The First East Asian Young Leaders Congress: "East Asian Peace, Stability and Prosperity: Concept, Commitment and Contribution by the Young Generation of East Asian Nations", Kuala Lumpur, 6 August 1994

The concerns of this congress are evidently understandable and they are not without justification. Peace and stability are the bedrock that has made the region what it is today, a zone of prosperity. This region knows only too well the awful costs of war, the misery and suffering it brings. We are the heirs of ancient civilizations and new nations that have been born out of struggle and strife.

The more we reflect on our present achievements the greater will be the feeling of our indebtedness to the fathers of our nations for their courage, wisdom and pragmatism. We have thrived while other regions remained stagnant or even retreated into chaos and anarchy. Our leaders fought the imperialist powers and, like David against Goliath, brought them low. They transcended their differences to forge a stable regional environment and instituted policies to promote initiative, enterprise and growth.

The Congress itself is the fruit of peace and stability, a trust that must not be squandered. We must ensure the continuation of peace, stability and prosperity for us and for the generations to come. In order to do this, we have at our disposal resources unheard of in the past. We have the means to construct a brighter future than our ancestors could ever conceive.

Because of the enormous strides of recent years, we have much to be content about. And because we have earned our prosperity by hard work, we may even feel entitled to some measure of respite. That would be a mistake. The youth of East Asia cannot afford to rest on the laurels handed down to them. Instead we must strive harder for greater achievements and it is in the realization of the limitations of our present achievements that will prevent us from falling into a state of complacency and contentment. It is indeed timely that we be reminded by the saying of the great Asian sage, Lao Tze: "Whose thinks his great achievements poor, shall find his vigour long endure." One must be honest enough the accept the fact that remarkable our present perfomance may be, it is far from being great.

In any case, complacency and contentment are not the characteristics of youth. Rather, they should be fired by idealism and the fervour towards greatness and perfection. It is not the case of wanting to belittle our present achievements, but out of the conviction that the future of Asia is still very much to be constructed that we often caution against an early celebration. In fact, our societies will be condemned to mediocrity and stagnation if the character of our youth is already infected by complacency and contentment.

If there is anything at all to celebrate among the youth of Asia, it is the celebration of a new awareness. The awareness that the development of our societies must not be lopsided. That we must not lose our soul in the quest for prosperity. That the dynamism in the economic and industrial domain must be matched by equal vigour in the non-materialistic dimension of our endeavour. Some quarters may scorn this as naivete and a want of realism. Such an awareness will act as a countervailing force against moral decadence, injustices, corruption and other forms of excesses, and help our society remain holistic and balanced.

We are painfully conscious of the fact that growing prosperity in our societies has been accompanied by many unintended effects, such as the erosion of social solidarity and traditional ways of life. Many outside observers have bemoaned the passing away of traditional Asian ways of life, but one can discern that such views smack of condescension, a projection of faded romanticism vis-a-vis the remains of the exotic East. We have no such hangups. On the contrary, not only are we happy that our people have managed to free themselves from the decadent aspects of the past, we positively advocate reforms to re-energize our societies. Our concern, however, is the decline of ethics and morality which, if not arrested, will erode idealism in our society and impede the path of reforms. In the Malaysian context, such an erosion of values must certainly render our efforts towards the realization of Vision 2020 ineffectual.

In this regard, it is imperative that our youth undertake a movement of ethical and moral renewal, or else our credibility will stand to be questioned. It is our conviction that ethics and morality are part of the burden of our responsibility. With regard to them, pious profession alone will not suffice, for profession without commitment is plain hypocrisy. Thus we must be relentless in our struggle to internalize ethical values and morality in our personality, because there can be no other way to cleanse ourselves of conceit, avarice and passion. Commitment to moral values and their internalization is so fundamental, to give us the courage and strength to weather the challenges brought about by accelerating change, to undertake reforms, and to root out corruption and other societal ills.

The reform of Asian societies, first and foremost, must be directed at eradicating poverty and ignorance, which still abounds in our midst. We need to commit ourselves to ensuring that every single person among us share in security from want and enjoy qualitative improvement in meeting his or her basic needs. Prosperity must also mean the extension and improvement of civil society. We need to expand the domain of personal freedom and responsibility, and promote the growth of participation of the citizenry in the decision making processes that affect their lives. It devolves to the youth of Asia to shoulder the awesome responsibility of meaningful internal change, bringing it about not as a cosmetic response to outside pressures, but as a moral obligation imposed by our deeply rooted values.

For several centuries, the global order has been presided over and determined by forces outside the Asian region. At present, however, we have earned the right, as it were, to share in the reconstruction of a new pattern of international relationships. Asia must have its own agenda, be it in the economic, political or social spheres. The East Asia Economic Caucus is precisely for Asians to utilize it as a vehicle to exert the cause of free trade, now being threatened by the growing protectionist tendencies of some of the older industrial economies. This is a cause for which East Asian youth must be ready to commit themselves.

On that note, I now officially close the First East Asian Young Leaders Congress.

Thank you.