Surin briefing on Asean – July 08, 2008

Asean Sec Gen Surin Pitsuwan and DFA spokesman Claro Cristobal

Asean Sec Gen Surin Pitsuwan and DFA spokesman Claro Cristobal

Notes on the press briefing of Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsawan at the DFA press room on July 8, 2008. For those who want to compare the raw data with the final news story. Reminder though, these are not the complete quotes.

ministers of science and tech meet here…go around to visit various
impt personalities, had lunch with sec of foreign affairs, romulo,
visit gordon, this evening some more visits, some more activities.
also delivered to pres after having written her letter of condolences
on behalf of asean on what happened during typhoon few weeks back at
the same time to consult with new leadership as i have consulted with
leadership of asean in a few countries. natural disasters seem to come
more often…ever since time of former pres ramos, visited here on
issue of concepcion in singapore and i was asked to mediate. he asked
me, how many alphabet you have in thai language? i said 44. can we
borrow some? why? we ran out of alphabets, naming our typhoons. we
have more natural disasters coming our way more frequently, therefore
asean needs to be prepared, coordinated, equipped. soon after the
tsunami of the indian ocean struck at the end of boxing day of 2004,
the foreign ministers met in vientianne, capital of laos, they have
decided to endorse one agreement together. on asean disaster response.
and on that basis, this time the secretariat has been able to follow,
prepare, monitor and activate all the focal points in all asean
capitals how together to react to disaster in delta of irrawady river
where 140,000 now recognized as having perished. one urgent agenda for
asean from now onwards is disaster preparedness. enthusiastic response
from all i have visited beginning with brunei sultan said…when
disaster strikes, i want the flag of asean there first. soon after
disaster strikes in myanmar, followed by phils. asean will have to get
on this issue…discussed with gordon…red cross of asean must
cooperate more effectively,closely, to prepare for that. we are
building a community, called the asean community by the year 2015.
that community, according to this little green book, will be based on
3 pillars…we realized we need to build a community together because
the challenges out there in the world is becoming very very fierce. if
we are not consolidated we will not be able to compete, to respond, to
manage the pressure of globalization effectively as a group. if we
combine all ten of us we have 567million people. and the purchasing
power, combined gdp, 1.7trillion dollars, sizeable, weighty
enough…so that leaders in their wisdom decided we must consolidate
and they have signed this document into being on the 20th of nov last
year and specified that by the next summit, in bangkok, on 18-19th of
dec this year, they will be able to celebrate the full ratification of
this document. go into force 30 days after the last ratification. out
of 10 right now six have ratified, four are in the process of
ratification, including thai, phils, indonesia and myanmar. i have
gone around the region and very confident that in bangkok the leaders
will be able to celebrate the full ratification. a stronger asean is
good for everyone…my travelling around the world on behalf of asean,
a lot of people are excited about us becoming a rule based org with
its own legal personality…japan considering appointing an ambassador
to asean…the world is taking us seriously…we will become one
strong trading entity…if we succeed in building our community, in
20, 30 years, one third of our population, will be about 300. if that
300 is middle class, imagine the purchasing power, similar to what
india’s middle class now attracting the world. asean will be in the
same category. the world is excited…may i say that probably more
excited than us inside asean, which is something that we have to
correct. have enough confidence that by the end of the year we will
celebrate the full ratification in bangkok. stronger asean good for
everyone, good for the world because the world will have one less
region to worry about.
asean humanitarian task force…we are meeting for 4th time in
singapore on 12th, reviewing our accomplishments in…leading world to
myanmar…the number of death you have heard is about 80,000 and still
unaccounted for, presumed dead by this time is about 55…and so total
number of people who have lost their lives is about 130,000….1.4 to
2 million are still affected and living in very precarious
situation…asean, un, intl ngos, we have covered most of them if not
all. the world food program has been able to fly in supplies from
neighboring countries…various centers of collection for relief
distributing in myanmar. reasonably confident there is no second
wave…diseases, hunger, lost of life because of lack of care and lack
of support from the intl community. i think that is a great success,
we have been able to open that humanitarian bridge, space andi think
for the first time most of agencies of un are inside, many of major
intl ngos are operating inside. this could only be possible by
leadership of asean, very special and peculiar circumstance. we have
shown to world that we are an effective regional org that could
cooperate with world, un system, opening up and delivering to victims
of cyclone nagis. level of support from intl community extremly
encouraging, giving us encouragement that more could be done not only
from victims of nagis but to other pockets of poverty,
underdevelopment,in other parts of asean. all of us have pockets of
poverty,areas of underdevt, we are talking about bridging the gap,
mainly we direct that phase to new members – myanmar, laos, cambodia,
vietnam but every country has pockets of poverty…level of support
from intl community giving me confidence we can do more of this
bridging gap within asean landscape. one area would be disaster
relief, preparedness…invited back, find out where typhoon struck
here in phils and see how we can help as community, what resources we
can pool. so i’ve been saying asean has been baptized by cyclone
nagis. with the opening we are more prepared, more stronger, more
confident. reconstruction and rehab after disaster…build back
better.in the case of asean, in our engagement with myanmar, build
back better for both. in that case we have been baptized by cyclone
nagis. hope we don’t have to repeat baptism…given us sense of
purpose, belonging, sharing, that is very important for community
building…also have to share with you my inspiration that i received
from visiting delta of irrawady river. one school had 1,250 students
before cyclone. buildings demolished, rebuilt temporary school. only
1,050 students left, 200 perished. but to see through the eyes the
determination to live on and see the strong will not to give up but to
move on, pick up, and go on, is tremendous inspiration for all of us.i
guess the real heroes are themselves, the people, the children, who
refuse to give up. we are only supporting actors, helping hands, who
are trying to give what the world is ready to hand over. this is
important for community building…for us to learn about each
other…in this case for myanmar to trust asean, that we can be an
honest broker, that we can bring the world into myanmar, 51 national
delegations in rangoon, pledging support…willing to set other agenda
aside…in what form we are going to stay on, that will be discussed
on 12th in singapore. bec it’s going to be a long term
engagement…early recovery period…long term reconstruction will
have to be second phase, that’s what asean will have to decide, when
and what to do…

