Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed an honor to participate in this assembly of eminent individuals devoted to building a better tomorrow for all. I sincerely thank the organizing committee, especially H.E. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, for this opportunity.
I extend to you all the warmest greetings and good wishes from the people and the Royal Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Today, please allow me to share with you some views on global developments, the complex challenges confronting our regional community and our common duty to ensure and enhance our people’s security, social justice and human dignity. Thereafter, may I also mention the situation in Cambodia.
The Transformation of Asia
We meet here as representatives of Asian Political Parties. We all recognise that, with the impetus and influence of the forces of globalization and regionalism, Asia has undergone tremendous transformation in recent decades. Worldwide, no other region has matched Asia’s pace of metamorphosis. Governments across Asia have adopted strong measures for better governance and national stability. Asia’s pro-active role in the ongoing revolution in information and communication technology has transcended traditional barriers, promoting the unprecedented sharing and use of knowledge by greater numbers of people. Simultaneously, a new wave of regionalism has gripped Asia, spawning an interlocking array of Free Trade Area arrangements – the latest of which were forged at the 8th ASEAN and associated Summits in Phnom Penh just three weeks ago.
Stronger economic integration across Asia has fostered more favorable conditions for solving the lingering strategic and geopolitical problems. The modernization of the economic, social and political landscape in the People’s Republic of China signifies a “new era” for Asia. Reunification is taking shape on the Korean Peninsula. Having established peace, the Greater Mekong Subregion has increasingly focused on growth. Indeed, like the Phoenix of legend, of Asia has emerged the ashes of the Asian financial crisis and has resumed its ascent into enduring prosperity.
The Commitment of Political Leadership
However, our region still faces numerous challenges. There is continuing uncertainty in the world at large, with winds of war buffeting many nations. The fulfillment of the basic needs of all continues to be an uphill task as we leaderships grapple with the interlinked problems of population growth, increasing digital divide, spectres of disease–particularly HIV/AIDS–, terrorism, transnational crime and widening development disparities both across and within countries.
All political parties operate within national boundaries and the right thinking ones have but one ultimate goal – to serve their people to the best of their abilities and to continuously enhance living conditions and security. Our ideas and paths may differ, albeit only in nuances, but our goal is common.
We must respond to both the challenges and opportunities facing our peoples. As we win our people’s trust and mandate to serve and govern, we take on the grave responsibility to deliver basic goods and services they require. Moreover, we must establish the long-term vision and program for the social and economic development of our countries and of the world community. In turn, our peoples judge us by our concrete actions, often tending to place more value on the short-term delivery of goods and services rather than on progress towards long-term welfare and growth. This is a key test of political leadership – to ensure popular support and simultaneously carry out programmes aimed at goals much greater than winning the polls.
The Scourge of Terrorism
The most outstanding and urgent issue confronting the world today and spreading fast to regions and countries hitherto not touched is Terrorism and its highly destructive manifestations. No country, no region and no community can remain safe if terrorists continue their surprise strikes and activities.
We all need to be united in countering and combating and take determined steps to move debate from the forum of violence in the streets and baseless ban of peoples travels into the calm dignity of political exchange. Cambodians are only too well aware of the scourge of terrorism and the unquestionable need for peace as the foundation of progress. Prosperity for all cannot be pursued in the absence of security. And no political activity can be sustained without peace and security. Therefore we should all pledge here that we will not do anything that could damage fragile social fabrics. We need to focus on issues in our debates, not on personalities nor on groups. We need to realise and to instill in our people that every right has an equal responsibility for restraint, tolerance and vigilance.
Governance demands action to protect the security and safety of the population at large. This has to be achieved even if a misguided few have to suffer. Freedoms and rights of the many should dominate over those of a few who tend to abuse such rights for provocative propaganda, falsehood, nurturing fundamantalist and extremist views. These actions undertaken under apparent guise of free speech and political activity ultimately provide a spawning ground for terrorists with catastrophic results in loss of lives and property as we have witnessed in the past few years. We in Cambodia are fully determined to protect the security and safety of our people at all costs. In the regional and international framework, Cambodia has actively participated in the preparation and implementation of the agreements and joint declarations to root out terrorism.
Cambodia’s Drive for Development
With full determination, the Kingdom of Cambodia has stepped forward to engage in Asia’s transformation. The Cambodian people have raised their eyes to the future, firmly moving beyond the shadows of our recent history. Cambodia has stepped resolutely into the 21st century, strengthened by vibrant peace, healthy national reconciliation and a vigorous democracy and respect of human rights and dignity that fosters free speech and market-based, sustainable socio-economic development. It is good to recall some important milestones in our recent history to set the story in proper perspective.
Cambodia emerged from a most traumatic tragedy in any nation’s history in less than a quarter century ago. For 12 years thereafter it remained internationally isolated due to geo-political factionalism, now widely acknowledges as misguided to start with. During this period, the party I am proud to represent here, the Cambodian People’s Party, helped raise the country literally from ashes and destroyed lives and economic institutions. With a clear vision to fully unite our people and let them progress steadily and a firm resolve from the beginning, we advanced step by strong step first rehabilitating our agricultural base, the very foundation for our survival and moving forward steadily reaching the first stages of market liberalization. We had done all the hard, back-breaking work, steadying the country and laying the groundwork for its progress even as we were ostracised and denigrated. Our aim was nation building at all costs.
