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"Whether we like it or not, our economies are closely integrated with the world financial markets and subject to their harsh disciplines. Likewise, whether we approve or disapprove the attitude of our people, children and grandchildren are linked to the global instant communications.

"This can be worrisome but it can also be welcoming. It all depends on us and our perception of the types of societies which are to come.

"I am confident the people of Asean will adjust to keep abreast with the on-going Information Technology (IT) revolution. Those who have the political strength, acumen, sagacity and the will to change and adapt quickly and intelligently and thoroughly, will reap the best rewards and can face any challenge with ease, now or in future.

"The future for Asean, despite lacking a genuine common vision above parochial interests, is bright.
The troubles in Cambodia did not and do not impinge much upon the national interests of any of the other eight members. But, we should not allow, through our passivity, troubles to escalate which may inflict more damage to our solidarity, peace and common interest in future.

"It is for us to decide what kind of Asean we want. What is not in Asean can be added, and what is imperfect can be improved. More importantly, I think, as we adjust and enter the IT society and the new millennium we must also strengthen our Asean or Asian values.

"As we know better than our compatriots who have never been to the United States and are unlikely to come here, Asian values are Asian values: American values are American values. Still the twain can meet. And we are good examples.

"We have brought some understanding and appreciation of the wisdom of Asia to the Americans, and we, too, have learned much from their wisdom and education.

"More important, even wise to remember that no one nor any nation in Asean has a monopoly of wisdom. Let us always deliberate, and take from each of us the best each has or can offer, and together build a stronger, better and prosperous Asean as we have never seen. Let us all make our region stronger, not so easily shaken by economic turmoil, currency manipulation or cultural corruption.

"I am confident that Asean economies will make the necessary changes, painful though they may be, and Asean will once again be a region of high growth.

"We must not make mistake to over react!

"A stronger cross-cultural linkage will bring political and economic benefits to all of us and thereby eliminate our remaining differences. And this can be achieved best in an atmosphere of stability and growth. Let us focus on what we have in common, and what we want most in life for us and the generation to come.

"Perhaps, it is not out place to remind you all that Asean was formed because of a common enemy, communism. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam were enemies while the United States and Western Europe were friends.

"When Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand were under communist threat our then leaders - Tunku Abdul Rahman, Lee Kuan Yew, Marcos, Thanat Khoman and Suharto formed Asean in 1967. But when China fought Vietnam over the Soviet supported-Vietnamese takeover of Cambodia, Beijing became a non-enemy.

"You should all remember that the current nine nations of Asean do not have a common enemy to unite them, and if as Lee Kuan Yew says, China is prudent and tactful, there will be none. We are quite united over the Spratlys and China realizes this. While we need to develop a viable long-term relationship with China, our friendship with the United States is of long standing, and we must not only scrupulously maintain but strengthen it.

"Both you and I have total Asean immersion, be it Malaysian, Vietnamese or Thai and also an enriching American experience. We have, whether we like it or not, become the bridge between the Americans and Aseans. All will benefit if the United States-Asean relationship flourishes and remains stable.

"Having said that and as we advance, as each progresses, one must not lose one's sense or identity, however. Each of us must strive to be infused with the cultures of greater Asean,

"Our common heritage of Asian values are best maintained and our great economic expectations are more likely to be achieved when our region is stable and peaceful."

Unsurprised, I found that Asian students at Cornell are hardworking, clever and contemporary. Their zeal for greater regional solidarity if not integration and for the "Asean vision" has made me promise to visit them again next year.

Next week, I go to my alma mater, Harvard, to participate in a forum on Human Rights in the West and East at the Centre for International Affairs and to giv e a talk on, guess what? Dr Mahathir, currency manipulation and the haze at the Kennedy School of Government and Politics.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )

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