GMA calls for strong Asean community

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo opened the 40th Asean Ministerial Meeting yesterday and called for a united and strong Asean community after welcoming the representatives of the 10-member countries.

She thanked the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for giving priority to the creation of a charter that would make the group a more rules-based organization with better bargaining power in international negotiations.

Separately, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo stressed the group’s central role in upholding peace and aiming for prosperity in the region.

“The realization that the world continues to throw challenges in our direction has moved us away from complacency toward greater action,” Romulo said.

“I believe our ability to adapt, to evolve, and to re-engineer our association is a unique organizational strength that has kept us in step with new demands inside and outside our region,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Asean should strengthen bilateral ties to face up to the challenges posed by powerhouses China and India.

The Asean was founded as an anti-communist organization in 1967, but it has since evolved into a trade and political bloc consisting of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Mrs. Arroyo has made a pitch for separate free trade agreements between the Asean and Japan, South Korea and China, saying the Asean community should be anchored on economic integration with its member nations and dialog partners.

“For Asean to become a full and expanding union, it must continue to nurture its relations” with its dialog partners, she said yesterday.

She said talks for trade pacts with South Korea and China were in their “final stages,” while those with Japan “held a lot of promise.”