MESSAGE BY MR JOSEPH GERARD B ANGELES, THE PHILIPPINE AMBASSADOR AND CHAIRMAN OF THE ASEAN-PRETORIA COMMITTEE
FOR THE RECEPTION TO CELEBRATE THE 48TH ASEAN DAY
13 AUGUST 2015,
PHILIPPINE AMBASSADOR’S RESIDENCE
His Excellency Dr. Anil Sooklal, Director-General for Asia and the Middle East of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation,
Excellencies of the missions of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Pretoria,
Excellencies of the various foreign missions, members of the diplomatic corps, officials of the South African government, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you all for coming to join us to celebrate 48 years of the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. As the current chair of the ASEAN-Pretoria Committee, I have the honor and privilege to welcome you on behalf of the Embassies and High Commissions of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.
48 years ago, on August 8, 1967, the Bangkok Declaration brought together the peoples of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand under the common ideals of cooperation, amity and non-interference. Today, that family of nations has since expanded into 10 countries, with Brunei Darussalam, Viet Nam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, cultivating an aggrupation of cultures and traditions that is now uniquely characterized as the “ASEAN Way”.
The “ASEAN Way”, to put it simply, is a unique outlook on life. It is founded on respect for the various cultural norms in Southeast Asia, requiring skilful use of compromise, consensus and consultation to address challenges and issues. It is informal and personal, and tends to bring people closer together, rather than alienate each other. The “ASEAN Way” also allows ASEAN to communicate with each other much like a closely-knit family does, quietly and in confidence.
Today, the ASEAN family is able to stand as one in the face of modern realities facing its people. It is capable of having a single voice in all areas of political and security cooperation, economic growth and socio-cultural development, allowing ASEAN to effectively respond to regional and international issues. Thus, ASEAN has, in numerous occasions, taken a common stand for the promotion and protection of human rights, against the rise of radicalization and violent extremism, against transnational crime, as well as a common approach to address environmental issues and natural calamities.
ASEAN’s history has not always been smooth sailing, so to speak. Its peoples have undergone chapters that have tested spirit and will, time and time again, such as the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, and border disputes. However, despite difficulties, countries in ASEAN have always emphasized the need to build, maintain and enhance mutual trust and confidence among each other; to exercise self-restraint and not to resort to threat or use of force; and to resolve disputes through peaceful means in accordance with international law.
ASEAN recently exemplified its values last week, on 4 August 2015 in Malaysia, when the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN unequivocally expressed concern for developments in the South China Sea. In the Joint Communiqué issued after the 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, the Foreign Ministers expressed the following, and I quote:
“We discussed extensively the matters relating to the South China Sea and remained seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments in the area. We took note of the serious concerns expressed by some Ministers on the land reclamations in the South China Sea, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”
While we are working closely to strengthen our unity, with the important factor for ASEAN to continue to play its driving role in the region, I am happy to inform you that ASEAN countries are striving together to finalize procedures for the official establishment of our ASEAN Economic Community by 1 January 2016.
The ASEAN integration process presents vast developmental opportunities for its 10 member countries. It has a combined population that is young and exceeds 600 million, including a rising middle class; its trade level ranks fourth in the world, trailing only the European Union, North America and China; and its economy, taken as a whole, is the seventh or eighth largest in the world, with a combined GDP of US$2.3 trillion.
The economy of ASEAN, as a whole, grew 4.4% last year despite the challenges faced by the global economy. There were robust inflows of investments into the region, which stood at US$136.2 billion in 2014, reflecting a 15.7% year-on-year growth. These investments in ASEAN are expected to further increase, as the region continues to be an attractive investment destination.
In South Africa, ASEAN as a group has a substantial economic footprint, with trade reaching close to US$7.7 billion. Thailand leads ASEAN in total trade with South Africa, followed by Singapore, Viet Nam, Malaysia and Indonesia, with familiar items such as rice, coffee, petroleum products, electric appliances, rubber and palm oil making up some of the trade.
Likewise noteworthy is the presence in South Africa of communities and individuals coming from ASEAN countries and contributing to the vibrance and diversity of this country’s society. Among these are nationals of ASEAN countries who are health professionals, muslim students, businessmen and entrepreneurs, as well as skilled workers working on South African infrastructure projects.
On that note, I offer a toast to my colleagues in ASEAN and to their communities here in South Africa. May we continue the spirit of oneness and unity, and the “ASEAN Way.” I also wish to offer a toast for the nation and people of South Africa, for the friendship that binds our peoples and nations together. Cheers!