Launching of Asean-Vietnam Task Force Draft Report on Shared Destiny: Southeast Asia in the 21st Century, Bangkok, 22 February 1993

H.E. Chuan Leekpai

Prime Minister, Thailand:

H.E. Nguyen Khanh

Deputy Prime Minister, Socialist Republic of Vietnam:

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am extremely impressed at the many changes that have taken place in this bustling city. Things change so fast these days and historians will talk about the pace of change and the acceleration of history.

Talking about history reminds me of a great Vietnamese hero, General TRAN HUNG DAO, who twice defeated the invasions of the imperialistic Mongols. On his deathbed, the great general was asked what would be his last wish for the benefit of the Vietnam people. And he replied, "THA SHIK CHO DZEN". For the benefit of our English speaking friends this literally means, "LIBERATE THE FULL STRENGTH OF THE PEOPLE".

It is indeed with a similar spirit that we are gathered today to forge a new sense of purpose for the future of Southeast Asia. We have come here with a common desire to engage in a new regional order, a possibility strongly felt by our people, a perspective compellingly espoused by the report of the Asean-Vietnam Study Group. Not only is the time opportune for us to do so, we also do not have any other choice. Unless we seize this opportunity today and now, our delayed response could jeopardise the future and render our actions irrelevant.

Since time immemorial our societies have evolved separately. There had been interactions, peaceful or otherwise, but each considered its destiny on separate paths. But globalisation has rendered this attitude anachronistic. Our prospects and prosperity have never been so intertwined as they are today. It is only by some measure of sleepwalking through our turbulent times that we could fail to realise that a shift in our thinking is imperative.

Old mindsets could be our greatest enemy. Our region is continuously being bombarded by new challenges and we must address them with boldness and vigour. That would not be possible if we tenaciously held on to the mindset shaped by Cold War rivalry. We must not allow the bitterness of our recent histories to cloud our judgement. We must have the courage to face historical truths, for those sobering truths will enable us to come to terms with the new realities.

Regional prosperity is not an abstract term. It is our commitment to liberate millions from the scourage of poverty and destitution, to assault illiteracy, ignorance and parochialism and to accomplish more humane conditions for our people. It would be sheer callousness to remain indifferent to the plight of the poor within our societies.

More than two decades of the experience of Asean has convinced us of our ability to forge a common stance on matters of common interest. That experience has put us in good stead to encourage an even larger, not ambitious but rather inevitable, regional grouping. It is vital that we cease to dwell on the misperceptions of the past or allow irritants to cloud common crucial issues. We should not succumb to parochial views at home, less our individual nations remain at the mercy of volatile international forces. Then, we must not cry about the inequities of the world order, for we have nobody but ourselves to blame, for the injustice -- deliberate or otherwise -- inflicted upon us by the global system. It is only as an effective grouping that our voice or needs will be heard.

We must have the courage to change, only then we can be masters of our destinies. Southeast Asia is a diverse group of nations but in spirit we are one. We are petals of the one lotus. In the bipolar world of the Cold War, Asean was united in refusing our soils to be a theatre of conflict. Now, the situation calls for greater unity, to increase our prosperity and to parley on equal terms with others for the global freedom to buy and to sell. Simply because the powershift has moved from the battlefield to the marketplace.

The global order that we envisage is one of mutually-enriching interdependence. Our regionalism is not a means to exclude others, but rather to harness the collective potential for wealth creation. This is the meaning of Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA) and East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC).

Southeast Asia is destined to be an important grid in the global marketplace because of our geographic position and dynamic economies. Cooperation and interaction will not only consolidate our relations with one another, but will also enhance and strengthen our position with the rest of the world. However, the new Southeast Asia we envisage will remain an elusive dream if Asean does not grow into a greater community. Both pragmatic and idealistic considerations would prompt us to strive for the growth of Asean; from six to ten nations. Pragmatic reasons, because it would be the folly of our generation to blithely ignore the compelling geo-economic exigencies. Idealistic appeal, because we need to revitalise our common heritage and positive traditional values as an antidote to the ills of modernity, which engender loss of values, destruction of the family, environmental degradation, moral decadence and sensate cultures.

Asean, as a grouping of six, can extend the limits of its effectiveness to promote further change. This is where the entry of Vietnam into the Asean family is catalytic in our effort to forge the new regional order. Vietnam, by virtue of its eminent position in Indochina, and with the current drive for renewal, will serve as a model for the other states of Indochina and Myanmar to take the path of economic and political liberalisation.

We in Asean have learnt to accept the reality of a new Vietnam in our midst. But further progress could only follow upon reciprocal change in the perception of Vietnam's leaders towards the region and the world as a whole. We are ever mindful of the pain and the suffering that the people of Vietnam have had to endure in their recent history. A residue of antipathy and bitterness will always remain for some time to come.

It is hypocritical on the part of anyone to preach democracy and equality, while denying the right of the Vietnamese to develop and progress. Therefore it is incumbent upon both parties to seek to resolve the lingering difficulties in their relations. The French have finally come to accept the meaning of Dien Bien Phu. Vietnam and the United States must similarly admit to themselves that we, and every succeeding generation, have to "survive" our history. History must not be a stumbling block on our journey ahead, but a light that provides the inner strength to make new beginnings.

The main purpose of this Interaction For Progress Programme is to allow Vietnam to understand us and for us to understand Vietnam. Mutual understanding and confidence are necessary building blocks in the regional co-operative endeavours. Through such interaction -- the essence of co-operation - a better future can be secured.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our world is still the same stage even though the major players have changed many times over. Today it is our stage. We owe it to ourselves and to our future generations that we must all have the courage to change the sets, rewrite the scripts as well as the scores in the perpetual struggle for human freedom, equality and dignity. Above all, let's get on with the job.

Members of the Task Force deserve our gratitude for this excellent report which, to my mind, will assist us towards a clear vision of one Southeast Asia of the 21st Century as well as the means to achieve it.

We commend the government of Thailand, and above all, Prime Minister Excellency Chuan Leekpai, for his support and farsighted commitment to this vision.

We would also like to express our deep gratitude to His Excellency Nguyen Khanh, the Deputy Prime Minister, Socialist Republic of Vietnam for his indulgence, dedication and commitment to the future of Vietnam and the region.

Thank you.