Speeches : Remarks by the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand on “ASEAN’s New Challenge: the Sustainability of Things (SOT)” at the 8th ERIA Editors’ Roundtable “ASEAN Vision 2040: Towards a Bolder and Stronger ASEAN Community” Sunday, 6 October 2019, Bangkok news3

Speeches : Remarks by the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand on “ASEAN’s New Challenge: the Sustainability of Things (SOT)” at the 8th ERIA Editors’ Roundtable “ASEAN Vision 2040: Towards a Bolder and Stronger ASEAN Community” Sunday, 6 October 2019, Bangkok

Remarks by
H.E. Mr. Vijavat Isarabhakdi
Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand
on “ASEAN’s New Challenge: the Sustainability of Things (SOT)”
at the Eighth ERIA Editors’ Roundtable
“ASEAN Vision 2040: Towards a Bolder and Stronger ASEAN Community”
 
* * * * * 
 
Your Excellency Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of ASEAN,
Professor Hidetoshi Nishimura, President of the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA),
Mr. Soonruth Bunyamanee, Editor in Chief of the Bangkok Post, 
Respected Editors across the Region,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
It is my great pleasure to be here with you this morning. Before I proceed with my remarks, I wish to express my heartfelt condolences on the passing of Dr. Ponciano Intal, Jr. who was a key man behind the ASEAN Vision 2040 Report. His dedication and contributions, not only to ERIA but also to the ASEAN academic circle as a whole, will be long remembered.  
 
I also wish to commend ERIA and the Bangkok Post – both of which are outstanding partners of ASEAN – for co-organising this important Roundtable. I find the theme of the Roundtable very pertinent as ASEAN has to prepare for the future, particularly how to ensure that the ASEAN Community will fare well in the face of future uncertainty and mounting challenges.  
 
I also appreciate the opportunity to interact and exchange views with the distinguished participants of this event. In your weighty role as opinion leaders in our society, editors and think tanks play an essential part in helping shape and contribute to the public discourse on various key issues. In the context of this Roundtable, one highly pertinent issue is the building of an inclusive and people-centred ASEAN Community that is well-prepared for the future.   
 
And so, to help ASEAN better prepare for our future, Thailand worked closely with ERIA and its exceptional team of experts and specialists to produce the publication that we all now know as “ASEAN Vision 2040: Towards a Bolder and Stronger ASEAN Community”, which is the basis for the discussions of this Roundtable. Many priorities proposed in the study are in line with what ASEAN is presently pursuing – it would be a surprise if they were not. The recommendations contained in the publication are also practical and provide good food for thought for ASEAN, and the ASEAN Secretariat is currently studying them with keen interest.  
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
Since none of us has a crystal ball -- at least not one that actually works -- I believe that a good way to prepare for the future is to first have a sound understanding about our past and present. Looking back to 1967, the fascinating story of ASEAN began with a group of Southeast Asian countries, each with differing political systems and foreign policy orientations, but facing in common a diversity of serious challenges. Against all odds, these countries decided to come together due to one overarching shared aspiration, and that is to lay a foundation for the stability and prosperity of the region, by the region and for the region.  
 
ASEAN has come a long way since then, surviving the Cold War and various conflicts within the region, to transform itself from a loose association of five to a cohesive, increasingly inclusive, people-centred Community of ten. The ASEAN Community’s extraordinary progress through the years is clear, as ASEAN’s poverty rate fell dramatically from 47 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2015.  At the same time, the average GDP per capita increased a remarkable 33 times, from 122 US Dollars in 1967 to over 4,000 US Dollars in 2016.    
 
Nevertheless, ASEAN’s path has not been strewn with roses.  The grouping has continued to encounter numerous challenges in different forms and at different points in time.  So, to ensure its uninterrupted progress, ASEAN needs to have the right thinking now and move in the right direction, especially in light of the new challenges that the region is currently facing. These challenges include uncertainty from the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape, trade frictions among our major economic partners, the scourge of climate change, rising protectionism, development gaps and income disparities, transnational crime and threats to human security as well as transformative economic and social changes precipitated by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and disruptive technologies.  
 
