It is my sincere honor, on behalf of the Philippine chair, to greet the friends, partners and supporters of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the historic occasion of ASEAN's 50th Anniversary.
Fifty years ago, on Aug. 8, 1967, the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand declared the establishment of ASEAN as a "firm foundation for common action to promote regional cooperation in Southeast Asia in the spirit of equality and partnership and thereby contribute toward peace, progress and prosperity in the region."
Adopted amid a more tumultuous time around and within Southeast Asia, the Bangkok Declaration of 1967 represented the founding members' recognition that their region's future lay in fostering amity and cooperation. Just as importantly, the founding members recognized that a prosperous and peaceful Southeast Asia meant going beyond their ranks to create a community that brings together the other states in the region, wisely opening the association to the entry of future members.
Built from the lessons of prior attempts at forming a regional organization and born from the founding states' stronger resolve, ASEAN embodied Southeast Asian countries' determination to forsake conflict, peacefully resolve disputes and chart a common path toward winning the dividends of peace and development for their peoples. It was a bold step for a region still emerging from a long history of colonization, and for a group of nations with vastly different political, historical and cultural backgrounds.
The five decades since that historic day saw ASEAN expand its members to include Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia, while bridging diverse histories, cultures, interests, imperatives and perspectives to become one of the world's most economically dynamic regions, one that has since enjoyed a sustained period of relative peace. The "ASEAN Way" proved key to this endeavor, by combining the strength and rigor of traditional diplomacy and legally binding instruments, with the flexibility of a consensus-based approach and informal arrangements, to safeguard and promote mutual respect, while fostering a constructive atmosphere in tune with the Asian heritage of its members.
Today, ASEAN is a fulcrum and driver of political and economic progress for its members and far beyond its borders.
Since its founding, ASEAN has grown into a market of 600 million people, with a combined gross domestic product of $2.57 trillion. It is home to some of the world's fastest-growing individual economies, with a large and dynamic and youthful labor force.
The establishment of the ASEAN Community, with its component Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Sociocultural Community, makes ASEAN one of the world's most open economic regions, positioning it for further growth, offers boundless opportunities for external partners.
Today, ASEAN is working to be central to the emerging regional security architecture and the promotion of dialogue. Its annual leader and ministerial meetings have given rise to summits, meetings and other initiatives and mechanisms involving major players in the region that tackle the pressing issues and agendas of our time. This is through the frameworks of the ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan, Korea), East Asia Summit (ASEAN plus Australia, China, India, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the U.S.), ASEAN Plus One and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ASEAN plus 17 states).
It is a great honor for the Philippines, as a founding member, to also be chair of ASEAN in the same year the association marks its 50th anniversary.
The Philippine chair is advancing various initiatives with the association under the theme "Partnering for Change, Engaging the World," under which it is pursuing six priorities. These are a people-oriented and people-centered ASEAN, peace and stability in the region, maritime security and cooperation, inclusive, innovation-led growth, ASEAN resiliency and ASEAN as a model of regionalism and a global player.
Briefly, the Philippine chair seeks an ASEAN Community that brings significant and positive change to the lives of the peoples of ASEAN, through initiatives such as strengthening small and medium enterprises, protecting migrant workers, advancing social protection for vulnerable sectors and securing the future through promoting environmental protection and sustainable development.
The Philippines also seeks to strengthen ASEAN's role in engaging external partners and the international community toward addressing traditional, non-traditional and transnational security threats while maintaining its centrality and independence.
As chair, the Philippines is hosting a full calendar of meetings and events for the duration of 2017 across the country. Of these, the highlights are the leader summits in April and November, as well as meetings at the level of ministers, senior officials and working groups. From Aug. 2 to 8, Manila will host the 50th ASEAN ministerial meetings and related meetings, culminating with the Grand Commemorative Celebration of ASEAN's 50th Anniversary. We cordially welcome their excellencies, the foreign ministers of ASEAN and its dialogue partners, as well as all participating officials and delegates.
2017 is also a milestone for ASEAN-Japan relations, as both sides mark the 40th anniversary of the Fukuda Doctrine that was introduced in Manila in 1977 by then Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda. Japan has been ASEAN's most reliable and supportive partner in a relationship that formally began in 1973.
Japan supports ASEAN centrality and unity, works with ASEAN to advance universal values and the rule of law, and ardently assists economic growth and development both at the level of the organization and the individual member states through a comprehensive economic partnership spanning trade, investment and services, as well as cooperation based on official development assistance and private sector foreign direct investment. Japan's people-to-people ties with ASEAN have grown significantly, specifically in reciprocal tourism, cultural and educational exchanges and other areas.
This 50th anniversary provides ASEAN and its partners, of which Japan is at the forefront, an unparalleled opportunity to take stock of the gains and lessons of the past to nurture ASEAN as an organization and as a basis for realizing a future of peace, stability and prosperity for the region and beyond.