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[April 30, 2006]


(Bernama The Malaysian National News Agency Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)from BERNAMA, The Malaysian National News Agency PUTRAJAYA, Dec 11 (Bernama) -- Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi tonight spoke of the need for more earnest efforts to bring Asean to the 530 million people in its 10 member countries rather than being a forum for diplomats, ministers and heads of government

Maintaining that the nearly 40-year-old Asean was still relevant today, he said efforts should be made to consolidate this region as one economic unit to face bigger challenges with the emergence of China and India as economic giants

"For Asean to become a truly strong cohesion, it must involve people at all levels. We need to engage the views from all strata of society ... from civil societies, because Asean belongs to them, so that they are more concerned about the grouping in the future," he said in a special interview over RTM's TV1 in conjunction with the 11th Asean Summit beginning in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow

Abdullah, who will chair the two-day summit for the first time, said the biggest challenge faced by Asean was competition

"China's emergence as an economic giant poses a very tough challenge

It is the same with India. Cohesiveness will bring about economic might to Asean. Asean must be united; integration must be enhanced to see one economic unit with a market of 530 million people who can be regarded as huge in number and capable as well," he said

The prime minister said China was not a threat but a challenge, besides being an opportunity, for Asean in its efforts to develop its economy

"Therefore, there is much to be done in terms of investment. China gets huge foreign direct investment (FDI) and we must strive to attract FDIs to Asean and, in doing so, there will be competition with China

"Asean-China friendship in the context of Asean+3 (Asean plus China, Japan and South Korea) will result in closer friendship and enable us to help one another so that we can taste success," he said

Abdullah disagreed with the view that Asean had not been successful as one economic unit after 38 years of its existence

"It cannot be said that we are unsuccessful. Today, intra-Asean trade has increased and we are bold enough to establish Afta (Asean Free Trade Area). Afta depends on the extent of a country's role in trade. If a country has no role in trade, what is there to talk about free trade?" For example, Abdullah said, Vietnam today was undergoing an economic boom and was more developed than Cambodia and Laos

He said the economic disparity among Asean countries could be bridged through capacity building

Abdullah said he believed that an Asean economic community would emerge through a process of evolution when Asean's programmes linked with Afta and bilateral relations among members was seen as a working network that further strengthened their respective economies and helped towards realising the Afta objectives

"By moving together under Afta and bilaterally, an Asean with a vibrant economy will emerge and will be seen as an Asean community. However, not in the form of what has happened in Europe

"But I do not see how Asean can evolve into an organisation like the EU (European Union) with its own parliament," he said

Asked for his views on whether Asean can become like the EU in the future, the prime minister said: "That's not impossible. Asean can become like the EU. Even now, we have AIPO (Asean Inter-Parliamentary Organisation). Maybe, this will lead to the formation of an Asean Parliament

"But, more importantly, we must continue the initiatives to boost intra-Asean understanding. That's important for us as it will be beneficial to bring progress in this Asian region." On his wish to see the Asean Summit to be a "leaders-led" meeting unlike previous summits where the leaders usually agreed to what had been decided at the ministerial and senior official meetings, Abdullah said the new approach would enable heads of government to interact at their meeting

"Asean leaders who come here for the meeting must have the opportunity to interact among them, and put forth various views and problems. There will be ideas mooted and discussed and, if there's good response, these will turn into proposals to be followed up with action by the senior officials and ministers to implement what they (leaders) want," he said

Abdullah also rejected criticism that the Asean Summit and related summits were more of a "talk-shop"

"Actually, as far as I've read and heard, people have never used the word `talk shop' for Asean meetings. Asean focused on work, programmes and plans and did not involve a very big bloc. What is done is translated into action plans for us to implement, including economic-related matters

"Previously, we didn't talk about the economy but gave importance to our formation, political issues and security issues. At that time, Vietnam was seen as Asean's enemy under the domino theory and so on, while Laos and Cambodia had other matters (to attend to). Now, Asean is more focused on economic matters and integration," he added

By: Azman Ujang Copyright 2005 Bernama

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