Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is a great honor and pleasure for me to address the Asia Society’s 33rd Williamsburg Conference «21st Century Asia: Imagining the Future». I wish to thank Asia Society for this splendid opportunity to host this conference in Siem Reap, the heart and soul of Cambodia.
At the outset, allow me to bring you all the warmest greetings from His Majesty Preah Bat Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni, the King of Cambodia, and the good wishes from the people of Cambodia.
On behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), I take the pleasure in welcoming Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen to the Asia Society’s 33rd Williamsburg Conference here in Siem Reap — the heart of the land of Angkor, surrounded by the soaring towers and exquisite bas-reliefs of the Angkor Temples which are ranked among the World’s wonders.
Siem Reap is one of the Kingdom’s most ancient cities, rich in both cultural and natural heritage. While you are in Siem Reap, I hope that you will find time to savor some of the sights and sounds of Angkor, one of the greatest achievements of human art and architectural resolution. As you all know, Cambodia was at the peak of splendor and glory during the Angkor period, when it was using the then modern technology in architecture, urban planning, agriculture and infrastructure. Here the jungle, monuments and humans were living in perfect harmony.
The topic today is «Imagining the Future of the 21st Century Asia». I know that it may be difficult to predict the future especially in our world of uncertainty. Therefore, I would not make a prediction. Instead, I will discuss my long-term view of Asia, seeing it as a trend or a vision!
Overall, I envision that the 21st Century Asia will be a more prosperous, cooperative and deeply integrated region. Let me elaborate.
The 21st century has brought and will bring about profound metamorphosis to the political, economic and social fabrics of Asia. These changes present to us both opportunities and challenges and will have far-reaching implications on our region and the world.
We all recognize that, with the impetus and influence of the forces of globalization, the world has undergone tremendous and unexpectedly rapid transformation in recent decades. Simultaneously, a new wave of regionalism has gripped many parts of the world, spawning an interlocking array of free trade area arrangements. Stronger and deeper economic integration has fostered more favorable conditions for preventing and solving the lingering strategic and geopolitical problems.
Governments across Asia have responded to these changes by adopting strong measures for better governance, peace and national stability. The ongoing revolution in information and communication technology has transcended traditional barriers and bridged great distances between Asian nations and people, promoting the unprecedented sharing and use of knowledge. Such communication has allowed our peoples to improve their skills and expertise in their difficult pursuit of a higher level of prosperity. Yet we need many more people with advanced education to complete the transition to a knowledge-based economy.
We are well aware that, in this context, we mostly need to ensure peace, prosperity, stability and sustainable development, shared prosperity and co-existence in a harmonized regional community in the spirit of sharing and solidarity, while marching toward integration and mutually beneficial cooperation. This vision becomes the heart and soul of the “win-win” strategy for Asia in this 21st Century.
Over the years, Asia has succeeded in contributing significantly to economic development in the world and the reduction of rivalry and confrontation in the region help transform our region into an epicenter of genuine peace, cooperation and prosperity in a more favorable context of international politics.
We have witnessed a dynamic and rapidly changing environment in the political and economic landscape of Asia. We expect that this trend to continue and accelerate in the future since Asian leaders have clearly acknowledged the necessity of cooperation and deeper integration and forcefully and effectively respond to both the challenges and rare opportunities gained from integration waves. This is to better serve the development needs of our respective nation.
Integration in the 21st Century Asia
At the Vientiane Summit in December 2004, ASEAN Leaders adopted a shared Vientiane Action Programme (VAP) for 2004-2010, which consists of the following main thrusts: the ASEAN Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, and especially through the efforts in narrowing the development gaps within ASEAN.
The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), to be achieved by 2020, aims to create a single market and production space, where there is free flow of goods, services, investment, capital and skilled labor. This will make for a more competitive ASEAN economic region.
Moreover, the East Asian and the ASEAN+3 processes will become the backbone of cooperation in Asia. East Asia will quickly become a distinctive and crucial region in the world. In the new millennium, we expect that the multi-facetted collaboration between ASEAN and China, Japan and the Republic of Korea to advance rapidly in all areas of cooperation towards the East Asian Community over the long run. To reaffirm this commitment, ASEAN and the Plus Three countries will hold the first East Asian Summit this year in Kuala Lumpur. Moreover, India, Australia and New Zealand will join the process very soon when the Plus Three countries are in agreement.
The East Asian community will be based on cooperation and openness. It will be pursued with the purpose of contributing to what is good not only for the region but also for the world. At present, a network of bilateral Free Trade Areas between ASEAN members and the +3 countries is evolving into concrete forms. We expect that in the future the bilateral FTAs will be transformed into an East Asia Free Trade Area (EAFTA) along side with an East Asia Investment Area (EAIA) to promote liberalization of trade and investment as well as closer cooperation in the area of finance.
We all recognized that the main challenges facing us now and in the future is regional energy security both in terms of supply and price that needs to be maintained. The region’s over-reliance on external sources for oil can have serious implications on the security of its energy supply. Asia must jointly develop and explore new sources and supplies of energy within the region, and embark on efficient use of energy. This has become the most important condition for the sustainable development in Asia in the 21st century.