thailand – piece of legist already on legist agenda, one of first that
they will take care of end of this month. asean was born in thai,
don’t think they will disappoint me…if they don’t do it i will lose
my job…no reservation in believing thailand will deliver
ratification…could come sometime in august…in phils…the govt
the pres and the sec of foreign affairs and gordon just now…pres has
sent that piece of legist for ratification by senate…initial act of
approval on part of govt…that is in purview of senate and has to be
respected…very excited about this process of people’s participation
of legist contribution into process, sense of ownership, sense of
belonging…the body signal i get from him is you can count on me
(roxas). gordon made public today he will be very supportive of this
charter, agreeing with me that stronger asean better for every country
in this region…depend on the asean charter…indonesia they have
committee one in parliament responsible for ratification…visited,
given impression going through very detailed, serious deliberation on
issue but at the end of the day, sec is there, pillar of asean, strong
leadership, many critical junctures of asean in the past…bali
concord…i think indonesia is very very serious and i have no fear we
will be disappointed…of course it is their legislative
process…myanmar have their own system, process.i think our
engagement there certainly has made a very good impression of what
asean can do, what a stronger asean can deliver not only to people of
myanmar. nobody really told me in so many words that yes, the four
will give ratification by end of year but all of them giving me body
languages that i can believe it.
(aung san suu kyi) i think we are addressing the emergency issue in
front of us. if we complicate the issue too early on, we may have that
humanitarian space limited, and that will not be good for victims and
for people who are still in need of help. it is a matter of choice
where you want to emphasize, which issue you want to prioritize. but i
think there are times, opportunities for these issues to be addressed.
some may want to highlight their preference, priorities, some may want
to concentrate on some issues before us, and some taking this route,
again help asean strengthen sec, expand role of sec in humanitarian
issues, in the end sec will be able to address not only humanitarian
issues. there are ways of going around some issues…you have to be
creative,on alert that there are ways and means to address the same
problem but not in the same way, the same manner that everyone would
like to do. un now looking at same issue…revised appeal…second
appeal…revising on basis of report which is being released in
singapore, on 10th in new york…at humanitarian issue before us and i
think at some point on some dates it’s up to sec gen to pick up other
issues. that’s a purview that the un will have to address. we are
leading a humanitarian mission there now. other issues will find their
own time, their own opportunity.
(rice and energy crisis) asean is very well endowed, both for food
grains and for energy supplies. the problem is the management among
us. the delta of irrawady river where nagis hit was the ricebowl of
country and of the region during the british time. when you fly over
it you will see what ricebowl meant…miles and miles irrigated
naturally by the estuaries of the irrawady river. at the height of the
rice crisis, everybody was paranoid. very much anxious where the rice
crisis was going to lead us to. speculation was a big part of the
problem. now it has gone down. early on you heard a reaction about
orics…org of rice exporting country. they were misquoted. the idea
was how to come together and try to address the problem together, not
to form a cartel. and ever since you have not heard about that again.
in the case of thai and phils, there was an agreement that rice would
be made available…vietnam has decided to lift export ban…there is
idea about food security within asean and ministers of various circle,
finance, foreign affairs, have deliberated how to make scheme
relevant…not only asean, east asia has rice stock led by japan and
there is enough rice stock to take care of region and to also share
with world in times of need. the panic period is over. the price has
gone down, probably will never go back to same level as before, but
the panic is over. we have enough and enough to share with rest of
world. the issue of food security is being revisited, recalibrated,
analyzed, that asean and east asia came together, look at issue,
rationalize, make it effective, relevant to current situation. east
asia summit, every year at the summit level there will be one session
with leaders of 6 non asean countries…there has been some discussion
of structure of east asian summit, how to make more effective, more
responsive to issues we are facing about east asia. there are
reservations are institutionalizing it more than before…a forum for
-policy exchange, discussion, they just want to know how to make it
more effective, relevant. there will be some discussion on that at amm
in singapore, put forward on summit in bangkok. maybe we need to
revisit some modalities on ways in which we handle the discussion. a
lot of challenges in region, we want to make sure asean continues to
be relevant, and serve as fulcrum of powerplay in the region. that
would include review of these mechanisms already in existence.
(part of review formalizing eas lunch) cannot tell you now, still in
process. they are looking at it to make it more effective.
(more specifics about australian…for this new forum) australian
prime minister came up with idea, asia pacific community. australia
want to make it more inclusive…architecture for region. all of us
want to know more, hear about detail of that proposal. australia was
initiator of apec and the origin of apec much like any other
