Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished National and International Guests,
Today I am indeed pleased to be present here at these two important functions—the Special Program on Granting the Honorary Doctorate Degrees of the University of Cambodia and the launching of the First East Asia Young Leaders’ Forum. The two events are in fact related to each other, which I am happy to take part in both of them.
At the outset, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the University of Cambodia, particularly Dr. Kao Kim Hourn and Dr. Toshu Fukami, for honoring me and the other distinguished recipients of the University of Cambodia’s honorary degrees this year.
Before proceeding with my keynote address, I wish to put on record my acceptance of the honorary degree from the University of Cambodia. It is with great honor and pride that I accept the honorary doctorate degree. Taking this opportunity, I am indeed grateful to Professor Dr. Michael Haas, former professor of political science at the University of Hawaii and currently the Chairman of the International Academic Advisory Board of the University of Cambodia, for reading my citation as well as the citation of other recipients from the University of Cambodia.
I am also delighted to know that the granting of the honorary doctorate degrees by the University of Cambodia is the first initiative which has ever been taken place in this country. The granting of the honorary doctorate degrees by the University of Cambodia is not only a symbol of growing confidence and academic excellence but also an increasing internationalization and recognition of Cambodia’s higher education.
In fact, I had personally received eight doctorate and honorary doctorate degrees by the international universities, which had honored me for my work and my contributions to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Cambodia and humanity. Nevertheless, this is the first time that I have the honor to receive an honorary doctorate from a Cambodian university. This really reflects the improvement of Cambodia’s higher education. Indeed, this achievement is the result of privatization policy in education and of the strengthening of the partnership with the private sector both domestically and internationally that I have launched nearly ten years back.
Indeed, as a Cambodian and as a prime minister of this country, there is nothing more makes me happy than to see the expansion and improvement in higher education in Cambodia over the past several years, despite the challenges facing Cambodia. Yet, I believe that our country has made tremendous progress in university education. The improvement in education, including higher education, has been one of the most important policies of the Royal Government of Cambodia, particularly in expanding opportunities for the people, building a more knowledge-based society, and advancing democracy in this country.
Therefore, this granting of the honorary doctorate degrees to me and others will set important precedence in Cambodia’s higher education and that it will set in motion a new process of academic excellence and quality education. Today, by accepting the honorary doctorate degree, I believe that Cambodia has taken a bolder step in order in internationalizing Cambodia’s academic standardization, quality control, and education value. In doing so, Cambodia is advancing its quality human resource development to a higher level.
On behalf of the recipients of the honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Cambodia, I present profound gratitude to His Majesty the King Norodom Sihanouk and Her Majesty the Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk who always provide us with their wisdom. May I pray their Majesties with longevity. The honor that I have today is also to the Senate and the National Assembly, particularly His H.E. Samdach CHEA SIM, His Royal Highness Samdach Krom Preah Norodom Ranarith President of the FUNCINPEC Party, H.E. Samdach HENG SAMRIN, and H.E. SAY CHHUM, as well as the management of Cambodian People’s Party who always provide me with advices and corrections in all of my activities.
I wish to present this achievement to my advisors and assistants as well as public servants at all levels, armed forces and Cambodian people who support my leadership and from whom I have learnt a great deal.
Let me dedicate this accomplishment to my mother who has passed away and to my beloved father; to my brothers and sisters who are my truly beloved family.
I would like also to share the happiness today to Lok Chum Teav BUN RANY HUN SEN, my beloved wife, all my children and grand-children who always stay beside me in all good and bitter times.
Once again, I profoundly thank the University of Cambodia, particularly Dr. Kao Kim Hourn and Dr. Toshu Fukami for honoring me and the others with this honorary doctorate degree.
The East Asia Cooperation Today and Prospects for Building the East Asia Community
I will now turn to my keynote address on the “The East Asia Cooperation Today and Prospects for Building the East Asia Community,” which is an important topic for our region at present and the years to come.
At present, East Asia, which is comprising the ten countries of Southeast Asia or ASEAN and the Plus Three countries in Northeast Asia, namely China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, has been regarded as a truly dynamic region, which sets to become another important political and economic pole in the world. This region under the current process of the ASEAN+3 cooperation, which started in 1997, has been moving ahead very fast, consolidating the gains rapidly, and deepening the cooperation into many areas. The ASEAN+3 cooperation is based principally on the high political commitment of the ASEAN+3 leaders, which has laid down an essential foundation for the East Asia Cooperation today. When the ASEAN+3 cooperation kicked off at the time the region was in fact facing a serious financial crisis and the impact of globalization.
It was against this backdrop that the region faced the common challenges, and it was not a matter of convenience but a matter of political and economic necessity that the ASEAN+3 cooperation emerged at the time. While there is no doubt that the cooperation between ASEAN and the countries in Northeast Asia started much earlier than in 1997, the cooperation among these thirteen countries gained greater momentum, more significant political and strategic weight, and certainly more economic clout in the post-1999 when the ASEAN+3 Leaders began to launch their cooperation under the banner of “East Asia Cooperation” for the first time.
As the ASEAN+3 Leaders continue to meet annually, review their cooperation, reaffirm their commitment to work together, strengthen their cooperation, and deepen their partnership. Indeed, when they meet each time, I believe that the present ASEAN+3 cooperation will contribute significantly to the East Asia Cooperation and certainly the East Asia community in the long-term future. After all, the ASEAN+3 cooperation is the most dynamic form of cooperation in Asia today, which ASEAN is in the driver’s seat of this ASEAN+3 process.
