See More on Facebook

Diplomacy, Economics

Lee: ASEAN must continue economic integration

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told visiting ASEAN foreign ministers that the bloc must continue its program of economic integration.


Written by

Updated: August 3, 2018

As the rules-based multilateral trading system comes under pressure, Asean has to stay the course and press on with economic integration, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Aug 2).

“It is important that Asean continues to support the multilateral system and work with like-minded partners to deepen our web of cooperation,” he said in a speech to foreign ministers from all 10 Asean countries and diplomats at the opening ceremony of the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at Singapore Expo.

And with the fourth industrial revolution under way, the region must make full use of technology to bring Asean closer together, embrace innovation, build up digital connectivity and prepare itself for the future, Mr Lee added.

He announced that Singapore will step up its efforts to help Asean’s less-developed members bridge the gap with the rest of the grouping.

The country will enhance its support for the Initiative for Asean Integration (IAI) in a bid to boost regional economic integration and adoption of technology, and upgrade its IAI centres in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to Singapore Cooperation Centres (SCCs).

“The new centres will expand our range of technical assistance and offer new modalities for capacity building that go beyond classroom training,” said Mr Lee. “Singapore hopes to share our experiences, as well as learn from our neighbours and partners.”

Under the IAI programme, launched in 2000, training centres in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar were set up to conduct training courses for government officials in areas ranging from English language to public administration.

The new SCCs will facilitate consultancy projects and services, and volunteer and humanitarian assistance and work with entities including the Singapore Red Cross, Enterprise Singapore, and Temasek Foundation.

Asean ministers and their counterparts from the grouping’s key partners, including China, Japan, South Korea and the United States, are in town for a marathon week of annual meetings, culminating in the East Asia Summit foreign ministers’ meeting and Asean Regional Forum retreat on Saturday.

In his speech, Mr Lee cited how it was a leap of faith that enabled the founding members of Asean to band together in 1967, when the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand signed the Asean declaration in Bangkok.

“South-east Asia at that time was very different from South-east Asia today. It was a troubled and unstable region, rife with hostilities and confrontation,” he said.

“The five countries wanted to build a regional platform that could build trust and cooperation, and put away old suspicion and rivalries, in order to create a stable external environment for themselves, and to allow each country to focus on its own nation building.”

Asean has come a long way since then. It now has 10 members, and the grouping’s cooperation has broadened and deepened significantly.

Having achieved its initial political objective of regional peace and stability, it has shifted its focus to economic cooperation, said Mr Lee, citing successes such as the launch of the Asean Free Trade Area in 1992, and the formation of the Asean Economic Community, “one of the more successful economic groupings in the world”.

Asean has also engaged external parties, starting post-ministerial conferences with its dialogue partners in 1978, the Asean Regional Forum in 1994, the Asean Plus Three in 1997, and the East Asia Summit in 2005.

Together, these make up the open, inclusive and Asean-centric regional architecture that has supported peace and stability in the region, said Mr Lee.

“While these Asean-led structures have served us well, we must continue to strengthen the regional architecture,” he said. “We can all see the growing geopolitical uncertainties. At the same time, each Asean member state is subject to different pulls and pressures from bigger powers. In these circumstances, all the more we must stay united and strive to maintain our cohesion and effectiveness.”

He added: “That is the only way for Asean to remain relevant and be of value to our members as well as our external partners.”

Mr Lee was glad that at a time when trade tensions between the US and Asean’s other dialogue partners including China, the EU and Canada have escalated, Asean countries and six partners are redoubling efforts to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership this year.

The grouping is also working with the EU on the Asean-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, the first substantive aviation arrangement between two major regional groupings.

These pacts when established will “send a clear signal of Asean’s commitment to trade liberalisation and economic integration”.

“I do not expect negotiations to be easy, especially with the growing mood of nationalism and protectionism in many countries. Every participant will have to make trade-offs and difficult compromises,” said Mr Lee. “But I am glad that Asean member states have taken a long-term approach and made a collective decision to stay on course, in order to bring tangible benefits to our peoples.”

He also took stock of strides made by Asean in innovation, including the formation of the Asean Smart Cities Network.

Singapore has launched its own efforts to support the drive towards digitalisation, such as its Smart Nation initiative, and is stepping up cybersecurity defences, especially in 11 critical sectors including aviation, healthcare and water supply, Mr Lee noted, adding that it recently experienced a major intrusion into one of its healthcare data systems.

This, he said, “only underlines the seriousness and urgency of the task.”

