It may appear difficult to comprehend the utility of the values and principles i have just outlined. But, I wish to state that it is because of these shared values and principles that ASEAN has remained intact, united, and relevant to the region and still going strong since its establishment in 1967.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me next make some comparisons with some relatively new dialogue partnerships, which have in fact made better substantive progress. Take for instance, the ASEAN relationship with China, which began as late as 1991 when Malaysia invited China to be its guest at the 24 th ASEAN ministerial meeting in Kuala Lumpur. It became a full dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1996. In another case, with India, the full dialogue partner status was established only in 1996, four years after India became a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN.
Both China and India have now emerged as important economic players in their partnerships with ASEAN, offering many opportunities. Talks to establish an ASEAN-China free trade area is well underway. Similarly, the FTA talks with India are making progress. In fact, there are moves to establish FTAs with other dialogue partners namely the republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The U.S. however seems content to move only in the direction of bilateral FTAs instead of engaging ASEAN as a group in this respect. ASEAN can, and should, be viewed as a single market and production base. After all, the whole ASEAN region is now a free trade area for ASEAN member countries.
I must also mention the fact that China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, New Zealand and Pakistan have all become signatories of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (T.A.C.). Australia is expected to do the same in December this year. The T.A.C. is a very important and key document in the life of ASEAN. The values and principles which have provided the comfort level in the relations between and among ASEAN countries are in fact enshrined in that treaty. We would like to invite the United States to consider acceding to the T.A.C. Such a step would indeed serve as a symbol of political commitment to the region by the United States.