Let me bring up this issue of the proposed establishment of the Asia-Pacific Community (APC) which is relating to the initiative set forth by HE Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia. At one of the meeting at Pataya, the ASEAN leaders made a preliminary discussion in preparation for a discussion with HE Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister of Australia. We have come to the agreement that any comments should be made only after asserting comments of HE Kevin Rudd.
In fact we are having this East Asia mechanism which is not even operating in full as we have expected yet. So there is a question whether it is necessary to have APC established in place of incomprehensive functioning of the East Asian Community concept. Unfortunately due to disturbances at Pataya, the ASEAN + meetings were not held. In the October meeting of ASEAN at Hua Hin, also in Thailand, we have brought this issue up for discussion among the ASEAN leaders and we have come to a consensus that we will listen to any explanation that the Prime Minister of Australia would have on that matter. However, the explanation made during a lunch time has not been clear on the initiative too.
To establish a mechanism is a difficult process and HE Ong Keng Yong, who have involved in this task for ASEAN could have well noted on this. In 2002, Cambodia hosted the ASEAN meeting, in which, together with other ASEAN member nations, India was invited for the first time at the top level. I could recall that to have India joining the ASEAN + meeting, if I am not mistaken, the discussion on the matter started well since 2000, at which time Singapore was hosting the ASEAN meeting. I remember that HE Goh Chok Tong, then Prime Minister of Singapore, proposed the idea but there was no consensus at that time.
Until 2001 we reached a consensus in Brunei for the Indian participation, and India joined the ASEAN+ top-level meeting for the first time in Phnom Penh thereafter. If I may recall there was also this problem on whether India should be invited for the meeting on a regular basis or in if-and-when case. With coordination with India, Cambodia, as Chairman of ASEAN Meeting, a consensus was reached that India will join the meeting on a yearly basis. Well that is about the history of establishing membership or mechanism with regard to India.
At that moment we also had this proposition from Australia that it wishes to be high-level partner with ASEAN. The matter has been brought up to ASEAN members but the consensus was not reached. The matter has had a tour from there to the ASEAN meeting in Indonesia and then Vientiane of Laos. As Myanmar did not host the ASEAN meeting, the issue has come to Malaysia. HE Ong Keng Yong could probably remember that we had a long discussion, till late at night about the East Asia Summit.
The East Asia issue had been brought for a discussion between me and HE Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister of Singapore, in Phnom Penh. I tested the water if it is time to start having annual summit of East Asia. I can remember that HE Goh Chok Tong thought it is not yet time, though back in Vientiane we had a discussion as to what form would East Asia be. Whether we include three ASEAN countries + Japan, China and Korea or to take a wider form.
Coming to the time of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Lung, he suggested that India be incorporated into the forum. But geographically India is not in East Asia. It was then that there was this proposition that Australia and New Zealand could participate. I would like to thank the positions taken by the ASEAN + three partners, especially HE Wen Jia Bao, Prime Minister of China, who have assured that China would accept whatever ASEAN would come to the agreement on the form and formula of participation. It has reassured that China has a high trust in ASEAN.
Let me take this opportunity to deliver a message to Ms Magaret Adamson that I am not in opposition to the Australian initiative to set up Asia Pacific Community at all. I just wanted that the ASEAN efforts in promoting some mechanisms be granted in full. Firstly, integration of ASEAN; Secondly, promotion of East Asia, in which a discussion focuses on whether we should have ASEAN + three or should it be enlarged to ASEAN + 6, etc. We also have so many meetings to attend too, for example in the last year we had to have three ASEAN meetings in Thailand because of its political development there.
This year we will have two meetings in Vietnam, one before Khmer New Year and another to be held in October. Also in October we will have to go to Belgium for the ASEM meeting, which is also to be conducted twice a year. These meetings have put leaders in very busy schedule abroad. On defense issue, perhaps the idea could go before the establishment of Asia-Pacific Community because they have sorted out many different formulas: + 6; + 7; + 8 and + 10.
Plus 6 – means the ministers of national defense of ASEAN nations are to meet with ministers of national defense of the East Asian countries, where Heads of State and Government are to be present too. Another formula is + 7 in which in addition to the six countries of East Asia, with a possibility to have either Russia or the United States of America. This has brought to the concept of + 8 too where both Russia and the United States of America are to be included, and this will be + 8 formula. The last formula would be ASEAN + 10 which means that we add Canada and European Union into the + 8 setup.
If they reach for + 8 formula, in which the United States of America and Russia are to be included, then the APC idea will be realized first in the area of defense. According to the information I have it seems that there is a move for a consensus on formula + 8 (ASEAN + 8) where the eight countries are China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and Russia and the United States of America. So to me it looks like an Asia-Pacific Community already, which could be addressing the vision of such a community and I have been therefore cautious to say it is not yet the command of the time …◉