEAN community must be built on prosperity and economic dynamism like what Taiwan as done. Growth and development is the cornerstone of our success and cooperation.

33. Thirdly we should deliver social justice to all ASEAN societies. The key elements required in meeting the challenges of social justice would differ from country to country. It is the responsibility of each Member State to look at the issue affecting income distribution, poverty, independent judiciary and rule of law. This will also entail the development of a political system that allows the people to participate effectively in the democratic process.

Ladies and gentlemen,

34. We are now in our 10th year in the 21st century. You and I know that the economic landscape and culture of the world has changed tremendously, in leaps and bounds, in fact, the word ‘leapfrogging’ has almost been a cliché in many industries in the last ten years.

35. This, as you know, have been due to inventions and innovations mainly in the area of information and communications technology (ICT). And, I will not emphasise on that further. But what I really want to emphasise here is that ASEAN has also embraced the ICT era. ICT literacy has risen and is currently accelerating among the ASEAN people.

36. As ICT influences the way we live, work and play, ICT has also positively influenced the way we add value to the various resources that we have, especially and including our natural resources. Knowledge clusters have developed. We have various types of knowledge workers and entrepreneurs, and the various trade zones that have sprung up in the various parts of ASEAN.

37. Islamic Finance and Banking has been embraced by the financial world and is certainly expanding. The ASEAN people have a high number of expertise on this, and I must add that they are not necessarily confined to Muslims because Islamic finance has been universally embraced and applied as it really differentiated itself from conventional banking methods.

38. The Halal industry is another big and certainly need another platform to elucidate. For me, it would suffice to say that the word Halal does not just denote the avoidance of pork etc in the food production, but also in the manner in which food, pharmaceutical production, cosmetics and other products must be produced, stored, transported, delivered and served with the highest hygienic standards.

39. The various Halal hubs in ASEAN are now destinations for many international production companies to get their products certified and endorsed for the world markets.

40. While the information age is nearing maturity, we have also ushered in the beginning of the Bio-Tech Age. And just like, the earlier Industrial Age has provided the back up and support to the Information Age, similarly the continued momentum of both the Industrial Age and the Information Age will continue to be the back up and support for the acceleration of the Bio-Tech Age.

41. Knowledge clusters have already developed in the various applicable industry sectors such as plantations, food and beverage, pharmaceutical and health products and livestock. This development is certainly going to TURBOCHARGE the opportunities in the abundant natural and biodiversified resources of ASEAN.

Ladies and gentlemen,

42. I want to ask you another question. What about lifestyles in the 21st century? My answer to that is, if ICT has changed the way goods are produced and delivered, so is its impact on our lifestyle.

43. As an entrepreneur or manager is more able now to live at the best places of his choice, maybe to even have a mobile office (in his suitcase) and his operations at far way places by way for example, video conferencing and on-line image transfers. Technology has provided “virtual nearness” for this entrepreneur to manage, communicate and supervise his operations.

44. It has been my observations that there have been three main qualities that enable them to be effective and productive. The first is that they have the “CONCEPT”. This means ideas, product design, new technologies, patents and patent rights and even branding and product positioning knowledge. In simple terms, they own and control knowledge. We are now living in the era of the “knowledge economy”.

45. Secondly, any idea is useless if it is produced inefficiently. The second “C” requires the person to posses “COMPETENCE”. He must have the ability to structure and organize these resources to produce the best quality at the most effective cost for his products.

46. The third “C” is CONNECTION. With CONNECTION we will be able to bridge distances and sit at crossroads of cultures and are able to move goods and services from one country to another. Here we are not talking about just marketing and sales of goods. We are also talking about the ability to produce and move supplies of raw materials and even the connectivity to the local knowledge clusters. ASEAN is ready with its local knowledge clusters, in various industry areas and importantly in the professional fields too. As an example I know for certain that the ASEAN Federation of Accountants (AFA) has been active for quite sometime already.

47. I simply have not forgotten that in the process of drawing up various concessions and agreement amongst the ASEAN member countries such as the AFTA, each member country was initially looking into “how to draw up the concessions to another country”. These efforts turned out to be the first round exercises on how to open and be friendlier to investor nations who are not members of ASEAN.

48. When members of ASEAN changed mindsets and shifted paradigms to accommodate each other, they were already, consciously or semi-consciously preparing themselves to accommodate and interface with the rest of the world.

49. We need to work together at all time to build an ASEAN, where we can share common prosperity and economic well being for our people. We want to build one ASEAN in our interest, of East Asia and also in the interest of the global community. We like to cooperate with Taiwan for economic growth and development.
50. ASEAN must continue to be progressive and outward looking while holding to its ‘ASEAN way’. In conclusion I like to call on everyone to move forward together, armed with hopes for the future. Let us build on a cooperation that will integrate us in a productive manner for our mutual interest and benefit.

Thank you.

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