Singapore’s prime minister calls Asean a “lifeboat” for Southeast Asian countries

By: Madeleine Keck - Posted on: November 15, 2017 | Current Affairs

Prime Minister Lee says that Asean must remain steadfast in confronting emerging security challenges, such as North Korea and the South China Sea

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) hands over the gavel to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a transfer of Asean Chairmanship at the closing ceremonies of the 31st Asean Summit and Related Summits in Manila Photo: Aaron Favila/EPA

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong affirmed Singapore’s commitment to promoting and upholding the regional order when the nation chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) next year, announcing his priority topics of resilience and innovation.

“Asean is a lifeboat for all 10 countries in Southeast Asia,” said Lee on the last day of the 31st Asean Summit in Manila.

“To have our voice heard on the world stage, to be able to manage our own issues among ourselves, and to cooperate to improve the lives of the people in Southeast Asia.”

Singapore obtained presidency during Lee’s acceptance speech at the closing ceremony of the 2017 Asean Summit on Tuesday, which saw the outgoing chairmanship of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Addressing fellow leaders at the ceremony, Lee announced that amid rapid global changes Asean has a duty to remain committed to a rules-based order to deal with emerging security challenges, and must stay united on issues of concern such as North Korea and the South China Sea.

“This is so that Asean can remain a vibrant and dynamic place for our peoples to live, work and play,” Lee announced. “These are issues that confront all of us and if we can deal with them, we can make Asean a more effective and more valuable organisation.”

Also on the agenda will be a push for greater economic integration and regional connectivity, as well as tapping new avenues for managing innovative digital technologies so that Asean can remain “competitive and prosperous”.

“If we come together on the theme of innovation, and smart cities, for example, then I think we have something valuable we can do together,” he added.

Member countries will be eager to see how the incoming Asean chair approaches dealing with the possibility of member-states being made to pick sides if relations between China and the US fray.

Responding to reporters at the ceremony, Lee answered that “you cannot prevent member states from doing one thing or another,” but that the attendance at this year’s summit of both US President Donald Trump and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang showed a commitment for strong relations from both sides.

“What Asean can do as a group is to enhance its cooperation with China and the US at the same time,” Lee said.

After outlining Singapore’s future goals and commitments, Lee congratulated Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on his country’s successful term and unveiled the logo for his upcoming chairmanship.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Singapore revealed that the inspiration for the logo actually came through connecting each of the respective Asean member states’ capitals.

“The links signify the collective resilience of an inter-connected Asean in pursuit of a common purpose,” the ministry announced. “Combining these demonstrates Asean’s unity and innovativeness.”