At this stage in 1991, the Paris Peace Accord brought reconciliation among all the feuding political parties and a new, modern chapter was born with a new Royal Government of national reconciliation and all party coalition taking office based on the UN-conducted general elections in 1993. We continued to face insurgent actions from the Khmer Rouge and differences continued among the coalition partners. Both these were removed after the Cambodian-conducted general elections, internationally acknowledged as free and fair and even termed ‘miracle on the Mekong’ in 1998. The coalition government which resulted and which made me the Prime Minister was born out of strong commonly held principles and outlook for the country’s future between the two major political parties in our country. We work on a common agenda adopted by our National Assembly.
Cambodia today is strongly rooted in democracy where the people at large exercise their choice of leadership in a free, fair and open manner in regularly conducted elections. In the communal elections earlier this year, over 4 million people cast their votes and 61% of them chose the CPP! This mandate affirm our philosophy to keep in touch with the population and respond in the timely manner to the aspiration of the people at the grassroots level. Thus, at the core of our political platform are the principles of democracy, respect of human rights and socio-economic development of the country.
There is complete freedom of speech, expression and movement in Cambodia which are sometimes abused by people intent on creating dissension and discord in the society where people now enjoy peace and stability. The economy is growing rapidly, per capita income leaping forward. All macro-economic indicators have been robust and very encouraging as years pass by. Cambodia is a fully transformed today, prosperous and beyond recognition of its skeletal existence in 1979! And to crown it all Cambodians from all walks of life swelled with national pride during the recent successfully held summit meetings in Phnom Penh, an international event of a size and importance never witnessed in the country ever before.
Base on these achievements, we are looking forward into the future with strong confidence. Our strategies are designed to turn the first decade of the new millennium into a decade of peace, stability, growth, poverty reduction, social progress and prosperity Cambodians from all walks of life. Our ambition is to create a socially connected, educationally advanced, and culturally vibrant society in Cambodia. Our vision is to have democracy deeply rooted in Cambodian society by strengthening the rule of law and good governance, as well as promoting the respect for the rights and dignity of all.
Cambodia’s Institutions for Peace and Prosperity
Progress is inextricably linked to political stability and security. We consider political stability as the backbone of peace and the prerequisite of our people’s well-being. We have exerted our utmost efforts to promote cooperation among political parties. We highly value the stability of political institutions, including the development of strong political parties that foster certainty in society. Thus the peaceful settlement of political disputes has become the norm in Cambodia’s political culture. In the common pursuit of national aspirations, the major political parties in Cambodia have displayed their political maturity by putting national interests ahead of their own. Moreover, the delicate art of compromise between the principal parties – the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the FUNCINPEC – in the promotion of common national progress has ensured political stability during the second term of the current government.
Earlier I referred to the first-ever commune-level elections. The Commune Councils have become the key structures of local governance in Cambodia. Through the Communes now flow most public goods and services, delegated power and the transfer of resources from national coffers to grassroots communities. These systems of devolution and resource allocation has now become “the blood and bone of the Cambodian” polity. It is my conviction that this process will strengthen grassroots democracy and significantly restructure the social capital of local communities, ultimately promoting political stability and security, improved respect for human rights and sustainable development.
Cambodia at War with Poverty
Our goal is poverty eradication in the quickest possible time and manner. For us, the war on poverty is not just a policy but passion. Poverty reduction defines and drives the substance, the content, and the heart and soul of our entire strategy of Government. Poverty reduction is not just a requirement of social justice, an action of conscience, but also pragmatic economic management. Therefore our efforts are geared towards ensuring the macroeconomic conditions for rapid growth, while promoting equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth and directly addressing basic human needs. It is our believe that economic growth is the most powerful weapon in the fight against poverty.
It is also absolutely crucial that we protect the environment and promote the sustainable use of shared natural resources. Therefore, we must chart a course of sustainable development that meets the economic, social and environmental needs of the current as well as future generations. It is with deep concern for the future that the Royal Government of Cambodia has ratified, and advocates the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by all nations. Ratification is truly expressive of significant action today that considers the future, ensures sustainability and the permanent improvement of the welfare of our region and its peoples.
Cambodia as Full Partner in the Asian and World Community
Regional integration is a pillar of the Royal Government’s strategy to maintain peace and strengthen security in Cambodia and the region. Proactive, even participation in regional and world affairs requires that Cambodia take further steps in strengthening institutional capacity and developing human resources. As a proud and full-fledged member of ASEAN, we hosted its 8th summit and other related summit meetings a few days ago and are moving towards membership of the WTO. These links would further help achieving our economic goals of higher rates of growth based on expanded and diversified trade and improved productivity and competitiveness.
Continuing peace in Cambodia has built up public confidence in reforms and political stability, thus creating a solid path for Cambodia’s drive towards sustainable, long-term economic growth. The Royal Government is resolved and strongly committed to systematically enhancing this democratic process. Indeed, I am confident that the forthcoming 2003 general elections will further confirm our people’s irrevocable determination to keep the peace and further consolidate political and economic stability in the Kingdom of Cambodia.
As the 21st century unfolds, Cambodia is firmly back on track of sustainable development as one unified nation. The Cambodian people look to the future with great optimism borne out of our own achievements in the difficult but worthwhile implementation of sound economic and social policies. The Royal Government has laid the foundations for a genuine cooperation within the regional framework, built on the aspirations of our people to improve their lives, to live in harmony with others as good neighbors, and to be equal stakeholders in a common destiny.
Thank you very much for your attention.