Asean solidarity was also on display, and Mr Lee started his speech by conveying his condolences to two members which saw recent disasters – to Laos on the collapse of the Xe Pien-Xe Namnoy hydroelectric dam and to Indonesia on the Lombok earthquake.

“Singapore and Asean stand ready to support our Laotian and Indonesian friends during this difficult time,” said Mr Lee.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy, Economics

Disruption seen from auto parts duty in US-China trade war

US tariffs on Chinese auto parts will probably result in higher prices and could disrupt the global automotive supply chain industry. The Trump administration has imposed a new 10 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods that takes effect on Sept 24. Beginning on Jan 1, the tariffs will increase to 25 percent. China retaliated with $60 billion of new tariffs on US products. The new levies target more than 100 automotive products including engines, gaskets, rubber seals, tires and transmission shafts. Tariffs are basically taxes on the consumer, and all costs increases within the supply chain will eventually be passed along to the consumer, according to Peter Nagle, senior automotive analyst at IHS Markit. “In the short-term, suppliers might absorb some of the cost of the tariff but eventually they will have to raise prices or resource product from elsewhere, which also will rai


By China Daily
September 24, 2018

Diplomacy, Economics

India launches world’s biggest healthcare programme

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched India’s ambitious healthcare program on Sunday. Deemed the “world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme”, the scheme will cover half a billion people through its network of hospitals and support services. Speaking at the event, the PM said that the number of beneficiaries is equivalent to the total population of the United States, Canada and Mexico or the entire European Union. “This is a major step taken to fulfil the vision of providing better healthcare facilities to the poorest of the poor and to those standing last in the queue,” the PM said. Following the launch, the PM informed the gathering that the scheme covers diseases such as cancer, heart diseases, kidney and liver problems, diabetes and over 1300 various ailments. “The treatment of the diseases can not only be done in government hospitals but also private hospitals,” said


By Cod Satrusayang
September 24, 2018

Diplomacy, Economics

US exempts Korean steel from import tariff

The move is seen as a positive signal for the local steel industry. Steel products made by South Korea’s SL Tech has been excluded from the US’ steel tariffs, marking the first case of exemption since the US imposed a quota on Korean steel shipments this May, industry sources said Thursday. The US Commerce Department earlier this week accepted US medical device manufacturer Micro Stamping’s request for a tariff exemption on ultrafine steel tubes imported from Korean steel company SL Tech. Micro Stamping uses ultrafine steel tubes made by SL Tech to produce medical equipment. Korean steelmakers viewed the decision as a positive sign of a higher possibility of tariff exemptions, while remaining cautious over whether the same decision would be applied to steel products used for construction and household appliances.


By The Korea Herald
September 21, 2018

Diplomacy, Economics

New airport construction adds to China’s influence in the Maldives

Maldives airport opened a new runway constructed by China this week, a sign of Beijing’s growing influence on the island nation. Maldives airport opened its newly developed Code F runway at the Velana International Airport on Tuesday after two years of construction by Chinese firms. According to Chinese state media, the new runway is a milestone project of the Belt and Road Initiative. The contract for the airport expansion, including the development of the fuel farm, a cargo terminal, and the new runway, was signed between China and the Maldives in 2014, Xinhua News Agency reported. Constructed by Beijing Urban Construction Group, a large international construction group based in China, the new runway is 3,400 meters long and 60 meters wide. It is the latest push by China to gain influence over the politically troubled nation. Earlier this year, Maldivian President Abdulla Y


By Cod Satrusayang
September 20, 2018

Diplomacy, Economics

Kim vows to visit Seoul, dismantle nuke, missile sites

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday pledged to visit Seoul and reaffirmed commitment to giving up his country’s nuclear program. The Pyongyang Joint Declaration of September 2018 signed by the two l


By The Korea Herald
September 20, 2018

Diplomacy, Economics

El Salvador ups pressure on Taiwan relations

Prosecutors in El Salvador to investigate the alleged graft of some $10 million in funds donated by Taiwan. El Salvador announced it would sever ties with Taiwan and switch its allegiance to Beijing on 21th August. The loss of the Central American country reduces the number of Taiwan’s formal diplomatic allies to just 17. Now the current president of El Salvador, Sanchez Ceren, is accused that he won the election by relying on partial fund which was donated by Taiwan in 2014. Prosecutor Douglas Melendez said in a TV interview that Taiwan gave $38 million to El Salvador for various projects, but the fund was used in a partisan campaign by Mauricio Funes in election won by current President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the presidential candidate of the FMLN party in 2014. The FMLN party calling the accusations “baseless” and accusing Melendez of “attacking our candidate and o


By Asia News Network
September 20, 2018