Since the launching of the ASEAN+3 cooperation in 1997, the areas of cooperation have been widely expanded and so have the levels of dialogue between ASEAN and the Plus Three. In fact, the Joint Statement on “East Asia Cooperation,” which was adopted by the ASEAN+3 Leaders in 1999, has laid down the vision and strategic goals of the ASEAN+3 cooperation as well as the contribution to East Asia Cooperation as a whole. Following this important Joint Statement, we have the study of the East Asia Vision Group (EAVG) and the concrete recommendations of the East Asia Study Group (EASG), which initiated by President Kim Dae Jung of the Republic of Korea.
At the same time, during the last ASEAN+3 Summit in Bali, Indonesia in 2003, the Leaders indeed reaffirmed their cooperation so that the ASEAN+3 process will continue to achieve greater synergy through broader and deeper cooperation so as to advance the ASEAN+3 partnership. The current ASEAN+3 Cooperation continues to cover mainly political and security, economic, and functional areas of cooperation.
In my view, the ASEAN+3 Cooperation, as well as the ASEAN+1 cooperation with China, Japan, and RoK will continue to drive the East Asia Cooperation to a higher level, thus leading to the East Asia Community in the long-term future, which is ultimately the shared goal of the ASEAN+3. However, I would like to share my view on what, I believe, continues to constitute the main challenges for ASEAN+3 Cooperation or the East Asia Cooperation today.
First is the challenge of development gap within ASEAN and between ASEAN and the Plus Three countries. I think it is important that we continue to pay close attention to the development divide between ASEAN and the least developing country in ASEAN, which should not be allowed to continue to be marginalized by the impact of globalization. Certainly, ASEAN and particularly the least developing members should be encouraged under the IAI projects and other ASEAN schemes.
Second is the challenge of fighting terrorism and transnational crimes such as human trafficking and drug smuggling. Since the September 11 event, terrorism remains a serious threat to the region as whole, let alone the entire world. Therefore, the threat of terrorism and other transnational crimes continues to pose great challenge to the ASEAN+3 countries, collectively and individually.
Third is the increasing challenge of energy security as the world oil prices continue to rise. The energy security undoubtedly has negative impact on the regional and global economies. To be sure, the least developing countries suffer greater impact and, therefore, it is vital that the ASEAN+3 Cooperation should make collective efforts to address this important issue.
While there are other challenges that I can raise at this Forum, due to the constraint of time, I will focus only on the three issues of challenge above. Now, I would like to touch on two other issues—the East Asia Summit and the East Asia Community.
We all remember that on the East Asia Summit, which is one of the seven medium- and long-term measures of the EASG, I believe that time has come for us to move ahead with the East Asia Summit in the very near future. In fact, this issue was raised by the Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the ASEAN+3 Summit in Phnom Penh in 2002. At that time, he proposed the idea of having a paralleled ASEAN+3 Summit and the East Asia Summit. Today, the issue of the East Asia Summit has been raised to a higher level and it is important that we have to contemplate this issue thoroughly.
While there have been a lot of discussions on the East Asia Summit, I believe that ASEAN should take a common position in order to identify our important strategies, which include the following:
First, ASEAN should continue to remain in the driver’s seat of not only the ASEAN+3 process but also the East Asia Cooperation, which includes the East Asia Summit. In this regard, perhaps it is in the best interest of the ASEAN+3 Cooperation that ASEAN will host the first East Asia Summit, with the co-chairmanship formula between ASEAN and one of the Plus Three countries. With this formula of co-chairmanship of the East Asia Summit, the Summit will provide more shared benefits to the Plus Three countries.
Second, the ASEAN+3 Summit will remain, and ASEAN will continue to host it among the respective member countries on a rotating basis. On the agenda of the East Asia Summit, I believe that we may not duplicate it with the ASEAN+3 Summit. But certainly the overlapping agenda between the ASEAN+3 Summit and the East Asia Summit is unavoidable. After the first East Asia Summit, the next East Asia Summit can be held in one of the Plus Three countries, rotating through an alphabetical order.
Specifically, with regard to the East Asia Community, I believe that the process of this community building has begun as we continue to talk about it by raising issues and exploring the various factors that will shape the future of the EAC at an appropriate time. Certainly, the discussions have been carried out at various levels, including the government, the think tank, and civil society. The EAC is no doubt a shared goal and a shared vision of the ASEAN+3 countries, at least for now. Therefore, it is important that we must work through this incremental process of community building, at a pace comfortable to all and on the basis of consensus-building. To realize the EAC, I think that we have to forge a sense of community building and an identity of the East Asia Community. ASEAN needs to contribute to the EAC, particularly through the building of ASEAN Community which comprises the three main pillars—the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Security Community (ASC), and the ASEAN Socio-cultural Community (ASCC).
In closing, I believe that the future of East Asia Cooperation will continue to make substantive progress and thus will lead to the East Asia Community in the long-term. The various initiatives and areas of cooperation under the ASEAN+3 Cooperation will strengthen and deepen the ASEAN+3 partnership as well as the East Asia Cooperation. Therefore, the launching of the First East Asia Young Leaders’ Forum is very timely and significant as it will contribute to the building of East Asia Community through the contribution of ideas, the exchange of views and dialogue, as well as the building of a sense of community in our region.
I am very happy today to see that this First East Asia Young Leaders’ Forum is being organized in Cambodia, and I hope that this Forum will continue to play its positive role in East Asia Cooperation.