Statement by Prince Mohamed

Following is the statement by HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Brunei Darussalam (Country Coordinator for the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations) at the ASEAN PMC + 1 session with China in Singapore.

Mr. Co-Chairman,

On behalf of my ASEAN colleagues, may I offer a very warm welcome. It has been a great pleasure to co-chair the ASEAN-China dialogue and we would like to thank you very much indeed for your cooperation, friendship and goodwill.

I have very much enjoyed working with you as coordinator of the Asia-Europe Meeting and thank you for help and support.

I think we have made remarkable progress in our ASEAN-China dialogue.

I remember when I first went to China in 1992, Brunei did not even have an embassy in Beijing. So, the Asean-China dialogue has helped my people really understand your country and what you are all trying to achieve. I am sure everyone else in our region feels the same and I hope that your people are now also much more aware of what we are trying to do in Southeast Asia.

As a result, we now have a very different relationship to the one we had seventeen years ago. I think the dialogue is now much more than just a useful forum and has developed into a strong partnership. We understand each other well and we share each others' problems and aspirations.

In that spirit, we would all like to express our condolences to the people of Sichuan and in other parts of China on the devastating effects of the natural disasters they suffered in recent months.

In ASEAN, we were extremely concerned and have been very pleased to hear that reconstruction is well underway. We wish your people every success in the recovery programme and in rebuilding their lives.

At the same time, I am sure that everyone in Southeast Asia will join me and my colleagues in wishing your people great success in hosting the Olympic Games next month.

I would like to start by mentioning the most significant development over the past year. That is the excellent work we have seen from our trade negotiators in our efforts to establish the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area.

Understandably, this has taken up a great deal of our time over the last two years because it will probably have a most significant long-term effect on the lives of our people. I think I can speak for everyone here by saying that we are delighted with progress and our work is already having a positive effect.

Our two-way trade has grown by some 20% over the last two years. What now remains is to complete the Agreement on Investment to realise the Free Trade Area (ACFTA).

This has been time-consuming but we appreciate that these things are complex. When signed, the agreement will represent a considerable advance in our economic cooperation.

This also applies to the Framework of Cooperation between BIMP-EAGA and China which is due to be signed very soon. We are pleased that you are interested in this area of our own development.

We also appreciate the People's Republic of China's efforts to set up the Pan Beibu Gulf Economic Sub-Regional Zone. We believe that this may complement our own efforts in the BIMP-EAGA Sub-Regional Growth Area and feel that working together on this would be beneficial.

In summary, we are very pleased with the progress in trade. New opportunities are emerging which should certainly help our businessmen and women. In this regard, I have had very good reports about the workshop we hosted in Brunei Darussalam recently. This will soon see our business people establishing an ASEAN-China Young Entrepreneurs' Association to help them share information and work closely together.

If you recall, Minister, this idea came from the Commemorative Summit in Nanning. It shows that our dialogue has more substance than mere ceremonies and high level discussion. There is a strong practical side, in terms of helping our people develop and move ahead. That is something I think we can be very pleased about.

This is a very satisfactory record of achievement. I feel it adds up to another positive year for our economic and trading partnership.

At the same time, we have made valuable progress in two other important areas resulting, not only from our work in this Dialogue, but also our partnership in other areas of ASEAN's work such as the Plus Three Dialogue, the ARF, ASEM and the new East Asia Summit.

Firstly, on security matters, such as the efforts you have made to keep us all informed and work together on the Avian Flu crisis and, especially, your support for our work to address transnational crime. China has been a constructive and much-valued partner in these.

This kind of cooperation helps to strengthen our regional community and give people confidence in the future.

In terms of building this future, the work we do with young people is, therefore, very important. This is in line with the aims of our Joint Declaration and we would like to thank the People's Republic of China for its contribution to the ASEAN-China Cooperation Fund. This has helped us with many projects, including student exchanges.

In addition, the various programmes and workshops set up within the Initiative for ASEAN Integration are central to our future development and we are determined to complete the initiative by 2015. in order to reach this target, a great deal depends upon our various partners and their willingness to assist us.

We, therefore greatly appreciate the support that the People's Republic of China has given to our efforts in the IAI and, similarly, we are grateful for your work in developing the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link. This is something we believe will be extremely helpful in a number of areas we wish to develop, both commercial and social.

Looking ahead, Minister, on a practical note, we need to continue our negotiations on the Agreement on Investment and the ASEAN-China Centre MOU. As a follow-up to the last Summit in Singapore, we would also like to develop an open skies agreement, in order to increase trade and tourism between ASEAN and China.

In terms of political-security cooperation, especially implementing the Declaration on the Conduct (D.O.C) or Parties in the South China Sea, we acknowledge the complexity of the subject but wish to continue negotiations.

To conclude, Minister, our aim is to continue strengthening relations, increasing understanding and promoting respect for each other. This has been largely achieved at a certain level, especially among our civil servants and our businessmen and women. I feel, however, that there is now a need to consider what we can do to bring our ordinary people closer together in knowledge, understanding and appreciation of each other, and our backgrounds, beliefs and ways of life.

This is where I personally see the most urgent need in terms of social and cultural cooperation.

Lastly, Minister, we are now working under our new Charter. This gives us a broad but very clear picture of our future as an association. We cannot reach this future on our own, however. We, therefore need help, cooperation and commitment from our dialogue partners. For this reason, I would like to end by expressing our great appreciation to the People's Republic of China for being such an excellent partner in so many areas of our development.

Thank you also for informing us about recent developments in your country.

We are also pleased that China is taking more interest in strengthening our cooperation in disaster relief and management.

We ask you to convey our kindest regards to all your colelagues and our appreciation for the support you have given us.

We wish your government much success in all your preparations to host the 7th Asia-Europe Summit in October and, once again, we would like to offer our very best wishes for the hosting of the Olympic Games in Beijing next month.

Thank you. - Borneo Bulletin (24th July 2008)