Transcript of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Opening Ceremony of the 32nd ASEAN Summit.
Your Majesty, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, may I bid a warm welcome to our ASEAN colleagues and friends to the 32nd ASEAN Summit.
Singapore is honoured to chair ASEAN this year. Last year, ASEAN turned 50. We are opening a new chapter for ASEAN and we have to adjust to a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape and chart a way forward.
The global strategic balance is shifting, so is the regional balance – new powers, including China and India, are growing in strength and influence. This has opened up new opportunities for ASEAN member states as we expand our cooperation with them but it also calls for astute statesmanship and deft diplomacy because ASEAN member states maintain our friendship with all powers, old and new.
At the same time, the open, rules-based multilateral trading system which has underpinned the growth of ASEAN is under pressure. The political mood in many countries has shifted against free trade. In particular, the recent trade tensions between the US and China are worrying concerns.
ASEAN countries will have to react to these major external trends. The ten of us need to work together, align our different political and economic interests, and strengthen our efforts to build a coherent and effective ASEAN community. We have to stay relevant and forward-looking, as a 50-year-old regional grouping so that we remain central to the region’s architecture and future. How can the ten of us do this?
The short answer is: we need to strengthen ASEAN Centrality and find new areas and fresh commitment to work together. ASEAN can only maintain its centrality if it is a substantial endeavour, and if its members see value in the shared enterprise. The alternative of a looser ASEAN, where each member state is left to fend for itself, and goes its own separate way, will make ASEAN less relevant not only to its members but also its partners and to other powers. Individually, the ASEAN member states will find it hard to make much impact on their own but when we speak in one collective ASEAN voice, we can be effective.
Therefore, it is important that we redouble our integration and Community-building efforts. ASEAN has to adapt and integrate further, to remain a central, dynamic driving force that can deal with the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Singapore’s themes of Resilience and Innovation for ASEAN this year were proposed because they encapsulate the situation that we are in today. We need to be resilient to both conventional threats, and also unconventional threats such as terrorism and cyber-attacks. Southeast Asia is at peace, but these threats are very real. ISIS continues to propagate its ideology and foment trouble in Southeast Asia, despite having been defeated militarily in the Middle East. We are also seeing more cyber-attacks as we push for digitalisation. At the same time, countries need to be innovative and make creative use of technology to grow our economies. If ASEAN members can cooperate in this effort, we will strengthen our economic community.
Yesterday, at our working dinner, the ASEAN Leaders adopted a joint statement articulating a common vision for a Resilient and Innovative ASEAN. This statement articulates our assessment of the changing strategic and economic landscape. It sets out the key principles that underpin our collective vision and it affirms our commitment to build a Resilient and Innovative ASEAN for the future, and identifies concrete initiatives that ASEAN will undertake to realise this vision. This statement is meant as the overarching framework for ASEAN’s work this year.
In addition, we have launched two flagship initiatives that will help ASEAN take concrete steps towards this vision. First, the Leaders adopted an ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on Cybersecurity Cooperation. This statement captures our vision for a peaceful, secure and resilient cyberspace, which will enable economic growth, deepen connectivity and enhance living standards for all. Second, the Leaders agreed to launch the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. The 26 pioneer cities will now come together to articulate a common framework for smart city development in ASEAN, and craft city-specific action plans and innovative projects that will improve the lives of our peoples.
There is also valuable work being done under the three ASEAN Community Pillars. I shall cite a few examples. The Model ASEAN Extradition Treaty (MAET) signals our resolve to strengthen ASEAN’s resilience and capacity to combat transnational crime. We hope to conclude the MAET soon and look forward to follow up by negotiating the actual ASEAN Extradition Treaty. Next, the ASEAN Single Window is now operational in five ASEAN Member States. It will cut business costs and facilitate the freer flow of goods across the region. Thirdly, the initiatives under the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 – on infrastructure, sustainable urbanisation, as well as small and medium enterprises – are also taking off.
For our part, Singapore will launch a number of initiatives to strengthen the ASEAN Community. We will establish an annual training workshop, called the ASEAN Law Academy programme, for ASEAN officials, legal practitioners and legal educators to promote ASEAN legal integration and ASEAN legal education. We will renew the Singapore-ASEAN Youth Fund to promote leadership development, community service and entrepreneurship amongst ASEAN youth. Singapore will provide a S$5 million top-up and we will connect ASEAN youths through an ASEAN e-sports tournament, the first of its kind in the region. An ASEAN Youth Fellowship Programme will build a network of young leaders to take the ASEAN community forward.
Taken together, these initiatives will position ASEAN for the future, and strengthen our value proposition to external partners. After this Opening, ASEAN Leaders will hold our Retreat session. We will take stock of ASEAN’s strategic outlook, our Community-building efforts, and our collaborations with external partners.
We will continue to press on with our integration, and deepen our web of cooperation with our partners, so that ASEAN remains cohesive, relevant and effective for many more years to come.
With that, let me once again extend a warm welcome to all our ASEAN friends.
. . . . .