The Tenth Meeting of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, Kuala Lumpur 23 March 1994

This council has come a long way since its first meeting in Canberra in the final years of the Cold War. Then, the Berlin wall disfigured and divided Europe. The Soviet Union had just begun its invasion of Afghanistan - the fatal folly that was the beginning of the bloodied end of the Cold War. Between the formation of this Council and our meeting today is just a short time. But the intervening years have been filled with historic events, events that require us to revise and rethink our approach to the crucial issues of our time.

Today we are in the midst of the rush to Asia. Organizations promoting partnerships with the continent or its constituent regions are mushrooming. They are driven by the eastern promise of growth and future prosperity.

Over the last two decades East Asian countries have average growth rates of between 6 to 7 per cent every year, while the rest of the world have rarely managed to exceed 3 per cent. Some East Asian economies are growing so strongly that policies have to be introduced to slow down the pace to prevent overheating of the economy.

As a result of this strong perfomance, Asia's per capita income has risen rapidly, by between 4 and 5 per cent each year. We have seen many Asian nations raise themselves out of developing country status, where they languished just a few decades ago. Now, they enjoy a prosperity which puts them in the ranks of the middle income, even upper income, nations.

By the turn of the century the former newly industrializing countries, the Asian tigers, will be reaching the secure platform of developed countries. Their places will be filled by the new wave, ASEAN and China, who will cross-over the threshold to newly industrializing status.

A combination of several fundamentals put the future of Asian wealth and prosperity unassailable. They include high savings and investment rates, robust export perfomance, a rapidly expanding and diversifying industrial base, efficient institutional and physical infrastructure and, above all, the accumulation of human capital. The operation of these factors had already enabled East Asia, with the exception of Japan, to insulate itself from a prolonged world recession. Recent developments, including the freeing of the Indian economy and the lifting of the US embargo on Vietnam, will combine with an already booming East Asia to propel the whole of Asia as the new global economic locomotive.

The ramification of Asian economic empowerment is certainly the name of humanity. But trade is increasingly being used as the new locus of leverage. It is the new cutting edge for imposing foreign defined dictums of political correctness on Asia. This is indeed a dangerous trend which we view with deep concern.

Be that as it may, the rise of Asian economic strength will inevitably exert influence on the pattern of global relations especially those pertaining to the interest of the region, its people and its governments. Hopefully, pragmatism will continue to be the operative principle among all parties in forging economic partnerships. Admittedly, non-economic factors, such as values, traditions and political practices, are no less important. But differences of cultures and values, real or perceived, should not be a hindrance in the search for commonalities and mutually beneficial relations between nations.

Genuine partnership can only come from mutual understanding, a true meeting of minds. This understanding must be built through tolerance and insight on all sides. It must operate with, and through the legitimate differences between peoples. Genuine partnership requires the equity of mutual respect.

This is no counsel of complacency. There is an internally generated awareness in Asia, a home-grown spirit of reform, urged on by our experience and sustained by our own enduring aspiration for the betterment of our human condition and the enlargement of our freedoms through prosperity. It requires no external threats and pressures. But it does require time, and the patience to let it inhere through self-determination. What no society should be impelled to do is to accept that there is only one formula for change. That was the false limitation by which the ideological clash of the Cold War stultified and curtailed the options of too many non-western nations.

Nor is this a plea for outright endorsement of a flawed status quo. As genuine partners, we must all be entitled to express our opinions, and indeed to differ in our assessment of the path of reforms taken and their priorities.

But there is certainly a world of difference between the forthright, challenging debate of equal partners, and hectoring, the use of economic muscle and improper influence to make others act as you would have them act. The one is the liberality of true friends, while the second is illiberal and a threat to friendship.

In Asia, we see a process of reform that is definitely underway, that has generated more positive results, at a minimum of pain, when compared with the disastrous outcome of the shock treatments prescribed by the West for Russia and Eastern Europe.

We have been reproached for voicing the right of Asians to pursue their own pace and course in political and economic reforms under the tutelage of their own cultural and social conditions. We have been accused of using the assertion of our own cultural identity as a mask to perpetuate the violation of human rights.

We humbly reject this analysis. Not because our present or our immediate past is perfect; not because our ancient traditions as they have come down to us are immutable. The human condition is like a garden which requires perpetual nurturing. But then a Malay-Islamic garden, a Japanese garden, a Chinese garden: these are different art forms, each incorporating a different view of the world. They are designs that were formed out of values and were long in the making.

The many art forms of human living, growing as they do from our system of values and moral beliefs, should be as mutually enriching as are art treasures we appreciate from so many nations. We in Asia have our own sense of obligation to make our arts of living flourish afresh. They will be of greater value to the whole world the more clearly they are fruits of our own efforts. In that nurturing is the hope and promise of peaceful co-existence in true and sincere partnership.

Thank you.