Singapore Government Press Release

Media Division, Ministry of Information and The Arts,

36th Storey, PSA Building, 460 Alexandra Road, Singapore 119963.

Tel: 3757794/5











It gives me great pleasure to officially welcome the Kingdom of Cambodia as the 10th member of ASEAN. An ASEAN that encompasses all 10 countries of Southeast Asia is a long cherished goal.



Cambodia is no stranger to ASEAN. We have watched with anguish Cambodiaís long travail. We have done what we could to help Cambodians gain control of their own future. We hope for nothing more than that Cambodians can realise their dream of living in peace and prosperity.



Cambodia has been closely associated with ASEAN as an observer for almost four years. We had decided to admit Cambodia as a full member three years ago. There have been delays. But we have not been deflected from the goal that we have today attained.



Cambodiaís membership of ASEAN is an important milestone in our struggle to define a regional identity for Southeast Asia. But it is only a milestone and not the end of the journey.


Defining Southeast Asia is a process that pre-dates ASEANís formation in 1967. The process will continue after Cambodia has joined ASEAN. It is a political project that has absorbed the region for many decades.



 Since the nationalist struggles of the earlier 20th century, through the Second World War and the Cold War, the constant objective has been to forge a Southeast Asia whose destiny is in the hands of the countries of the region. An ASEAN 10, indeed ASEAN itself, is a means to this end. It is not an end in itself.



We want a Southeast Asia open to the world, welcoming to ideas and contacts everywhere. We will cooperate with all. But we want a Southeast Asia whose future will be determined by decisions made by Southeast Asians, not by others in far-away capitals.



ASEAN was not the first experiment in Southeast Asian regional organisation. But it is the most important and most successful of such experiments to-date. The experiment continues.



It is no secret that the Asian crisis has badly dented ASEANís reputation and has taken the gloss off our image. We face many new challenges. Not everybody is convinced that expansion will necessarily help ASEAN cope with them.



This is what some observers have had to say:



Roger Mitton encapsulated the perception of many in his Asiaweek article of 30 April 1999 entitled "Now, ASEAN becomes 10. But Cambodiaís Entry may create problems".



Michael Richardson wrote in the International Herald Tribune of 22 April 1999 that "weakness and tensions have been exposed in ASEAN as a result of its enlargement Ö". He quoted a Japanese Foreign Ministry official as saying that "enlargement has increased ASEANís economic and political diversity". The Japanese official concluded that "given the organisationís principle of consensus, this will make it hard to reach decisions".




Raphael Pura writing in The Asian Wall Street Journal of 17 December 1998, said "once a cosy club of consensus builders, ASEAN is being transformed into a more fractious organisation by pressures from Asiaís economic crisis, political change and expanded membership". He posed the question "will coping with all that diversity ultimately strengthen ASEAN or weaken the organisation, eroding its clout with its powerful allies, the US, the EU, Japan and China?"



These are experienced and respected analysts, writing in influential and widely read publications. The point is not whether they are right or wrong or whether we agree or disagree. The fact that such perceptions exist means that we will have to deal with them. The onus is on us to demonstrate that ASEAN unity is more than just a slogan.



I had described the effort to define a regional identity as a political project. It is an effort that has responded to the needs of states of this region, continuously adapting and adjusting itself in response to internal and external developments. Managing diversity and balancing nationalism with regionalism have always been our preoccupation. Our responses have changed over time.



ASEAN has made and remade itself several times in the last 32 years. The ASEAN of the 1960s and 1970s was different from the ASEAN of the 1980s and 1990s. It is in our hands to shape the ASEAN of the 21st Century.



To do so will require a sustained, disciplined and realistic effort. We should not deny our problems. We must face up to them and show that we are dealing with them in a practical way.



We can take comfort and confidence from the fact that we have successfully weathered many political storms in the past. There is no a priori reason why we will not continue to succeed.




But the current challenge is different and more subtle than those that we have faced before. What is the meaning of regionalism in an age of globalisation? Is the traditional concept of Southeast Asia obsolete as we all become ever more deeply enmeshed with a wider world?



There are no simple answers to these questions. But I am and remain a strong believer in ASEANís long-term potential. The ARF and the regularisation of ASEAN + 3 summits with China, Japan and South Korea, are examples of ASEANís ability to adapt to changing conditions, to integrate with the wider world, while remaining relevant.



There is no alternative to remaining open and plugged in. Opting out of the global economy or turning inwards is not an option. There have been some tentative signs that the region is stabilising. Some countries have turned the corner. But major uncertainties remain. It is too soon to say the crisis is over.



Continued liberalisation and economic reform is essential to integrate Southeast Asia. It will narrow differences between ASEAN economies and enhance ASEAN unity. This will preserve our distinct identity. It will also form the essential basis for Southeast Asiaís integration into the wider world economy.



Liberalisation at the best of times is not easy. To continue to liberalise in difficult times is no mean achievement. When our Leaders met in Hanoi last December, they sent a strong signal that we remain on course and are determined to continue to open up, preparing the ground to steam ahead again when conditions are more propitious. It was one step forward.



It is only by a continuous process of honest self-examination and by defining and redefining ourselves that we can ensure that an ASEAN of 10 will enhance the regionís security and well being. This does not require a radical discontinuity or discarding fundamental principles or processes. But we must not be afraid to experiment.



I look forward to working with all of you, and with our new colleagues from Cambodia. Together we will take another modest step forward when we meet again in July in Singapore.



It now only remains for me to conclude by expressing my gratitude to our host, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Mr Nguyen Manh Cam, for the gracious hospitality and excellent arrangements that we have enjoyed. Thank you and once again, a very warm welcome to Cambodia.