Show unity, centrality to ensure peace & stability
Hakim Hayat

THE overall outlook for the Asean region remains promising, although more hard work is needed to achieve the blocís ambitious plan to transform the region into a single-market through Aseanís community roadmap that is geared to be achieved in two yearsí time, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam said at the opening of the 23rd Asean Summit yesterday.

On the issue of South China Sea, His Majesty, who is Chairman of the 23rd Asean Summit, said that in Aseanís efforts to develop a Code of Conduct (CoC) for the disputed maritime zones, the regional bloc must demonstrate unity and centrality to ensure peace, stability and greater prosperity in the region, in managing the interests of major powers or negotiating trade agreements.

His Majesty said he was pleased to see the CoC formally on the agenda of officialsí meetings and that regular consultations would be held next year. ďAsean must remain united in reiterating the two-step approach to the issue in order to maintain the momentum of dialogue and consultations, as well as in working together with China to implement the Declaration of Conduct (DoC) in the South China Sea,Ē the monarch added.

The implementation of Asean Community by 2015 will see the region establish a common market and manufacturing base with a freer flow of goods, services and investments, to better compete with world economic powers. However, it has been struggling to align key infrastructure, trade and policy frameworks to meet the deadline.

Earlier in his titah, His Majesty highlighted three focus areas of the summit Ė progress of the Asean Community, Aseanís External Relations and Aseanís Future Plans.

On the economic community, His Majesty said that given the current global economic realities, Asean must continue to maintain its financial stability as well as be an attractive and competitive destination for trade and investment. Hence, His Majesty urged Asean to work together in areas such as trade facilitation and logistics to ease the way of doing business in the region. Since the last summit, His Majesty noted that there has been some progress in these areas, including introducing Asean immigration lanes and a business travel card; promoting Asean visa-free travel; and supporting financial literacy and SME development initiatives.

ďOverall, Asean must continue to show greater political will in doing all it can to realise the Community goals by 2015,Ē His Majesty added.

On Asean beyond 2015, His Majesty thanked Indonesian President Dr H Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for proposing some aspirational goals, such as doubling Aseanís combined GDP and halving the percentage of people living in poverty by 2030.

His Majesty also thanked Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for his ideas in improving Aseanís working procedures, such as through a review of Aseanís institutions and external relations. In this regard, His Majesty proposed that the Asean Coordination Council to consider those ideas in developing a post-2015 vision for the region.

As part of Aseanís preparations for the future, His Majesty highlighted two points which must be further strengthened. He said Asean must strengthen external relations with its dialogue partners as well as with the global community by constantly building deeper and more constructive relations with all existing dialogue partners, and also find ways in engaging other countries that Asean sees as potential partners whilst maintaining a cohesive, yet balanced approach.

Secondly, His Majesty said Asean must strengthen its institutional support by giving serious consideration to constraints the Asean Secretariat is facing, adding that they must be more capable in supporting the future work, and be better coordinated with other Asean organs, so as to reinforce Aseanís central role in the region. His Majesty said he would like to see the ĎHigh Level Task Force on Strengthening the Asean Mechanismsí begin their work as soon as possible to allow them to explore how Asean can further strengthen its Secretariat and institutions and how it can continue having strong and productive relations with all its partners.

Touching on a People-Centred Asean for the future, His Majesty urged that all Aseanís plans for the future to have an impact for its people so they will continue to feel as being part of the Asean community. His Majesty suggested Asean to consider the establishment of consular assistance arrangements, so that member states can help each otherís nationals in places where they are not represented.

On a wider perspective, His Majesty stated that the Asean leaders must build on what it has and continue to work together to address common challenges with all its partners, such as food and energy security, climate change and natural disasters in order to ensure sustainable development in the region.

For this yearís East Asia Summit (EAS), His Majesty suggested a thematic approach in order to focus on promoting practical cooperation with Asean partners on issues that are of direct concern to all the people of Asean, highlighting that the bloc should ensure that the future opportunities and benefits reach every stakeholder, especially our youth, women and SMEs.

ďThis is why it is important to get all people to be more aware of what Asean is doing and encourage their active involvement, so that they can lend support towards Aseanís objectives, including in addressing the socio-economic and developmental gaps in the region,Ē His Majesty added.

During the summit held at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Berakas, the Asean leaders discussed issues under the theme ďOur People, Our Future TogetherĒ which promotes the collective commitment of Asean citizens, bound together through the spirit of unity in diversity, to bring forward an Asean community that is politically cohesive, economically integrated and socially responsible.

The Asean leaders reaffirmed the importance of strengthening the existing bonds of solidarity and cooperation to advance Aseanís common interests and overcome challenges within the region and beyond. The leaders further noted that Aseanís community-building efforts need to be intensified by upholding the Asean Charter and implementing the Roadmap for an Asean Community, particularly the Initiative for Asean Integration (IAI) Work Plan II (2009-2015), and the Master Plan on Asean Connectivity (MPAC).

The leaders then underscored that in advancing the frontiers of cooperation, they will be more responsive to the needs of the people and their future together; the leaders tasked the Asean Coordinating Council, in consultation and coordination with the three Asean Community Councils to develop Aseanís vision beyond 2015; the leaders also recognised the role of local governments in Aseanís community-building process particularly to better prepare their people to realise the Asean Community 2015.

At the end of the 23rd Asean Summit, host Brunei Darussalam issued a Chairmanís Statement as well as adopted the Bandar Seri Begawan Statement on Asean Community Post-2015 Vision; the Final Report of the Mid-Term Review of the Implementation of the Asean Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC); the Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on Youth Entrepreneurship and Employment; the Asean Declaration on Enhancing Cooperation in Disaster Management; the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Elimination of Violence Against Children in Asean; the Asean Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection; and the Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases. - Borneo Bulletin (10 October 2013)