Sultan calls Charter new beginning for Asean
By Azlan Othman

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam yesterday signed the historic Asean Charter and called it a new beginning for Asean as it will ensure the implementation of Asean's commitments and allow the grouping to be more cohesive politically, better integrated economically and socially responsible to its people.

His Majesty attended the 13th Asean Summit together with other leaders, held in a retreat session and chaired by Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore.

His Majesty said the charter would bind them closer together to achieve Asean's goals on the three pillars and reminded Asean to uphold its values, in particular, the culture of dialogue and consultations, respecting sensitivities, understanding each other and promoting tolerance.

During the retreat, leaders reviewed the progress of Asean over the past year, particularly the process of integration, discussed the charter, the Blueprint for the Asean Economic Community, as well as matters of mutual interest.

His Majesty highlighted several urgent matters, which require careful consideration by member countries, especially climate change, environment, energy and sustainable development as these would have a direct impact on the long-term development of Asean.

In view of that, His Majesty stressed the importance of the member countries working closely together through exchange of information, sharing expertise and developing common approaches in dealing with the challenges described above.

As a modest contribution to addressing climate change, His Majesty alluded to the "Heart of Borneo Initiative" involving Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia in which the countries have agreed to work closely in forestry management, particularly in sharing best practices and upgrading of skills. Other Asean member countries were welcomed to take part and support activities and projects hosted by each of the three countries.

His Majesty also welcomed the several declarations relating to environmental sustainability and the Bali conference. These demonstrate Asean's commitments in addressing and working together on environmental challenges such as transboundary pollution, loss of forest and conservation of coastal and marine biodiversity.

At the same time, His Majesty also shared his views on the process of Asean Community building. In this regard, His Majesty was pleased with the achievements made in the political, security, and economic pillars of Asean as shown by the completion of the the charter and the Blueprint for the Economic Community.

However, His Majesty urged Asean to strengthen the socio-cultural pillar by enhancing coordination and implementation. The monarch said that a people-oriented Asean must be in a position to better deliver and respond to the needs of the people, particularly in areas such as health, education, environment and disaster management.

His Majesty also emphasised the need for the grouping to come up with more programmes and projects to promote the "we feeling" in Asean in view of the cultural diversity in the region.

His Majesty noted Asean's achievements over the last 40 years and expressed hope that the charter would pave the way for a brighter future. His Majesty reiterated Asean's strong political will in working together in an environment which calls for commitment and compliance, while at the same time putting emphasis on the importance of Asean's friendship and understanding of each other's concerns. His Majesty added that this will reflect Asean's strong commitment to create an effective and efficient organisation.

After the retreat session, His Majesty joined other Asean leaders for a working lunch with the Asean Business Advisory Council (ABAC).

Later, His Majesty and other leaders signed the Declaration on the Asean Economic Community Blueprint; Asean Declaration on Environmental Sustainability; Asean Declaration on the 13th Session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and the 3rd Session of the Conference of the Parties Serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP) to the Kyoto Protocol; and the Asean Charter.

His Majesty later joined his Asean and Northeast Asian colleagues in the Asean Plus Three Summit in which they reviewed cooperation, and exchanged views on international and regional issues.

In expressing happiness with the progress made since the last Summit in Cebu, His Majesty commended the achievements made in political, economic and socio-cultural cooperation since the Asean Plus Three Summit was first convened 10 years ago. Since then, both sides have worked together in addressing challenges, including the financial crisis, infectious diseases, such as SARS and combating terrorism.

His Majesty observed that the Asean Plus Three process has developed beneficial ideas and initiatives as well as impressive mechanisms involving ministers and officials to manage the growing number of projects and programmes.

His Majesty stated that the endorsement of the Second Joint Statement on the East Asia cooperation and the Asean Plus Three Cooperation Work Plan would deepen the relationship further, especially in the areas of economic cooperation, connectivity, information technology and the emphasis on the environment and sustainable development.

His Majesty believed that the Asean Plus Three Summit provided the leaders with great hope and confidence for the relations between them to grow further, where both sides could continue to work together in all areas to ensure peace and prosperity in the region.

At the end of the summit, His Majesty and other leaders attended a cake-cutting ceremony to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Asean Plus Three Cooperation. The event was followed with the unveiling of Medallions of Asean Plus Three 10-Year Cooperation.

Later in the afternoon, His Majesty together with the leaders of Asean and China attended the Asean-China Summit and reviewed cooperation and its future direction, and exchanged views on international and regional issues.

His Majesty expressed pleasure on the development and intensity of the Asean-China cooperation over the past year. His Majesty said both sides have seen all-round progress in the dialogue relations and in implementing the new priority areas, which include energy, transport, culture, public health and tourism.

His Majesty expressed appreciation to China for its role in promoting peace and stability in the region, such as its valuable support in Asean's work on non-traditional security issues as well as China's efforts in the Korean Peninsula.

His Majesty believed that all these positive developments were underpinned by the excellent political and economic ties between the two sides as well as the growing interactions amongst its people, in particular, the youth, students, academics, officials and entrepreneurs.

His Majesty stated that trade between Asean and China has grown significantly since the signing of the Goods and Services Agreements, and encouraged both sides to conclude Investment negotiations in order to complete the Asean-China Framework Agreement.

His Majesty congratulated China for hosting the recent 4th China-Asean Expo in Nanning where Brunei was the Country of Honour. His Majesty also asked China to take an active role as a development partner in Bimp-Eaga.

At the end of the Asean-China Summit, His Majesty and other leaders witnessed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between China and Asean on Strengthening Sanitary and Phytosanitary Cooperation. - Borneo Bulletin (21st Nov 2007)