Almost five decades ago, the Founding Fathers of ASEAN signed the Bangkok Declaration that formally established ASEAN. It was a historic day, marking a commitment by the nations of Southeast Asia to work for a future of peace, stability and prosperity for the region.
As we celebrate ASEAN Day this year, we do so for the first time as a single Community. For on 31 December 2015, under the chairmanship of Malaysia, the ten ASEAN Member States inaugurated the ASEAN Community. This was a significant milestone for the region, building on the resilience and dynamism that have been the hallmarks of ASEAN through its journey of nearly half a century.
Much remains to be done before ASEAN can truly consider itself a single and united Community in practice as well as in name. ASEAN community-building is a continuous and evolving process, and the momentum must be maintained in order to ensure political cohesion, economic integration and social and regional inclusion. Our Community must be able to respond effectively to the emerging threats and challenges presented by the rapidly changing regional and global landscape.
So the theme selected by Lao PDR as Chairman of ASEAN this year, “Turning Vision into Reality for a Dynamic ASEAN Community”, is timely and appropriate. It reflects our collective will to continue to integrate our region and solidify our Community.
A prerequisite to establishing a true ASEAN Community is instilling a sense of belonging and identity among and across the peoples of our ten nations. In order for the Association to progress, our peoples should not only benefit from ASEAN but should also participate in and contribute towards ASEAN Community-building efforts. It is only then that we will have an ASEAN Community that is truly cohesive and that reflects the aspiration of its peoples.
We should be proud of what we have accomplished thus far. We should be proud that after almost 50 years, we are now an ASEAN Community. This is certainly an achievement worth celebrating, and on that note, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Malaysians, as well as the peoples of ASEAN, a happy 49th ASEAN Day.