Prince calls on Asean to find 'common ground'
By Azlan Othman

His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, underlined the future vision of a "Real Southeast Asian Community" and the need for real action by Asean to realise the various plans spelt out to evolve a Southeast Asian Community.

In delivering the Inaugural Southeast Asian Lecture in Singapore yesterday entitled "A Southeast Asia Community - More than a matter of Geography", His Royal Highness said such action goes beyond the list of issues, blueprints and roadmaps.

"It won't be easy of course. We are 10 members with 10 different ways of life, different faiths and at least half a dozen systems of governance. But I hope that Asean will find the way," said HRH.

Calling Asean a dynamic "go-ahead" region, Prince Mohamed urged the member nations to discover what he would like to call the "Common Ground", which any community shares.

The Prince explained that the common ground does not exist in government conference halls, executive boardrooms or in university libraries.

"I believe that the common ground we have to find is where our real community works, lives, studies and prays for a confident future.

"That's the common ground and that's what I hope our post-charter Asean and all its ministers, its businessmen and women and its experts and officials will try to discover together."

The Prince also said we have to find new ways to enter the common ground.

"It will need a vision like the one Asean's founders had over 40 years ago. But if we can find out how to do it, I believe we will have a very good future indeed.

"More than that we will pass on to our children and grandchildren even more than we have received ourselves. They will be a part of a region that gives them a deep identity.

"They will be more than just Singaporean, or Malaysian, or Cambodian or even Bruneian! They will also be Southeast Asian!

"They will be part of a community that solves real-life problems together and they will come from a place that will never again be described as 'just a piece of geography'," said the Prince.

Earlier in his speech, His Royal Highness went down memory lane to highlight his experience in Southeast Asia.

HRH said, back in 1950s and 60s, it wasn't even a region. It was just a piece of geography and it stood for unrest and instability. When we look at it today, however, it stands for exciting modern progress and great opportunity. This is what Asean's founding fathers wanted to see. It was their vision. It is now a real one and it's a wonderful inheritance for my generation.

"When I got your invitation to speak to you, however, it left me with a bit of problem. It took me back 25 years ago. I still remember how I was then - a very nervous, brand new minister. I needed a lot of help to find my way and felt like a total beginner.

"In spite of that, I was very lucky. I had some of the best teachers in the region. There were my colleagues from Southeast Asia, particularly in Singapore. They gave me lots of help and advice and I'll always be very grateful to them.

"There was one thing that they never taught me, however, and that was how to go about an inaugural Southeast Asian lecture!

"So as you can imagine, I spent a long time wondering what to talk about. After all, many of you in the institute are experts on Southeast Asia. I needed something in which none of us are experts and everyone is still a learner.

"Then I thought about the beginning of Asean and the vision it offered. That left me with a question. What is our vision today? And what are we going to pass on to our next generation? In other words, what is our future going to be like?

"None of us are experts on that and even our Asean leaders are not sure. I think that's why they keep on calling for 'real action'.

"What do they mean by this? They obviously don't mean what we in government often call 'action' and I'm sure you know what this is: list of issues, development plans, roadmaps, blueprints, mechanisms and so on," said HRH.

"I know our leaders definitely don't mean those things. We give them pages and pages of that every year. Even volumes of it!

"Instead what I think they want to see is a different kind of action. This is the kind that helps ordinary people directly with their day-to-day problems, in other words, being part of a Southeast Asian Community...and I'm not talking about a slogan or a piece of Asean jargon. What I mean is a real community and maybe that should be our future vision of a "Real Southeast Asian Community".

HRH also shared with the packed audience the exact meaning of the real community highlighting the problems faced by a fisherman in a small state in the pacific. "It is certainly not what we call the "international community" or "the global village". - Borneo Bulletin (20th Feb 2008)