In this context, Thailand is of the view that an ASEAN Community that is well-prepared for the future is a Community that is sustainable.  Sustainability will provide us with better immunity from encroaching threats and challenges.  This is why we have carefully chosen for our ASEAN Chairmanship this year the theme of “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”.  You have all heard, of course, of the Internet of Things.  Well, with our ASEAN theme, we seek to promote the “Sustainability of Things” (SOT), or sustainability in all dimensions – be they political-security, economic or social – while also fostering concrete partnerships within the region and with the international community.  We believe that sustainability is two sides of the same coin.  On the one side is sustainable security and on the other is dynamic economic growth and sustainable development.  Both sides are complementary and reinforce one another.
 
As you know, all ASEAN Member States have expressed their unequivocal support for this year’s theme of “partnership” and “sustainability”, as reflected in the adoption of the ASEAN Leaders’ Vision Statement on Partnership for Sustainability at the 34th ASEAN Summit this June. 
 
So, sustainability is now a recipe for the future of ASEAN and for the building of an ASEAN Community that is truly people-centred, leaves no one behind, and looks to the future.  With sustainability in mind, everything we do is for our peoples because the “people” are at the heart of our Community.  
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
Allow me now to elaborate on each of the three main elements of this Sustainability of Things.
 
First is promoting sustainable security.  To maintain regional peace and stability, ASEAN needs to reinforce strategic trust among ourselves and with our external partners.  The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) is a key instrument that ASEAN already has in hand.  The TAC’s core principles serve as regional norms for the conduct of peaceful relations in the region which, in our view, can be further promoted across the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions.  
 
Furthermore, in light of the rapidly changing geo-political and geo-economic landscape, ASEAN needs to maintain its centrality in the regional architecture. ASEAN centrality is, therefore, reaffirmed in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific adopted at the 34th ASEAN Summit. Serving as ASEAN’s Vista in promoting regional peace and prosperity, the Outlook helps to increase ASEAN’s strategic value-added in the region through the promotion of constructive engagement, the ability of ASEAN to serve as a bridge between major powers and with other external partners, and the promotion of win-win practical cooperation in four main areas, namely, maritime cooperation, connectivity, sustainable development, and economic cooperation.  All of these issues are pursued on the basis of the 3Ms, that is, mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual benefit.  My colleague, the Director-General of the ASEAN Affairs Department, will elaborate more in the following session on the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, so you can save the tough questions for him.  
 
Second is enhancing sustainable economic growth.  ASEAN aims to deepen and strengthen our single market and production base, and enhance our economic relations with external partners.  This can be done particularly by accelerating the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP which, once consummated, will be the largest economic bloc in the world.  The completion of the ASEAN Single Window, which is an integrated platform for facilitating trade through faster clearance of cargo and expeditious release of shipments, would also greatly enhance our economic integration.  In addition, ASEAN needs to promote greater intra-ASEAN trade.  There is considerably more room to grow in this respect as the level of intra-ASEAN trade currently stands at around a quarter of ASEAN’s total trade.  
 
In enhancing our preparedness and capacity to capture the gains from the Fourth Industrial Revolution and further integrate our region, we also need to pursue a Digital and Seamless ASEAN. With regard to the Digital ASEAN, we should promote a digital ecosystem to elevate the standard of living of our peoples and facilitate the development of a digital economy.  This can be done through the effective implementation of the ASEAN Digital Integration Framework Action Plan 2019-2025 and the Policy Guideline on Digitalization of ASEAN Micro Enterprises. At the same time, we need to establish a viable system to safeguard us from cyber threats.  Enhancing cybersecurity will enable us to benefit more from the digital economy, which is expected to increase ASEAN’s income to one trillion US Dollars by 2025.
 
With regard to the Seamless ASEAN, this must be pursued through enhanced connectivity.  By connectivity, we mean in all aspects, that is, physical, institutional and regulatory, and people-to-people.  The approach that ASEAN should take is the so-called strategy of “Connecting the Connectivities”, whether this be the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Japan’s Quality Infrastructure, or the U.S.’s BUILD Act, among others.  At the same time, there is a need to link up ASEAN’s intra-regional connectivity initiatives such as the ACMECS, IMT-GT, GMS, BIMP-EAGA as well as the development of special economic zones across the region, such as the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) in Thailand.  In sum, “Connecting the Connectivities” will help promote synergies among these various regional and sub-regional frameworks.   
 
