ASEAN FOUNDATION “Seminar on Culture of Peace in an ASEAN Regional Perspective”






               ASEAN for Equity, Peace, and Prosperity

 Good morning, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start off on a high note by reminding us all that ASEAN has effectively prevented intra-regional conflict from its very inception. Secondly, ASEAN has fostered better cooperation in fields ranging from development ro fighting haze and pollution. Third, economic integration has allowed for higher efficiency – it is important to note that intra-ASEAN trade currently accounts for a large portion of our economic architecture. Finally, closer relations with China and India have created an even more formidable market. All of this would not have been possible if our predecessors had not managed to set aside their difference forty six years ago to sit down together and begin sowing the seeds of a culture of peace.

It is heartening to note that their initiative has already accomplished a great deal.  Throughout its history, ASEAN has positioned itself in the vanguard of peace; the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia in 1976, the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia in 1993, ASEAN’s 1995 Treaty on Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, the ASEAN Regional Forum, its support for the UN Transitional Authority for East Timor, as well as the recent launch of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation and the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration all attest to this. Furthermore, ASEAN’s cooperation with various UN bodies as well as its active role in international peace mediation processes clearly shows that peace and cooperation have always been its core undertaking.

However, some issues remain – how best should ASEAN mediate in cases where its role in promoting diversity and plurality might prove to be an obstacle? Although cases such as Aceh and Mindanao undoubtedly have religious histories, Indonesia has shown that economic incentives can, and perhaps should, be used to prevent conflict. By allowing for greater equity, in the form of regional autonomy and consequently economic empowerment, the Indonesian government has shown that Aceh can register progress in terms of HDI, especially relating to literacy and the poverty line. Although questions remain about the exclusivist tendencies that may arise from acknowledging sub-national movements with religious underpinnings, the resulting peace and somewhat better prosperity is undeniably an asset in creating stability.

Furthermore, what is the main objection to strong governments? Are we really advocating democracy for voting rights or are we promoting democracy as a means to an end which is enhance human dignity by combatting poverty and inequity in our region?

History has shown how three very well known developmental states have risen through the ranks of developing countries by pursuing strong governmental policies. Chief among them, in respect to its relevance for ASEAN, is Singapore whose recipe for success – supporting basic infrastructure, worker’s rights, and home ownership has proven successful in helping the poor climb out of poverty. Although one could argue that Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea were able to do so because of their geographical compactness, one could also posit that China has seemingly followed suit by using state power to address income equality through its development strategies. The effects are palpable – absolute poverty in China continues to decline and its Gross National Product is climbing steadily. Therefore, perhaps the newer member states could being by attaching the highest priority to enhancing the quality of its people, and provide greater latitude to its citizenry pari passu with their progress.

Although this discourse could lead to a whole new debate, the dire question remains: why has ASEAN seemingly been so fervent in promoting peace yet has not been able to help the citizens of its member states escape poverty? Or at the very least, why has ASEAN been able to promote peace and serve as mediator in various conflicts yet has not been able to accelerate poverty alleviation in the region?

Perhaps if we are to really achieve peace and prosperity for all, we should start first with equity. Equity is not about doling out welfare, equality is about acknowledging human rights – equity is about guaranteeing a person’s right to develop. Without equity, our antiquated notions of profit-maximization and growth rates will only pit man against man in an endless battle for dominance. In Indonesia there is a well known adage about well-being and aggression which, roughly translated, reads as “a well fed stomach does not grumble”. When growth systematically increases inequality, which in effect consigns people to the margins, we put them up against a wall, force them to become aggressive. However, since they have been marginalized, this aggressiveness cannot be translated into industry and this situation, studies have shown, disproportionately affects children. According to a Save the Children report, inequality makes children vulnerable to violence and increases the likelihood of girls being forced to marry at a young age. Therefore, employing the equity principle will not only fulfill the promises we made regarding rights to development, it will also help prevent other violations of ASEAN’s Human Rights Charter.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To achieve the true meaning of peace, there is no other way but through employing a People-driven Development Paradigm. Then, by forging Private-Public-People Partnerships, we could realize genuine democracy that  delivers sustainable development. The fiscal and policy space that these partnerships generate will allow the pursuit of growth-through-equity rather than remaining entrapped in growth versus equity tradeoffs.

Let me congratulate the ASEAN Foundation and the Canadian government for initiating this event, and wish you every success. May I humbly propose that peace proceedings such as this be directed more towards human development as opposed to airing the self-feeding insecurity borne by the industrial-military complex. I am convinced that ASEAN can achieve the goals that brought it into being in the first place, and bring about peace and prosperity for the people of Southeast Asia. Let us march towards this goal together, for the best source of security is widespread prosperity.

Excellencies, I thank you.

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