Geopolitical landscape in Asia
On the political and security front, I envision a peaceful, stable and cooperative East Asian community free from armed conflicts, violence and hostilities, whether internal or external. Promoting political and security cooperation is vital to deal both with threats to peace and other regional security problems.
To ensure long-term peace and stability, Asian governments must cooperate to establish a socially connected, educationally advanced, and culturally vibrant Asia which can effectively deal with the problems of poverty, illiteracy, and disease. We must uphold the value of social justice and human security and take region-wide initiatives to improve the lives and dignity of our peoples. To this end, we should adopt a three-pronged approach: social programs, cultural exchanges, and educational cooperation to build more peaceful, stable, and prosperous societies and communities.
On these grounds, we have jointly adopted closer cooperation programs in various sectors to prevent and resolve regional conflicts, actively combat terrorism, prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as other most outstanding, urgent and fast-spreading issues confronting us in the 21st century that range from natural disasters such as the recent Tsunami, HIV/AIDS, SARS or avian flu, transnational crimes , especially drug trafficking, nuclear proliferation ,population growth and the digital divide.
We all envisage that the East Asia’s economic and political processes will deepen the region’s atmosphere of peace and security and strengthen Asia’s identity. Furthermore, the long-standing mechanisms of ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference (ASEAN 10+10, ASEAN 10+1 including ASEAN-US dialogue partner) have become strong pillars of the political, security, economic, trade, investment and financial architecture of the region.
Deeper cooperation and integration for sustainable development will become high on the agenda of political discussions forAsian countries in the 21st century. It is my firm conviction that our vision of East Asia is not concerned only with immediate exigencies, but we are also concerned about the future and sustainability of our resources. In this regard , the Asia stands togain from the full implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, which has recently entered into force.
The 21st Century Cambodia
Cambodia is very proud of being able to specifically and appropriately contribute to regional efforts toward firm security and peace. Cambodia’s strict adherences to the principles of democracy, respect for and protection of human rights, ensuring peace and genuine national reconciliation have been significant and meaningful contribution for ASEAN and East Asia. Ouragenda is to integrate our national economy into the world trade system. To achieve this goal , Cambodia has recently jointed the WTO.
With all these, the message that the Royal Government of Cambodia has sent to the rest of the world is that, first and foremost, Cambodia has undergone a profound transformation from a region of uncertainty, turmoil, war, civil strife, instability and backwardness to become an epicenter of peace, safety and social order, prosperity, cooperation and development. This is indeed a uniquely historic, highly laudable and noteworthy accomplishment, showing that Cambodia is truly capable of participation on an equal footing in regional and world affairs. Moreover, growing international confidence in Cambodia has reaped benefits through increased trade, investment and tourist inflows. All these developments are crucial for employment creation and income generation for Cambodian workers, thus contributing to poverty reduction and improved welfare among our people.
Soon after the formation of the new Royal Government in 2004, we introduced a new political platform – the “Rectangular Strategy”, which has since underpinned our domestic and foreign policy. Through the implementation of the Strategy, today’s Cambodia is firmly rooted in democracy as well as the respect for human rights and dignity. The economy is growing rapidly, with per capita income leaping forward. All macro-economic indicators have been robust and very encouraging from one year to another, although we have successively suffered from natural calamities in the midst of unfavorable political and economic conditions in the region and the world.
With all these achievements, Cambodia looks far forward with strong confidence. Our strategies are designed to ensure that the first decade of the new millennium will be a period of peace, stability, growth, poverty reduction, social progress and prosperity for Cambodians from all walks of life. Our ambition is to create a socially connected, educationally advanced and culturally vibrant Cambodian society. Our vision is to have democracy deeply rooted in Cambodian society by strengthening the rule of law and practicing good governance and promoting respect for rights and dignity of all Cambodians. Our vision is also to bolster up a once strong and proud nation to become a truly free and independent nation, which can fully reclaim its own destiny, be a real partner in regional and global affairs.
In recent decades, Cambodians have lived through many difficulties and the most profound challenges any nation has faced. Having overcome all these, our thrust is simplest that is to provide our people with the opportunity to take their own initiative in taking care of our own future. We hope that Cambodia is seen as a country that recognizes its problems and bravely take the needed concrete actions to solve them. Our hope is that all our partners would see Cambodia although young but dynamic and vibrant nation that has a long and rich history with great energy and potentials, which embed in our natural resources, history, civilization, culture and our youth.
I strongly believe that our conference will take this rare opportunity to take stock of all past achievements and critical issues facing Asia today and in the future. We must consider key steps in establishing a new world order that will safely govern this fragile planet through the next thousand years. The lessons of the past should steer us towards ensuring lasting legacies for generations yet unborn.
Once again, I deeply thank the Asia Society and all the co-sponsors for making this valuable conference possible in Cambodia. I wish all of you every success in your deliberations as well as a pleasant and memorable stay in Siem Reap. Finally, I have the honor to declare the opening of the Asia Society’s 33rd Williamsburg Conference «21st Century Asia: Imagining the Future». I thank you all for your kind attention.