Third is ensuring sustainable development.  ASEAN has mainstreamed sustainable development into our regional development cooperation agenda by promoting complementarities between the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also known as the “Complementarities Initiative”.   
 
Mandated by ASEAN to serve as the ASEAN Coordinator on Sustainable Development Cooperation since 2016, Thailand has been working closely with all ASEAN Member States and external partners, including the UN, to promote the Complementarities Initiative.  Taking this forward, ASEAN, in collaboration with UN ESCAP, is now finalising the Complementarities Roadmap which contains possible action lines and deliverables that will guide the realisation of sustainable development cooperation in ASEAN. The Roadmap exemplifies the close partnership between ASEAN and the UN and will be an outcome document of the ASEAN-UN Summit this November in Thailand.
 
Furthermore, ASEAN will launch the ASEAN Centre for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue in Thailand at the 35th ASEAN Summit next month. This Centre will have two main objectives. First is to promote research and capacity building on sustainable development. Second is to serve as a platform for policy dialogue for ASEAN Member States, and between ASEAN and its external partners. The Centre is ready to work with all interested partners, including all relevant ASEAN Centres and institutions, especially in the implementation of concrete projects to help ASEAN realise the SDGs. Possible areas of cooperation with the Centre include enhancing connectivity in the region, sustainable consumption and production, clean and sustainable energy, as well as combating marine debris and marine environmental protection. 
 
Another means of contributing to the attainment of sustainable development is through the localisation of home-grown knowledge or approaches. Thailand is firmly convinced that sustainable development and the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy, or SEP, of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, are compatible and mutually-reinforcing. The SEP advocates a balanced way of living, based on the principles of moderation, reasonableness and self-immunity. In this regard, Thailand has pursued both at the same time and would be pleased to share our experiences in implementing the SEP for SDGs approach with any interested parties. 
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
As people are at the centre of the ASEAN Community, human capital development and human security are of paramount importance for our Community-building efforts. ASEAN pays particular attention to the development of our people at all age groups. This is why we have resolutely worked together and with our partners in addressing malnutrition and stunting, especially in our children, promoting skills mobility and development for our workforce, including through technical and vocational education and training (TVET), and providing infrastructure and services for our ageing population. In this context, the planned launching of the World Bank’s study on addressing the double burden of malnutrition in ASEAN as well as the inauguration of the ASEAN Training Centre for Social Work and Social Welfare and the ASEAN Centre for Active Ageing and Innovation at the 35th ASEAN Summit next month will be important contributions to this end.      
 
Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
The achievement of sustainability in all dimensions within ASEAN cannot be done singlehandedly by ASEAN governments, but requires public support and engagement. To achieve this, there needs to be, first, a whole-of-government approach within the ASEAN Member States. Then, we need a Whole-of-ASEAN approach, meaning cooperation from all sectors of our societies, namely, the government, private sector, academia, the media, civil society and the public at large.  
 
In addition, we also need to further promote the sense of ASEAN identity and greater ASEAN awareness in our peoples. Without them, the peoples, we cannot obtain full public support in whatever our governments endeavour to do for our peoples. In this regard, the future establishment of the Network of ASEAN Associations in ASEAN Member States, the regional role of the ASEAN Cultural Centre based in Thailand, more people-to-people contacts and engagements as well as the role of the media and think tanks can contribute significantly to the realisation of this goal.
 
Before concluding, I wish simply to return to the fact that all ASEAN Leaders have agreed that the vision for the future of the ASEAN Community lies in its sustainability. And they have expressed their collective commitment towards that end. Now the important next step is to translate that vision into concrete practical actions in a concerted and sustained manner and with cooperation from all stakeholders in ASEAN and with our external partners.  In all of this, partnership is key.      
 
I would, therefore, like to underline the important role that you, the media, can play in disseminating information, educating the public, and shaping a healthy and meaningful public discourse.  Your contributions are vital for the building of an inclusive, people-centred and sustainable ASEAN Community that is prepared for the uncertainties and challenges of the future.  
 
In closing, I wish this Roundtable every success and look forward to hearing from you all the new and innovative ideas that can be valuable inputs for ASEAN’s policymakers in further strengthening the ASEAN Community.  
 
Thank you for your kind attention.