architecture in east asia was inspired or induced by success of asean.
so asean has always been in the leading role or cornerstone or
foundation stone of any cooperation architecture in the region.what i
heard from pm of australia when he visited secretariat two weeks back
was he would like to look into future…he said let the debate begin
about the possibility, about the viability, wisdom of having some kind
of overarching architecture. all of us are interested to know more, to
hear the details of that. we were told there would be a special envoy
being sent around the region, to share, discuss, exchange views on
that. (attending amm) not this time, not prime minister. prime
minister will come at the summit. special envoy i don’t know but the
foreign affairs minister will be there. i reminded him of asean
traditional role in community building in east asia. he said he wants
to engage in debate. cannot answer in his name, but some people are
thinking that there are challenges that need a more compact
architecture. i think asean is very comfortable and willing to take
the lead in this kind of discussion…we cannot forbid any member in
the region to think, imagine, or vision what they think will be best
for the region but in the end it will have to be a debate, have to go
through process of discussion, exchange…will have to be by
consensus…like getting married, not only two sides but parents and
families will have to very supportive otherwise it won’t last.
initiatives, new ideas, are always good in getting us to think,
evaluate, reevaluate, and i think the leaders have that…charter
meant we have evaluated our own performance in face of competition and
globalization…we cannot go on improvising along the way without any
legal basis…australians are coming…how far it’s going to go, it’s
up to the community. but new ideas…prompt us to think…(arf is not
moving) look at it as six members of arf trying to address a problem
in a corner of the world…look at it as a group of members of arf
doing a good job, coming back to report to arf. i would have wished,
but i was not active when this thing was happening, that there was an
arf fingerprint….i was the one who brought north korea into arf in
the year 2000. we discussed korean peninsula everytime we met but
north korea was not there…i invited mr pak…it would have been
better for arf to have some logo out there…succeed, they would come
back, report, discuss…i think we should take that as arf
success….(arroyo said dropping earlier statement rp not ratify
charter if myanmar issue not resolved) she did not say that but was
told that by her action of sending piece of docu to senate, the govt
commits to support this charter. i think she was reflecting on gen
public frustration about the issue (of myanmar) whatever she said the
condition was. more and more people around the world see the wisdom of
having the charter and agree that a chartered asean will be a stronger
asean, will be able to address many many problems more effectively
into the future. think the fact that her govt decided to send this
draft charter to senate is already sign there is full support from
govt of rp. that is one reason i believe by the end of the year we
will have full ratification. i don’t know the phil senate. and i don’t
want to interfere. what the other three who have not ratified are
doing…
(on north korea accession to tac…definite) there is a very very
positive sign and there is a momentum. whether or not it’s going to
turn into full accession i cannot confirm now but there is very very
strong indication and momentum is going in direction that it is going
to be positive. there are some rituals to go through. rather complex
and ritualized. best is to leave for chair in singapore to give
details. (if accede, what is significance) meaning that the
partner…all the members of arf will have accepted one of the central
docus of asean that would abide by the dictum and requirements of that
docu, that we will have full cooperation and support…free,
independent, and secure region. if north korea accedes it will be
no.15 on list. which is good for asean symbolically and
realitistically…means giving us full support…(six party
talks…being planned in singapore, being pushed) not know if they are
going to talk in singapore. the host is handling that. i only know all
six are members, if they want to have breakfast together, fantastic.
will i support, yes, definitely…in year 2000 only meant for north
korea to be around…if it would be around…cambodia is closest…bec
sihanouk lived in exile there and was given medical
treatment…thought about foreign minister of north korea
visiting….i supported that,i schemed for that (north korea arf
membership). if six of them want to pull chair aside and say we want
to talk about our experience, what we have done, that would be very
wonderful.
(impact of energy crisis on asean regional community, possibilities of
riots) same impact we are feeling world over. pressure on poor,
inflation, rather destabilizing on some econs. for asean we have
enough and we have developed some working relations that we will take
care of each other, accommodate each other, those who produce, export,
will take into consideration the pressure and plight of member asean
countries as demonstrated by visit of pm of thai. think the pressure
has been relieved. we have to think about the rising cost of energy,
the best way to address that. many govts have walked away from
subsidy, also having to address issue of diversion of food grain to
alternative energy. if we are not careful we will create more problems
for all of us. inflation pressure, with poor living with a sizeable
number of income having to pay for food. but do not think any of us
will have to face instability, riots, rebellions bec of food. we have
demonstrated efficacy in helping one another.

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