The Government of the Kingdom of Thailand was given the privilege of hosting the inaugural Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), with the theme "How to Consolidate Our Strengths," on 18-19 June 2002 in Cha-Am, Thailand, where all participants together launched the process of ACD.
The participants consisted of 17 Ministers from Asian countries, namely, H.E. Shaikh Mohammed Bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain; H.E. Mr. M. Morshed Khan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of Bangladesh; H.E. Pehin Dato' Haji Abdul Raman Taib, Minister of Industry and Primary Resources of Brunei Darussalam; H.E. Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Senior Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Cambodia; H.E. Mr. Tang Jiaxuan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China; H.E. Mr. Yashwant Sinha, Minister of Finance of the Republic of India; H.E. General (Ret'd) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia; H.E. Ms. Yoriko Kawaguchi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan; H.E. Mr. Choi Sung-hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea; H.E. Mr. Somsavat Lengsavad, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao People's Democratic Republic; H.E. Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia; H.E. Col. (Ret'd) S.K. Tressler S.I., Minister for Minorities, Culture, Sports, Tourism and Youth Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; H.E. Mr. Teofisto T. Guingona, Jr.,Vice President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Philippines; H.E. Sheikh Hamed bin Faisal Al-Thani, Minister of Economics and Commerce of the State of Qatar; H.E. Prof. Shunmugam Jayakumar, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Singapore; H.E. Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand; and H.E. Mr. Nguyen Dy Nien, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
On 18 June 2002, His Excellency Prime Minister Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra hosted a dinner in honour of the participating Ministers at his Cha-Am residence, where he explicated his initiative for an Asia Cooperation Dialogue.
The ACD, he explained, is envisioned as a top-down, continuously evolving process wherein high-level policy-makers can informally exchange ideas and experiences to create Asia-wide strategic linkages, while enhancing the comfort level among participants. Asia has the potential to move up the value chain by together creating a win-win environment, for Asia and for the world. This it should do by drawing upon and combining its diverse strengths and assets, and by seeing one another more as customers and partners instead of competitors. Forging strategic partnerships to tap into Asia's potential would be more beneficial than relying on foreign aid. Thus a strategy should be agreed upon and delegated to officials to realize the details. The ACD belongs to all of Asia. It is inclusive and complements already existing regional frameworks such as ASEAN, ASEAN+3, SAARC, GCC, and fora such as the Boao Forum for Asia. To move forward, the ACD should be results-oriented. Individual countries may thus choose the area or areas of cooperation that best suit their expertise and interests and perform the role of "prime mover" to foster closer Asia-wide cooperation in those areas, which may include, but are not limited to, poverty alleviation, SMEs, tourism and microcredit.
H.E. the Prime Minister's initiative on the ACD was warmly received by the participants present, who were unanimous in their endorsement. They recognized the historic significance of this initiative as the "missing link" to bring together the disparate regional groupings for the benefit of Asia and the world. Asia, it was felt, should emerge from being a combination of subregions to being a cohesive region in its own right. The Ministers also expressed the wish to see this process move forward and the hope that the Ministers' Retreat would identify concrete steps in order to advance the ACD. It was felt that a coordinator was needed to ensure continuity, and that Thailand was well suited to perform this task.
The Dialogue was opened on the morning of 19 June 2002 by His Excellency the Prime Minister of Thailand, who delivered an inaugural statement.
The Ministers thereafter held the Dialogue in an informal, retreat-style atmosphere, at which the Chairman expressed his sincere appreciation to the Ministers for their strong support of the ACD initiative and vigorous support for the continuity of the ACD process.
In line with the sentiments expressed at the Dinner, the Ministerial Retreat had an extensive exchange of views on the challenges facing Asia, the format and modalities of the evolving ACD process, and possible areas of cooperation.
Results of Ministers' Retreat
The view was widely shared that Asia can enhance regional stability and prosperity by fostering more dialogues, and here at this first gathering, the comfort level was rapidly achieved.
The Dialogue recognized the need to ensure that the ACD will serve to complement existing mechanisms and arrangements, and for the ACD to be results-oriented, action-oriented and driven by positive thinking.
The Ministers identified key areas that may lend themselves to such cooperation, including poverty alleviation, human resource development, bridging the digital divide, science and technology, promotion of Asian culture and tourism, development of SMEs, resource management, energy security, transportation and communications linkages, non-traditional security issues, enhancing the role of the business and academic sectors, and infrastructure development.
The Ministers nonetheless felt that the core or principal value of the ACD was its "dialogue" component. A proper balance should be found between "dialogue" and "projects" components.
The Dialogue agreed to increase cooperation in multilateral fora such as the WTO.
The Dialogue was of the view that participation in the ACD should be on an inclusive basis, and that the ACD should proceed incrementally, beginning with "easier" issues before moving on to more difficult ones.
The Dialogue saw merit in maintaining the non-institutionalized and informal nature of ACD in order to retain maximum flexibility in rapidly changing times.
The Next Step for the ACD
The Dialogue welcomed the informal consultation process to be begun and coordinated by Thailand, which will prepare the calendar of events for the next 12 months.
The informal consultation process will include within the purview of its task, inter alia:
- further development of the ACD initiative;
- identification of possible areas of cooperation, in which connection Thailand flagged a collection of non-papers produced by the International Studies Centre (ISC) which could be of utility in stimulating further ideas;
- identification of "prime movers" in each area of cooperation;
- consultation on future geographical coverage of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue in the spirit of inclusiveness.
The Dialogue was of the view that information about the ACD should be given the widest publicity and dissemination possible to encourage governments, academic non-governmental organizations, the private sector and civil society to join in a collective regional effort to enhance awareness and promote discussion of Asia-wide cooperation
The Dialogue agreed that Thailand should serve as the focal point to continue coordination of the ACD until it reconvenes in the next 12 months in Chiang Rai, Thailand, tentatively on 20-21 June 2003.