President U Htin Kyaw: Viewpoint

President U Htin Kyaw

Viewpoint: President U Htin Kyaw

Anniversaries offer us opportunities to look back and take stock of our achievements and to chart our way forward. The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) has evolved from a small group of only 26 partners at the first summit, which was held in Thailand in 1996, to 53 partners today. Look at this as a reflection of the ever-growing interest that countries in both regions have in the work of the ASEM mechanism. Through the help of a growing number of partners and their dedicated efforts, ASEM has been gaining vitality by bringing Asia and Europe closer together through enhancing connectivity in all dimensions. ASEM has brought together not only government officials, but also parliamentarians, business communities and people from both continents. The 11th ASEM forum is indeed a significant event, as it coincides with the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the ASEM. The ASEM has fostered a better and closer understanding between the two continents, enhanced political dialogue, deepened economic cooperation, strengthened social and cultural exchanges, and consolidated other multilateral processes.

The two days of the ASEM forum involved a lot of work, combining formal and informal discussions. During the preliminary session, we reviewed the past 20 years and took stock of the achievements we have made. New ideas were put on the table as to how we can move forward to achieve more tangible results. We felt that the three pillars of ASEM should be enhanced, and placed a focus on improved connectivity between the two regions.

Connectivity has different meanings to different people with different views. Therefore, cooperation on both hard and soft connectivity in various fields was discussed. We also exchanged views on areas of common interest as well as other issues that involve cooperation between the two regions in addressing common challenges of regional and international issues, such as non-traditional security challenges — in particular, the rise of terrorism and violent extremism — the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, poverty reduction and youth development, among others.

Over the years ASEM has created opportunities for broader people-to-people contact, especially through the activities of the Asia-Europe Foundation, which deserves our continued support. The informal setting of the ASEM provides us with a useful platform to exchange our views on how we can work together to address the challenges facing the international community.

As ASEM enters its third decade, we should widen our focus on areas of common interest to include connectivity, the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, non-traditional security challenges, the rule of law, drug trafficking, corruption, inclusive growth and disaster risk management. It is natural to see that countries have varying views and perceptions, and see different goals to uphold sovereignty and promote the interests of their people. However, this should not be viewed as a hindrance or challenge, but a great opportunity to address differences among us.

I wish to assure our ASEM partners that we will continue to strive to strengthen cooperation for our mutual benefit. In this regard, I wish to once again reaffirm our commitment to host the next ASEM foreign ministers meeting in the second half of 2017, which will also offer ASEM ministers the chance to witness the exciting democratic transition taking place in our country. I hope that our partnership, through ASEM’s engagement, will contribute to our collective efforts, not only to further advance the interests of the citizens of the two continents, but also those of the world. I will conclude by reiterating our readiness to produce fruitful outcomes from this important summit.

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