S’pore must draw strength from being part of Asean


Cyril Seah Kwei Hiok

Published: 11:35 AM, April 21, 2017

If the momentum China is gaining in Southeast Asia, with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and its One Belt, One Road, has been overwhelming, we should not be despondent, as though Singapore has no further meaningful contribution to make regionally.

On the contrary, we should be mindful that we are an integral part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. We celebrated our golden jubilee in 2015, and Asean’s is this year.

This is more than coincidence; we should perceive that along with a common starting point, Asean and Singapore have a common future as the region modernises.

Culturally, we have been distilled from our racial backgrounds — part Chinese, part Indian and, of course, part Malay, representing an indigenous people of the region — yet we are overlaid with Western influence, which gels with the cosmopolitan part of Asean.

If we have moved ahead of the rest of the Asean nations, it is perhaps because our short history is distinctly different. We are also small and therefore sprightlier perhaps.

Or perhaps with the West’s stronger influence, we can better show the way towards modernity. Whichever is the case, we are a part of Asean and therefore a more acceptable purveyor of Western progress, without the backlash of colonialism.

This is a strength we have, which we have exercised all these years. We are tempered by Asean values and etiquette. We can communicate as Southeast Asians. We work well behind the scenes.

We are there facilitating business, whether as a small trader, a small and medium enterprise or a conglomerate. It is because we are low-key that we can stay nimble. We can hunker down and let the economic storms blow over.

We have seen the Japanese occupation, recessions, the Asian financial crisis, the 2008 financial crisis and now the misfortune of the oil and gas sector, yet we have survived and grown. But we can do more.

We should continue to look to Asean. We are part of it, and Asean is us.