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Resilience, innovation key themes under S’pore’s Asean chairmanship

MANILA — Amid rapid global changes, one of Singapore’s priorities as the Association of South-east Asian Nations' (Asean) chair next year will be to promote and uphold the regional order, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday night (Nov 14).

(L-R) Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia President Joko Widodo and Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, join hands during a family photo before the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila. Photo: Reuters

(L-R) Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesia President Joko Widodo and Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, join hands during a family photo before the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila. Photo: Reuters

MANILA — Amid rapid global changes, one of Singapore’s priorities as the Association of South-east Asian Nations' (Asean) chair next year will be to promote and uphold the regional order, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday night (Nov 14).

This will help Asean “better deal with emerging security challenges such as cyber security, transnational crime and terrorism,” said Mr Lee at the Asean Summit’s closing ceremony in Manila, where the Philippines handed over the rotating chair of the regional grouping to the Republic. Singapore takes over as chairman officially in January, having last held the post in 2007.

“We live in a rapidly changing world,” said Mr Lee.

“To keep Asean a central and dynamic driving force that can deal with the challenges and opportunities, Singapore’s chairmanship focuses on the themes of ‘resilience’ and ‘innovation’.”

Mr Lee said a second priority for Singapore will be to push ahead with economic integration in the region and improving regional connectivity, so that Asean can stay competitive and prosperous.

Tapping new ways to manage and mine digital technologies, as well as arming the region’s people with skills and capabilities, will be a third priority.

“(This is to) keep Asean a vibrant and dynamic place for our people to live, work and play,” said Mr Lee.

In his speech, Mr Lee also congratulated President Rodrigo Duterte on the Philippines’ successful chairmanship of Asean. Among others, the Filipino chair presided over the conclusion of an Asean-Hong Kong free-trade pact and a framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

The framework was adopted in August by Asean member-states and China. Earlier this week, Asean and Beijing announced the official start of negotiations on the code of conduct.

China stakes claims over much of the disputed South China Sea. Its claims have been contested by neighbouring countries in the region, including Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, though tensions have eased somewhat lately.

“As the incoming chair of Asean, Singapore hopes to build upon the good work done by past chairs and continue our integration journey to foster a close-knit community that our citizens can benefit from,” said Mr Lee, adding that the grouping has built a stable, open and inclusive regional architecture that has brought about security, growth and development.

Speaking at the East Asia Summit earlier on Tuesday that was attended by leaders of 18 Asia-Pacific nations, Mr Lee said that as the forum’s chair next year, Singapore will keep up efforts to strengthen it, in line with the “common vision to have more open, substantive and responsive dialogue and co-operation”.

“Singapore looks forward to the support of all East Asia Summit participating countries,” he added.

Singapore will also work with Asean neighbours to build ties with external partners, said Mr Lee at the closing ceremony, where a handover video giving a peek into the key themes under Singapore’s chairmanship was screened.

He noted that Asean will hold special summits in Australia and India in the coming year, and the Republic’s chairmanship also coincides with several events, including 45 years of relations between Asean and Japan and the 25th anniversary of the Asean Regional Forum.

As coordinator of Asean-China dialogue relations since 2015, Singapore will continue to promote closer co-operation between the two sides, including initiatives to mark the 15th anniversary of Asean and China’s strategic partnership.

“Singapore is honoured to accept the gavel and the chairmanship of Asean from our excellent host, the Philippines,” said Mr Lee, referring to the symbolic gavel which he accepted from Mr Duterte to symbolise the changeover in chairmanship.

“I look forward to working with all our Asean partners and we welcome all Asean member-states to Singapore in 2018.”  

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