Singaporean prime minister calls on ASEAN to stand together to advance collective interests
The 10 member states comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are smaller in size and resources than countries such as the U.S., China and India that are operating in the region, but their strength comes from banding together for a unified voice and direction on collective interests, said Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Speaking at the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in late June 2019, Lee renewed a call for unity among the regional bloc.
“It is not easy because we are 10 different countries with strategic forces that pull us in different directions,” Lee said, according to The Straits Timesnewspaper. “But we must find common ground where our interests align and speak as one.”
ASEAN has already endorsed a framework for cooperation across the Indo-Pacific. It encourages member states to look at the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions not as contiguous territorial spaces but as a closely integrated one, The Straits Timesreported. It’s one in which ASEAN has a central and strategic role to play. (Pictured: From left, Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc join hands to pose for photos during the opening ceremony of the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Bangkok on June 23, 2019.)
In emphasizing ASEAN’s framework of cooperation, Lee noted tensions in the region among large power players like the U.S. and China. Their power dynamics affect ASEAN’s members, but Southeast Asia is used to the ebb and flow of such dynamics, “whether it is through influence operations, division of the region into opposing camps or even outright occupation and war,” Lee said.
“We have also seen the benefits of healthy cooperation between the big powers, which can bring growth and stability to the region,” he added, according to The Straits Times. “So, we hope that the U.S. and China will work out their frictions peacefully.”
Included in his remarks, Lee also praised ASEAN for advancements on its economic front, saying ASEAN has made progress by eliminating tariffs, liberalizing investments and promoting connectivity.
“We should continue to strive for regional trade arrangements so as to incrementally build support for lower trade barriers and higher standards,” he said, encouraging ASEAN to search for new and nontraditional opportunities for even more economic cooperation.
“I hope that our members continue to have the wisdom and courage to cooperate, opt for openness and engagement,” Lee said, “and thus preserve and expand the progress which we have made together.”